You’ve been sexually harassed at work. But what do you do about it? Here are the basics about how to prove sexual harassment and what information to include in your complaint.
How can I prove that I was sexually harassed?
Remember, there are two types of sexual harassment – quid pro quo and hostile work environment. How to prove your case depends on what you have to prove:
Proving quid pro quo
You must prove that a job, promotion, raise, or some other tangible employment action was conditioned on acceptance of unwelcome sexual conduct. Proving the tangible employment action is usually pretty easy. Let’s say that you went in for a job interview. After the interview, the hiring manager sent you a text message, saying the interview went really well and asking you on a date. You responded that you were already in a relationship. A few days later, you get an email stating that another candidate was selected. You believe you didn’t get the job because you turned down the hiring manager. The rejection email is proof of the tangible employment action. The text messages may be evidence that you weren’t selected because you rejected the hiring manager’s invitation for a date.
Unfortunately, most cases aren’t so clear. The harassment doesn’t occur in writing. That’s why you should document the harassment. Here are some tips about how to keep a written record of the harassment:
- Make the record when the harassment occurs.
- Write down the date you made the record, the date that the harassment occurred, exactly what happened, and any other details you can remember.
- Tell someone about the harassment. Tell a friend or family member what happened.
- File a complaint.
Proving hostile work environment
You must prove that you were subjected to severe and pervasive harassment that unreasonably interfered with your job. Again, unless your harasser put anything in writing, you’ll have to prove your case through witness testimony or through your own documentation of what happened. Write up a detailed note or memo each time you are harassed. Ask witnesses to corroborate what happened. For example, after your boss makes a sexual comment about your appearance in front of a coworker, text or email your coworker to confirm what happened. To prove hostile work environment, you must show that the harassment was severe and pervasive. It’s not enough to identify a few examples. The more examples and details you can provide, the stronger your case.
What information should I include in a complaint?
Whether you’re complaining about quid pro quo or hostile work environment, you should identify the person who sexually harassed you, when the sexual harassment occurred, and what happened. Include enough information to meet the basic requirements for the type of sexual harassment you’re complaining about.
What to include in a quid pro quo complaint
For quid pro quo, your complaint must identify the tangible employment action and explain how the action was conditioned upon acceptance of unwelcome sexual conduct.
What to include in a hostile work environment complaint
If you’re complaining about hostile work environment, describe the harassment; explain what the harasser did or said. If possible, identify the date that each incident occurred. If you can’t remember dates, indicate how frequently the harassment occurred during a specific time period.
Additional information to include in your complaint
You may need to include additional information depending on what kind of complaint you’re filing. If you have legal counsel, your attorney can file the complaint for you and will ensure that the complaint includes all necessary information. If you don’t have an attorney, contact whoever you’re filing with to find out if there are any policies you must follow or any forms you should use.
- Filing an internal complaint at work: Review your employee handbook to see if it covers a discrimination, harassment, or internal complaint policy. Ask your supervisor, the EEO office, or HR if your employer has a policy or procedure for complaints. A policy may say what information you need to include.
- Filing a charge with the EEOC: EEOC’s website provides information about the process for federal government workers and the process for non-government workers. If you file in writing or through the electronic portal, you’ll need to include certain information, such as your employer’s contact information, your work location, and the approximate number of employees.
- Filing a lawsuit: The court will have specific rules about what information you need to include in the complaint. If you don’t have an attorney, many courts provide forms and other resources. For example, if you’re filing a lawsuit in DC Superior Court, you can visit the court’s website to download forms for the complaint, the information sheet, and the summons.
How can an attorney help me?
Working with an experienced employment attorney can improve your chances of success. If you are currently facing sexual harassment at work, your attorney can give you guidance on how to document harassment and to preserve evidence. Based on the information you provide, your attorney can draft a complaint for you. He/she will make sure that the complaint includes all of the required details. An experienced lawyer can assess strengths and weaknesses of your claims, advise you about risks, and explain your options.
If you are facing sexual harassment at work, Alan Lescht and Associates can help. Our attorneys represent federal government employees around the world, and state and local government and private sector employees in DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia. We handle administrative complaints with the EEOC, DCOHR, MCCR, and similar agencies, and we litigate sexual harassment cases in federal and state courts.