Sexual Harassment Lawyers

Sexual harassment continues to be a pervasive problem for both employees and employers. In 2018, the EEOC reported a 12% spike in sexual harassment charges filed with the agency, as well as a staggering 50% increase in the number of lawsuits it brought on behalf of employees. In Minnesota, more than a quarter of all charges filed with the agency asserted claims of sexual harassment or sex-based discrimination. Despite these sobering statistics, Minnesota employees have rights under both state and federal laws that protect them from unlawful workplace sexual harassment.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment of an employee includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be based on a sexual desire or be sexual in nature to constitute sexual harassment. The harassment can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex in general.

There are two common ways an employee experiences sexual harassment. The first is when an employee is subjected to a hostile work environment—wherein the hostility is so pervasive or persistent that it adversely affects a person or group’s ability to perform their job. In determining what degree of hostility rises to the level of an actionable hostile environment claim, the law asks whether a reasonable person, in the same or similar circumstances would find the conduct offensive.

The second form is legally referred to as quid pro quo. This exists when an employee whose submission to, or rejection of, sexual harassment is a factor in making a decision affecting the employee (i.e. termination, performance warnings, not receiving a promotion, getting a raise, being placed on a performance improvement plan). Importantly, hostile or harassing conduct by supervisors and managers are viewed as more serious and more likely to adversely affect employment.

Who is legally protected in Minnesota?

  • Sexual harassment laws protect:
  • Female and male employees or applicants;
  • From harassment by a co-worker, supervisor or management;
  • Regardless of whether the harassment is from the opposite gender;
  • Includes employees sexually harassed by a client or customer.

What are examples of sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment in the workplace can come in many forms. Common examples include:

  • Sexual comments about a person’s clothing, behavior or body
  • Communication of a sexual nature, including sexual or sex-based jokes
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Repeatedly asking a person out
  • Unwanted touching (kissing, hugging, patting, pinching, shoulder rubs, stroking)
  • Unwanted stares, derogatory or sexual gestures or facial expressions
  • Posters, photographs, drawings, screensavers or emails of a sexual nature

Supervisor v. Coworker Sexual Harassment

After many years of conflicting court opinions, in 2008, the Minnesota Supreme Court adopted the federal liability standard for cases involving sexual harassment by a supervisor. Frances Baillon and Joni Thome of Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP represented the employee in Frieler v. Carlson Marketing Group, 751 N.W.2d 558 (Minn. 2008), in which the Court held that, under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, an employer may be vicariously liable for the sexual harassment and hostile work environment created by the supervisor. Prior to Frieler, it was more difficult for an employee to show the employer was liable for the supervisor harassment.

While Frieler provided needed clarity regarding the Minnesota standard, there remain other issues to determine in each case of supervisor sexual harassment. For instance, sometimes it can be difficult to show that the harasser meets the legal definition of a “supervisor.” Another issue requiring legal analysis is whether there has been “tangible employment action.” What does that mean? A tangible employment action is “a significant change in employment status.” Examples include: hiring and firing, promotion and failure to promote, demotion, undesirable reassignment, a significant change in benefits, decreased compensation, and a change in work assignment.

In sexual harassment cases involving coworker harassment, an employee must show that the harassment is “severe or pervasive” enough for liability to attach. While a single occurrence may be enough to establish this element in the event of a sexual assault or similar heightened experience of harassment, courts are to consider the “totality of circumstances” when analyzing whether the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to constitute sexual harassment.

Contact Our Sexual Harassment Lawyers
If you are experiencing sexually harassing behavior in your workplace, have already reported harassment and are now experiencing retaliation as a result, or are unsure whether the treatment you are enduring constitutes harassment, contact one of our sexual harassment lawyers to discuss your rights. The attorneys at Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP have represented countless employees who have endured harassment in the workplace and have significant experience litigating and resolving sexual harassment cases. Contact us for a free initial consultation.