Sexual and gender harassment have been around for as long as women have been in the workplace. While New Jersey is a progressive state to work in, being here does not ensure that the workplace will be free of harassment against women. The purpose of this article is to define the different forms of harassment against women, explain the applicable civil rights law and provide women with a roadmap as to what to do in case they are the victims of harassment.
New Jersey recognizes two forms of sexual harassment. The first is called quid pro quo harassment and that essentially means that a harasser is demanding something of a sexual nature from a woman in exchange for a threat or a promise regarding her employment status. For example: harasser – “if you have sex with me then I won’t fire you.” Or, harasser – “if you rub my back, I will give you a raise.”
The second kind of harassment is called hostile work environment. Hostile work environment harassment occurs where oral discussions, slurs or jokes; writings or other tangible things (e.g. - photos, videos and posters) are communicated within the work environment to such an extent that a reasonable person would believe that due to the sexual talk or conduct, the conditions of work have been altered to the extent that they would be considered intimidating, hostile or abusive. Generally the more severe and common place the hostility, the greater the likelihood that it would constitute a hostile work environment.
Isolated incidents or petty slights are generally not sufficient to create a hostile work environment. The more ambiguous conduct is, the less likely that it would be considered to be sexual harassing. Additionally, consensual flirting or romantic relationships would not normally be considered to constitute actionable harassment.
Gender harassment occurs when a male demonstrates from his conduct that he is prejudiced against women and treats their gender as being inferior. In other words, a male supervisor or a fellow employee is acting in a sexist way towards women in the workplace. Examples of this would include sexist jokes or slurs, including derogatory gender-based nicknames. Another example may be bullying, insulting, demeaning or intimidating conduct directed towards female reports or co-employees.
Women have a right to work in a harassment-free environment. The aforementioned types of harassment are prohibited by New Jersey law. Specifically, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et. seq. (LAD), one of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the country, protects women from unlawful harassment. The LAD was specifically designed to "eradicate the cancer of discrimination" in employment in New Jersey.
If you encounter sexual or gender harassment as described above, then there are steps that you can take to stand up for your civil rights and eliminate it from your workplace. Initially, fully document all incidents of harassment down in writing. Keep these notes or writings at home, not work. If you communicate with others, including an employment law attorney, do so on your personal email account and don’t use your business email. Next, review your employer’s employment handbook and carefully read the sections relating to harassment and the company’s complaint procedures. Then, find out who you are to communicate your harassment complaint.
Finally, as quickly as possible, set up a meeting with an experienced employment law attorney to listen to your facts, provide you with advice as to whether you have a legitimate claim of sexual harassment, explain the law to you in simple and understandable terms and competently and carefully guide you through the steps of the company's complaint procedures. The attorney can maximize the chances that your complaint will considered seriously and addressed quickly.
Also, if after you have submitted your internal complaint, you find that your employer is trying to discourage you or retaliate against you for raising your complaint, then your attorney can step forward and handle the situation directly through litigation or through alternative dispute resolution means.
The Law Office of Fred Shahrooz-Scampato will provide you with a free 15-minute telephone consultation where you can share the facts of your situation, obtain information about the law that is involved and provide you with options for moving forward. If at the conclusion of the telephone call we determine that you may have a viable claim of sexual or gender harassment, we will then invite you in for a longer face to face meeting where we can discuss your situation in greater detail. Please feel free to call us at 908-301-9095.