SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIMS INVOLVING INAPPROPRIATE AND OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE IN NEW YORK & NEW JERSEY
For over 22 years, we have been helping victims of a Hostile Work Environment through vulgar and profane language
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, New York State Executive Law, New York City Human Rights Law, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Employers have a responsibility to maintain an environment free of sexual harassment, which may arise in many different forms. In some instances, sexual harassment does not involve sexual contact, but consists of curses, vulgar and profane language that is degrading and offensive.
If your employer, colleague or supervisor subjects you to vulgar or profane language (if they are constantly cursing at or around you), he or she may be creating a hostile work environment that prevents you from doing your job properly. Fighting against disrespectful and degrading treatment in the workplace may seem a daunting task, but the lawyers at Akin Law Group are ready to help you every step of the way. Our lawyers will treat you with dignity and respect, and provide you with a safe and stress-free environment to discuss the details of your case confidentially and free of charge.
Can you have sexual harassment from mere words?
There are two forms in which sexual harassment occurs. The first is quid pro quo sexual harassment, when tangible employment actions are taken against employees who do not comply with sexual demands. The second form of sexual harassment is the creation of a hostile work environment that interferes with an employee’s ability to do work, or creates an intimidating and oppressive atmosphere in the workplace.
Claims of sexual harassment based on the use of vulgar language, curses, obscenity and/or profanity often results in the employee being subjected to a hostile work environment. In such cases, the harasser usually curses or uses profanity and vulgar language on such a regular basis that the employee or co-workers become distresses since the work atmosphere is permeated with hostilities, i.e. a hostile work environment has been created. The emotional distress that the employee suffers as a result of such an environment may make him or her eligible for monetary damages.
Several conditions must be filled in order for a workplace to be considered a hostile work environment due to offensive comments:
- The individual filing the complaint must be a member of a group that is protected by anti-discrimination law. In sexual harassment cases involving vulgar language, this individual is often a woman who faces comments that are derogatory towards females in the workplace. However, it is important to note that victims of sexual harassment can also be male.
- The individual must be negatively impacted by comments that relate to his or her membership in a legally protected class.
- The use of language must create a negative atmosphere that is “severe and pervasive” enough that it impedes the individual’s ability to continue working.
Does offensive language need to attack you personally to be considered sexual harassment?
Vulgar language does not always need to be specifically directed at you to be considered sexual harassment. Even if an offensive comment is not personally addressed to an employee, he or she may suffer from the effects that it produces upon the workplace environment. In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the D.C. Circuit found that “[e]ven a woman who was never herself the object of harassment might have a sexual harassment claim if she were forced to work in an atmosphere in which such harassment was pervasive.” If an employer makes comments degrading and humiliating women in general, for example, a female employee may have the grounds for a successful sexual harassment claim. Employers and co-workers who use language that debases a legally protected group may be violating the law.
Statements that break the law need not be limited to direct sexual references to a victim’s body parts. Sometimes, subtler comments such as “Are you married?” “Do you have a boyfriend?,” or “Are you sexually active?” may be deemed offensive as well. The legality of such comments is determined in the light of the context in which they were said. Because of this, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether or not an individual experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. If you are unsure of whether an employer or co-worker’s language can be considered sexual harassment, contact one of our experienced and knowledgeable lawyers today to discuss your case.
Not all vulgar conduct or profane language can be called sexual harassment
The law protects certain groups from discrimination, but does not require all workplace interactions to be polite or considerate. As one court said, “Title VII is not a civility code, and not all profane or sexual language or conduct will constitute discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment” (Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide). In other words, rude, insensitive, or offensive language in the workplace may not necessarily violate the law. To know whether you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, you should consult with attorneys that know the law and are willing to consult with you in this regard.
Factors to consider when determining whether you have been a victim of sexual harassment
There are several variables to consider when determining whether you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. Several of the key determinants are:
- The context in which the vulgar conduct occurs
- The use of gender-specific vulgarity or profanity especially offensive to a legally protected group
- The employer’s response (or lack thereof) to complaints from the employee concerning the vulgar and offensive conduct
These three factors together must show that the employer or co-worker’s behavior resulted in a hostile work environment for the victim. In Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, for example, the plaintiff was able to show that the consistent use of derogatory language about females created a hostile environment that affected her work performance.
Sexual language and indiscriminate offensive comments do not prove that illegal harassment occurred. However, language that is gender-specific, such as offensive comments that debase women or refer to their anatomy, may be considered sexual harassment. In order to be considered sexual harassment, this language does not necessarily need to refer to a specific individual; rather, it can be humiliating to a protected group to which the victim belongs.
Does the frequency with which vulgar comments are made matter?
Isolated or trivial incidents may not be considered “severe and pervasive” enough to be deemed sexual harassment. In one case, the California Appellate Court found that eleven instances of vulgar language over a two- or three-year period were not severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment. The defendant reportedly commented inappropriately on the plaintiff’s appearance and relationship status, but his improper behavior was sporadic and infrequent, and did not include physical contact or propositioning.
Despite the outcome of that particular case, please note that no two cases are the same, and that the New York Court and New Jersey Court may differ in their interpretation of inappropriate language in the workplace. Because state and local laws play an important role in the outcome of sexual harassment cases, it is important that you get the help of a lawyer experienced with New York and New Jersey discrimination and employment laws. The lawyers at Akin Law Group have the legal knowledge and courtroom experience to help you succeed. Call us today to set up a free initial consultation to discuss your case.
The lawyers at Akin Law Group are ready to help
Filing a sexual harassment claim or lawsuit may seem like an overwhelming task, but the lawyers at Akin Law Group can alleviate your stress. Our attorneys offer candid, up-front advice about your case from the very first meeting. They have extensive knowledge of federal, state, and city laws, and are passionate about fighting for employees’ rights in the workplace. In fact, they are so confident that they can help you that they charge no fees unless they make a recovery.
Call us at 212-825-1400 to set up a Free and Confidential consultation.