Racial, Sexual and Other Harassment


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The laws against discrimination pertain not only to specific actions taken by an employer, such as hiring and firing, but also to the creation and maintenance of the general working environment. While there is no law requiring an employer to create or maintain a “good” or “fair” workplace, the discrimination laws do prohibit a workplace where people are treated differently, in a material way, because of a prohibited characteristic such as an individual's age (40 and older), race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, pregnancy (including childbirth, lactation, and related medical conditions), physical or mental disability, genetic information (including testing and characteristics), veteran status, uniformed servicemember status, and other categories protected under various state and local laws and ordinances.

While it is not possible to list all the circumstances that may constitute examples of workplace harassment, the following are some examples of conduct that may constitute workplace harassment:
  • The use of disparaging or abusive words or phrases, slurs, negative stereotyping, or threatening, intimidating, or hostile acts that relate to the above protected categories;
  • Written or graphic material that insults, stereotypes, or shows aversion or hostility toward an individual or group because of one of the above protected categories and that is placed on walls, bulletin boards, email, voicemail, or elsewhere on our premises, or circulated in the workplace; and
  • A display of symbols, slogans, or items that are associated with hate or intolerance toward any select group.

The protection from illegal harassment includes illegal harassment from customers, clients, vendors, and visitors.

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly as a term or condition of an individual's employment; (2) submission to, or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

While it is not possible to identify every act that constitutes or may constitute sexual harassment, the following are some examples of sexual harassment:

  • Unwelcome requests for sexual favors;
  • Lewd or derogatory comments or jokes;
  • Comments regarding sexual behavior or the body of another; Sexual innuendo and other vocal activity such as catcalls or whistles;
  • Obscene letters, notes, emails, invitations, photographs, cartoons, articles, or other written or pictorial materials of a sexual nature;
  • Repeated requests for dates after being informed that interest is unwelcome;
  • Retaliating against another for refusing a sexual advance or reporting an incident of possible sexual harassment to the Firm or any government agency;
  • Offering or providing favors or employment benefits such as promotions, favorable evaluations, favorable assigned duties or shifts, etc., in exchange for sexual favors; and
  • Any unwanted physical touching or assaults or blocking or impeding movements.

An employer is only liable for workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, if it knows about the harassment and then refuses to remedy it. As such, employers should have clear anti-discrimination policies and procedures through which employees can make complaints of discrimination which are then investigated and remedied.

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