Can I Sue My Employer for Sexual Harassment?

February 13, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Can I Sue My Employer for Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment, by employers or otherwise, is nothing new. With the recent social media campaigns that focus on standing up and fighting back, like #metoo and Time's Up, many questions have come up about women's rights regarding recourse for sexual harassment.

You can file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer for sexual assault violations. However, you can also do many things to mitigate sexual harassment in the workplace that are also necessary stepping stones toward litigation.

A qualified lawyer can help inform you of your rights following harassing behavior in the workplace and help you file a lawsuit if necessary.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is any sexually suggestive behavior in the workplace that can make someone feel uncomfortable and includes sexual jokes, making fun of someone for their gender identity, or physical assault. Sexual harassment in the workplace became illegal with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in which Title VII states that employers cannot allow anyone to experience sexual harassment regardless of gender, age, or sexual preference.

Grounds for Harassment Lawsuit Claims

Many people in the workplace can commit sexual harassment, including co-workers, employers, or supervisors. The act does not have to be physical; anything sexual in content that creates a hostile work environment is considered sexual harassment. Light teasing, offhand comments, and isolated events are not considered sexual harassment. However, frequent and severe acts that create an offensive work environment are considered sexual assault, and you can sue the at-fault party for this behavior.

The following are some of the behavior considered sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Physical acts of sexual assault
  • Requests for sexual favors (Quid Pro Quo)
  • Verbal harassment sexual in nature (unwarranted comments about sexual acts or your sexual orientation)
  • Jokes making fun of someone's gender or sexual identity
  • Unwanted physical advances
  • Talking about sexual encounters or fantasies
  • Sending explicit sexual photos, videos, text messages, or emails
  • Whistling or catcalling

What is the Difference Between Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is any instance of another person making an unwanted physical or sexual advance without explicit consent. These actions can include fondling, unwanted touching, or forcing themselves onto another person without consent. The difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault is that harassment does not require a physical element.

You can be harassed without anyone touching you. Any remark, joke, or behavior that refers to sexual content is considered harassment, whereas assault requires an unwanted physical interaction. Both are severe crimes committed in the workplace for which you can file a claim or lawsuit. Do not believe that you are not entitled to file a sexual harassment claim for behavior that created a toxic work environment just because you did not experience physical assault.

Sexual harassment will always happen in the workplace, as some people may not understand what type of speech and behavior is off-limits. It's vital to know how to handle an instance of sexual harassment and how to protect yourself. The following are some things you should do if you experience sexual harassment:

Speak Up About Your Sexual Harassment

In many instances of sexual harassment at work, simply saying something to the perpetrator is enough to stop the abuse. In the simplest cases, the responsible party may not realize their behavior is inappropriate. Saying something will bring it to their attention, make them consider the consequences, and possibly embarrass them into stopping.

Likewise, if they know what they are doing, they may believe they can get away with it because the victim may feel too embarrassed to speak up. By verbalizing your discomfort, you can possibly embarrass them enough that they stop harassing you. If the harasser or abuser is superior, saying something could make them notice that their behavior is inappropriate and will not be allowed to slide. The next thing you need to do is follow your company's policy on the issue.

Follow Company Guidelines Regarding Reporting Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately, you need to follow company guidelines when you are the one being harassed. That there need to be such guidelines in the first place is a sad reality. However, following these rules will greatly improve your chances of getting justice later. Most large companies have a detailed handbook that outlines everything related to human resources and procedures, including dealing with sexual harassment claims. If your company is large enough to have one of these handbooks, get a copy, read it, and follow what it says about handling sexual harassment.

The company's sexual harassment policy will include what the company considers sexual harassment, how you can report the incident, how long you have to report it, what the investigation process looks like, the penalties for the harassers, and any support structures available for the victim. Make sure you read through your company's policy as early into your tenure as possible so you know what the procedure looks like before anything else happens.

Reporting the Harassment to Your Company's Human Resources Department

If your company has a Human Resources or People and Culture department, your next step is formally filing a complaint with their office. These employees are most likely the designated department to handle these claims. If your company is too small to have an HR department, address the issue with your supervisor or with a higher-up in the company you trust.

If your supervisor is the person committing the harassing or abusive behavior, you should go above their head to the owner or the main person in charge. It is critical to any future litigation against your employer that they were aware of the incident(s).

Keep Records of Your Harassment

Although the prospect of it can seem daunting, keeping a detailed record of your sexual harassment is essential. Writing down details from the harassment can be challenging as it can bring back negative feelings about what happened to you. However, having all the essential details written down is vital, as your company's HR department or your future sexual harassment lawyer will need them later.

The following are some of the details you should keep a record of about your sexual harassment incident:

  • The date, time, and location of the harassment
  • Name of the harasser
  • Names of any witnesses to the harassment
  • What occurred during the harassment (specific details about what was said/done)
  • Anyone who spoke to you about the harassment and when
  • Actions taken by management

Report the Sexual Harassment to a Governmental Agency

If you have followed the above tips and the harassment is continuing, then it's time that you take action outside of the workplace and file a formal complaint with a government agency. This formal complaint is an administrative charge, usually filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Florida Commission on Human Relations. These government agencies will investigate the claim and begin steps to resolve the issue.

If the agency determines your complaint to be valid, and cannot resolve the issue with the offender, then they will issue you something known as a Notice of Right to Sue. This document states that the agency has deemed the allegations valid and that litigation may proceed.

