Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

In any given year, we represent a multitude of individuals who have filed claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in Baltimore, Maryland because they contend they have been subjected to illegal discrimination, retaliation, and/or sexual harassment in the workplace.

The EEOC process is lengthy – it can actually take years before the Commission makes a finding, and the reality is that in more than ninety percent of cases, the EEOC does not find in favor of the complainant.  To avoid that, the EEOC often asks the charging party (the individual filing the claim) and respondent (the employer) if the parties are interested in participating in mediation.  Participation is voluntary but many cases are assigned to mediation because both parties are willing to try to resolve the dispute early.  In our experience, most mediations that we are involved in result in a favorable settlement – but not all.  When there is no resolution, the charge is eventually assigned to an investigator for processing.  That process is what takes such a long time because the investigators are flooded with complaints (more than a thousand per year are received at the Baltimore EEOC Field Office) and they have limited resources.  Many charging parties do not have the patience or the commitment to stay the course for a long period of time because they usually find work elsewhere and decide to move on from what may have happened at their previous place of employment.

If you have been notified by the EEOC that mediation is or will be scheduled in your case, you may be asking yourself if it is a good idea to be represented by a lawyer – we always emphatically answer that question in the affirmative – representing yourself at an EEOC mediation will likely not garner a successful result.  Most respondents are represented by at least one lawyer so attending mediation without your own counsel will send a signal that you are not serious about your complaint – that’s a big mistake.  So if you are about to participate in the EEOC mediation process, call us – we can help!

Perhaps one of the most common questions that I get from potential clients is whether the harassment that they have been subjected to at their job is illegal. Employees frequently assume that harassment, such as being called names or being exposed to curse words or being subjected to yelling and screaming, is illegal. In Maryland, however, as in most states, harassment is only illegal if the harassment is sexual in nature, or if it is racial or religious or age-based. In those instances, the harassment violates state and/or federal anti-discrimination laws. Merely being treated badly by your employer, however, is not illegal. While it may be unethical and unprofessional, employers can treat their employees badly, and if the employee does not like it, then the employee has an option — look for a new job!

Many people assume that sexual harassment is an aberration, that in 2008, employees rarely are subjected to such improper conduct in the workplace except in isolated cases. Well, my experience with sexual harassment cases suggests that, unfortunately, sexual harassment is alive and well in Baltimore City and County, in Howard County, in Frederick County — indeed, throughout Maryland.

Just in the past three weeks, I have been approached by women experiencing the following situations: a) a woman in Howard County working for a restaurant was subjected to coarse sexual language, hugged and kissed against her will, and then sexually assaulted by a coworker; b) a sales representative for a home improvement company in Baltimore City was stalked by a manager who repeatedly asked her on dates, used sexual language, tried to kiss her, and threatened to reduce her commissions if she failed to date him; and c) a salesperson for a retail store in Frederick was repeatedly asked out to dinner by her boss, subjected to inappropriate language and hugged and rubbed up against in a back room.

In each of these situations, when the employee complained to management, the employer either promised to take care of the situation — and then failed to take any concrete steps to make sure the problems would not continue — or terminated the complaining employee. Thus, not only have these employees been subjected to what, in all likelihood, would be considered to be sexual harassment by most courts, but they have been retaliated against for complaining to management about the alleged harassment.

As a Maryland employment attorney based in Baltimore County, I know that one of the most common telephone calls that plaintiffs’ employment attorneys receive is from a distraught, frustrated woman (or, once in a while, a man) who believes she has been sexually harassed and wants to pursue legal action against her employer. In evaluating such cases, experienced employment lawyers ask some of the following basic questions:

a) Was this a one-time incident or a pattern of inappropriate conduct? Unless a one-time incident is severe, such as a sexual assault, most courts will not allow a sexual harassment claim to proceed to trial unless there has been a pattern of incidents, whether verbal harassment or physical or a combination. Obviously, the more incidents, the stronger the claim.

b) Did the plaintiff complain to her supervisor or manager or the human resources department about the sexual harassment, and if so, what was done in response to the complaint? If the plaintiff failed to complain about the harassment, then the employer will usually not be held liable. Similarly, if the plaintiff complained and the employer disciplined the harasser, and the harassment stopped, then the employer would likely not be held liable. On the other hand, if the plaintiff complained, and the harassment continued, or the plaintiff was retaliated against, then the plaintiff may have a strong case.

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