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Sexual harassment the leading source of large discrimination awards

Many people still think of a lot of workplaces as being "Old Boys Clubs." As such, they think that lewd, harassing or chauvinistic comments are something that has to be tolerated in order to fit in.

While sexual harassment in the workplace is unfortunately all too common, no one should ever have to tolerate it. Sexual harassment is not just bad for workplace morale; it is also a serious violation of both California and federal law.

Workers who are victimized by discrimination in the workplace have a right to seek financial compensation by bringing discrimination lawsuits. All told, U.S. employers paid more than $356 million in compensation for workplace harassment last year. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is the most common discrimination complaint leading to significant damage awards.

The employment website eBossWatch recently catalogued the 25 largest workplace discrimination claims from the last year, a number of which relate to California sexual harassment lawsuits. Here are some highlights from that list:

  • $168 million for sexual harassment at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, California
  • $6 million for sexual harassment at Aaron's, Inc. in Fairview Heights, Illinois
  • $3.5 million for sexual harassment at the Washington, D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation
  • $2.6 million for sexual harassment at CSX Transportation in Danville, West Virginia
  • $2.3 million for sexual harassment at Qwest Communications in San Francisco, California
  • $2.3 million for sexual harassment at Fry's electronics in Seattle, Washington.

Of course, every case is unique and these verdicts and settlements should not be taken as a guarantee of similar outcomes. However, they do illustrate that it is worth it for sexual harassment victims to take steps to assert their rights.

What is sexual harassment?

The EEOC defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome commentary of a sexual nature, including, but not limited to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or offensive comments about a person's sex. Sexual harassment also includes making derogatory comments about women or men in general.

State and federal sexual harassment laws are gender blind. This means that both men and women can be the victims and the perpetrators of sexual harassment. Further, there is no requirement that the harasser be of a different sex than the victim.

Offensive conduct rises to the level of sexual harassment when it is frequent or severe enough to create a hostile work environment or when it results in wrongful termination, demotion or another adverse employment decision. Mere teasing or isolated instances generally do not qualify has sexual harassment.

If you are being subjected to sexual harassment at work, you do not have to tolerate it. A California employment attorney can review your case and help you protect your rights.

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