Sexual harassment claims are typically based on unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Yet, there are many cases out there where, despite the existence of these things, the court found there was no actionable harassment. In order for harassment to be actionable, it must be shown that it was “sufficiently severe or pervasive.” The question of what constitutes sufficient severity is often raised. More importantly, what are the recognized damaging effects of sexual harassment of employees? A recent case filed by the EEOC sheds some light on that particular issue.
Female Correctional Officer Sexually Harassed
Roberta Jones worked at the Central Arizona Correctional Facility (CACF), which is operated by the GEO Group, Inc. She alleged that she was subjected to sexual harassment at the hands of both co-workers and managers since 2007. Specifically, she alleged male superiors and co-workers commonly stood around her bragging about their sexual exploits. There were also allegations of unwanted physical touching.
Jones reported the harassment, but the prison operator failed to adequately respond to her complaints. Yet, after her complaints were made, Jones claims she was given less desirable job assignments and she was also disciplined and ultimately terminated.
Violations of Title VII
The conduct alleged by Jones violates Title VII which prohibits sexual harassment. The adverse employment actions that were taken against Jones after she complained may also constitute unlawful retaliation based on her opposition and participation in activity protected by Title VII.
Lawsuit filed by the EEOC settled and consent decree entered
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jones for the sexual harassment and retaliation, all violations of Title VII. The case was settled by the GEO Group, Inc., wherein the company agreed to pay $60,000 to Jones in addition to entering into a consent decree.
Under the consent decree, the employer has agreed to review its equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies; refer every employee’s complaint of sexual harassment to its Office of Professional Responsibility to be investigated; conduct training for all employees and management staff, among other things.
The damaging effects of sexual harassment
A Select Task Force on the Study of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace uncovered numerous studies that found sexually harassed women typically experience depression, general stress and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generally impaired psychological well-being.
According to the EEOC Phoenix Regional Attorney, "[w]omen have every right to work in an environment free of sexual harassment and sexual advances. Sexual harassment is degrading and inexcusable.”
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!