Litigation for Sexual Harassment Injuries

Once you have been issued a Notice of Right to Sue, you can start the process of filing a civil lawsuit against your harasser to reclaim any damages caused. You can sue for sexual harassment within 90 days of receiving the Notice Right to Sue. If you do not, you may waive your right to sue for damages caused by sexual harassment.

Damages most commonly pursued from sexual harassment include emotional injuries, lost income from work, lost benefits, and future concerns like counseling. There may also be punitive damages, additional damages added to a personal injury award meant to punish the defendant and deter them from their harmful behavior. Punitive damages are extremely rare and only occur in cases involving especially severe harm.

Restraining Orders or Protective Orders

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, one option is to file a restraining order, also known as a protective order. To do so, you must: 

  1. Gather evidence: This can include any documentation of the harassment, such as emails, texts, or witness statements.
  2. Contact the police: If you feel threatened or in danger, call the police immediately. They can help you file a police report and get a temporary restraining order.
  3. Contact a lawyer: A lawyer can help you understand your rights and options for seeking a restraining order. They can also help you file the necessary paperwork and represent you in court.
  4. File for a restraining order: Depending on your state, you may be able to file for a restraining order in civil court or through the criminal court system. The process will vary based on your jurisdiction, but generally, you will need to show evidence of the harassment and why you believe you are in danger.

It's important to note that filing a restraining order is a serious matter and should not be taken lightly. If you are considering this option, it is strongly advisable to seek the help of an experienced lawyer.

Types of Sexual Harassment Claims

Filing a personal injury lawsuit over sexual abuse depends heavily on the specifics of your case. The amount and type of compensation that you may get depend on whether your sexual harassment falls under assault and battery or intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Florida personal injury attorney you choose can help you build a case surrounding the facts and based on one or both of the above legal theories.

On top of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, the law recognizes two types of sexual harassment claims. They are the following:

  • Quid Pro Quo: This is when a person in a position of power at a workplace requests an employee perform a sexual favor. They may offer this sexual favor as an alternative to other punishment, such as a firing, or offer raises and promotions in exchange for the sexual favor. This abuse of power is illegal and can serve as the basis for a sexual harassment claim.
  • Hostile Work Environment: This is when sexual harassment is so consistent, pervasive, or severe that it alters the culture of a workplace. It can lead to a hostile or toxic work environment that affects the mental health of employees. There must be proof that the inappropriate behavior led to a hostile environment in the workplace.

Compensation for Sexual Harassment Damages

The ultimate goal is to get compensated for the damages you received due to workplace sexual harassment or abuse. Damages in a sexual assault or sexual harassment case result from the victim's physical and emotional pain and suffering. These damages include suffering during the incident and suffering that will linger long after it has ended.

Dolman Law Group has often found that juries are sympathetic to sexual harassment and sexual assault cases due to the egregious nature of these crimes. Juries may award injury victims a relatively large amount of compensation for their damages if the at-fault party is found to have been intentionally harmful or negligent in their behavior. The difficult part about these cases is that insurance companies are not involved, so receiving the compensation personally from the at-fault party can take longer than in general personal injury cases.

However, Dolman Law Group will work tirelessly with the courts and through any legal means possible to collect the compensation awarded to you. If a jury of your peers finds that you deserve compensation for the sexual harassment you suffered, our sexual harassment attorneys will put all our effort into ensuring you receive that fair compensation.

Important Things to Know about Sexual Harassment at Work

It is important to remember a few sobering details about sexual harassment claims. You probably can't sue for minor or infrequent harassment because courts handle sexual harassment similar to other injuries in that they must be severe and damaging to proceed in civil court.

This is not to say that some instances that happen once aren't worth pursuing because some are so severe that they cause harm from just one incident. However, the incident(s) need to meet the definition of "severe or pervasive," meaning the incident was particularly abhorrent or occurred often. Courts will often not allow civil cases for instances of repeated unwarranted propositions or flirtations, looking down a shirt or up a skirt, nasty comments, or even infrequent instances of groping, despite how these actions can cause emotional harm to the victim.

Likewise, the employer is not required by law to fire the harasser. Instead, they can take other actions like warnings, discipline, moving the employee, etc. This may be frustrating to the victim, and rightfully so, but it leads to the last and most important point about suing your employer for sexual harassment.

Do Not Retaliate or Quit Your Job After Sexual Harassment

The law works so that any perceived mistake on your behalf could affect your ability to succeed in your sexual harassment lawsuit. No matter how severe the sexual harassment was, you should not retaliate or quit your job, as that can impact your ability to receive compensation.

It’s crucial that you follow the correct procedures, do everything you can to make your case strong, and avoid doing anything that could jeopardize your case. Retaliation, quitting your job, or acting out could all jeopardize your ability to take your case to court. Your lawyer can help provide you with the necessary knowledge regarding your claim and ensure that you’re prepared for the legal actions that lay ahead.

Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your Sexual Harassment Claim

At Dolman Law Group, we have sexual harassment lawyers whose sole mission is to help victims of sexual harassment pursue compensation for their damages. We have a "quality over quantity" doctrine, which means we work with fewer clients, so those clients get the most committed, personal legal counsel we can offer. We provide our clients personalized attention, ensuring their thoughts and concerns are addressed in the claims process.

You have the right to work in an environment that is safe and free of sexual harassment. If you experienced sexual harassment at work and the steps above didn't help, contact Dolman Law Group for a free case evaluation and consultation. Whether you need to talk to a child sexual assault lawyer, a sexual assault lawyer, or a workplace harassment lawyer, you can reach our law firm for legal advice by calling us at (727) 451-6900 or by filling out our contact form.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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