In recent years, the #MeToo movement has brought attention to sexual harassment at work and how it affects workers’ lives. About 40% of women and 16% of men say they were sexually harassed at work, a figure unchanged since the 1980s. However, 99.8% of people who experience harassment at work never file formal charges.
You’re well within your rights to take legal action against your employer, even if you didn’t report the harassment to the company when it occurred. Our Michigan employment law attorneys can help you understand workplace sexual harassment and help you decide whether to file a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Defining Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical acts that are sexual in nature. They hinder a person’s ability to perform their job properly and create a hostile work environment.
The EEOC states the following about sexual harassment in the workplace:
- The behavior must be unwelcomed.
- A harasser can be anyone in the workplace, including a supervisor from another department or a visitor to the office.
- Sexual harassment can harm the victim and others who witness it.
The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination. To file a legal claim of sexual harassment under Title VII, you must first file a complaint with the EEOC or your state’s agency. The EEOC received 11,497 sex-based harassment claims in 2020, down from 12,739 in 2019.
Despite the decrease in reports, research suggests this could be because companies are leveraging the threat of retaliation more effectively to suppress such reports. In most workplaces, sexual harassment policies and procedures exist. However, reporting sexual harassment can cause illegal reprisals or wrongful termination. According to EEOC data, retaliation was involved in 71% of sexual harassment claims in 2017.
When You Are Ready to File a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit in Michigan
If you experience sexual harassment at work but don’t want to confront your harasser, or suspect your employer will retaliate if you file a complaint with your company’s Human Resources Department, take the following steps:
1. Contact an employment lawyer.
A lawyer can help you determine whether the behavior is sexual harassment and, if it is, what you can do. If other employees who reported sexual harassment have been fired or the accused harasser has been subject to several complaints with no corrective action being taken, it is almost certain that legal action is necessary.
Your attorney can help you gather evidence and work with you to file a complaint with the EEOC or the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
2. Gather evidence of sexual harassment.
The employee must prove they faced sexual harassment with evidence of unwelcome sexual conduct or communication. If you are verbally or sexually harassed by another employee, keep a record. Write down what they said or did, the date, time, and location, along with any witnesses.
Maintain a record of any emails, texts, or notes your harasser sends you. Store your notes on a device other than your work computer in case you are terminated from your position and cannot access your information.
3. File a discriminatory harassment charge with the EEOC.
You do not have to inform your employer before formally filing a charge if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe doing so. However, the agency is legally required to tell your employer the name of the person who filed the charge. This is to give your employer a chance to respond and explain why they did not take any action to stop or prevent the harassment. This step is necessary before you can file a lawsuit.
However, federal law protects you from retaliation by your employer. If they try to fire you because they found out you filed a sexual harassment charge, you may have a case for wrongful termination.
The EEOC will open an investigation into the sexual harassment complaint and decide whether to issue you a Notice of Right-to-Sue. Whether you receive permission to proceed with a lawsuit or are first sent to mediation, your lawyer can now build your case.
Contact Us if You Are Facing Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace poses a unique problem for many workers, especially those who fear retaliation. To determine the best course of action for your circumstances, consult with the experienced employment law attorneys at Fieger Law.
Not only do we help victims of sexual harassment in Michigan, but we also work with clients across the U.S. To learn more about how we can protect your rights, contact us today to schedule your free consultation.