Sexual Harassment Involving Touching and Grabbing

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, New York State Executive Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. While some forms of sexual harassment involve only inappropriate comments, many involve some sort of unwelcome physical contact. If you’re being touched in an unwanted way by someone you work with, do not put up with it. New York’s laws provide some of the most comprehensive protections for employees, and you may be eligible for monetary damages for the harassment you experienced.

When does unwanted touching constitute sexual harassment?

Many employees who experience unwanted physical contact in the workplace may endure their situations because they are unsure over whether this type of harassment, touching the arms, back, stomach, etc., is actionable. They may justify a person’s behavior through thoughts such as:

  • “He’s touchy-feely; that’s just the way he is.”
  • “He doesn’t mean any harm, it’s not my breast or my ass.”
  • “It’s not that big of a deal, everyone touches.”
  • “I don’t want to cause trouble (fear of retaliation).”

If you have experienced unwelcome touching in the workplace, and it bothers you, you should know that it is a big deal. Your supervisor or co-worker’s touches can transform a formerly positive workplace into a distressing, hostile, and threatening environment. Many harassers are adept at making their actions seem accidental or ambiguous; in doing so, they often avoid taking responsibility for their harmful behavior. Do not let a supervisor or coworker get away with sexual harassment: call a lawyer as soon as possible to find out whether your rights have been violated.

Although any un-consensual touching is improper, the following are some examples of unwanted touching that has been concluded as sexual harassment:

  • Groping or touching of body parts (not limited to intimate parts like breasts or crotch)
  • Caressing or massaging someone without their consent even if it’s just their shoulders
  • Brushing or rubbing against another person’s body pretending to “squeeze by”
  • Standing too close so as to cause a contact with someone (even if its forcing you to make the contact because of their close proximity)
  • Pressure for sexual favors, e.g. kisses, hugging, slapping etc.
  • Attempted or actual sexual assault or rape, (physically removing your clothing or forcing you to engage in oral sex or intercourse

Can unwelcome physical contact still be considered sexual harassment if I did not complain in the past?

The fact that you allowed someone to touch you or kiss you in the past, does not give them the right to continue touching / kissing you if you no longer wish to be touched in that manner. Whether or not an incident of unwanted touching can be considered sexual harassment depends on the type of contact and the context in which this contact occurs, regardless of what happened in the past. If the contact is particularly severe, as in the case of sexual assault, in addition to being considered sexual harassment, the contact is also criminal in nature. Blatant acts, such as fondling or groping (regardless of whether it involves your intimate areas of the body), are also prohibited by the law, even if it does not rise to a criminal level.

Although, not all forms of inappropriate touching can be deemed sexual harassment, (shaking hands, giving someone a “high-five”, each situation must be judged on its own merits.

Conduct giving rise to a sexual harassment claim often fall into one of two categories.

  • Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: Your continued employment, hiring, wage, promotions, benefits, or treatment at work are based on your compliance with sexual demands for physical contact. In other words, your employer tells you that you will be fired, refused a promotion, refused a raise, or that your employment will suffer in some other manner unless you let this person touch you; the touching does not necessarily have to be intercourse or oral sex; acts like rubbing your breast, or touching your crotch / buttock is more than sufficient.
  • Hostile Work Environment: You have been subjected to unwanted physical contact that interferes with your work performance and creates a distressing workplace atmosphere; the touching creates an atmosphere where you do not feel comfortable. Although a single severe event may render a work environment permanently hostile, even touching that is not sever (so long as it is of a sexual nature and makes you feel uncomfortable) maybe sufficient for a sexual harassment claim.

Although these are the most prevalent types of contact that occur, assault and battery are also actionable in and of themselves. Even when the contact is not of a sexual nature, if you have been touched in an offensive manner (someone being slapped in the face, punched or kicked) may have a claim for assault and battery independent of any sexual harassment claim.

If you are unsure about whether your circumstances are illegal and actionable, contact Akin Law Group today to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.

Keep a written account of instances of unwanted physical contact

Many sexual harassment claims consist of numerous incidents. Because of this, it may be difficult to keep track of the dates and details of individual incidents.

A detailed and accurate written account of the events can help you win your case by providing clear evidence of what occurred when. There is no need to wait until you are sure that you want to file a lawsuit to write a log of the events. By the time you have decided, you may have forgotten the exact details of the incidents and sequence of events. As soon as you believe that you may have experienced sexual harassment, record it. Make sure to write down aspects of the event such as:

  • The date and time it occurred
  • Offensive or sexual language
  • Any touching or sexual contact that occurred
  • E-mails, letters, or notes from your harasser (try to keep a hard copy of these)

Keeping a record of events can greatly improve your chances of having a successful sexual harassment claim.

How can you avoid being inappropriately touched in the workplace?

Although an individual who touches somebody in an inappropriate way may not always realize that their behavior is unwanted and unacceptable, no one should never assume that others want to be physically touched in a similar manner. Everybody has a different threshold for physical contact, and crossing it may result in workplace tension or a harassment claim. In the event someone has a higher threshold for being offended and thing that you are the same way, you should promptly advise them (in an e-mail / writing when possible to be clear and concise) that you do not want to be touched in this manner.

Everyone needs to know that aside from the handshake, skin-to-skin contact can be interpreted in a number of ways by the recipient. An innocuous touch on the forearm, for example, can give rise to discomfort if extended for even a bit too long. The best way to avoid the possibility of an uncomfortable workplace environment or being sexually harassed in this manner is to be vocal at each instance.  It is entirely possible to maintain a warm, welcoming, and personable work environment without allowing excessive physical contact that makes you feel uncomfortable.

What should you do about inappropriate touching in the workplace?

If you experience unwanted contact in the workplace, you should immediately let the person know that you are uncomfortable and would like the distressing behavior to stop. There is nothing wrong and no one will see you as a prude for refusing to interact in this manner. If the unwanted behavior continues after you have made it clear that you wish for it to stop, notify another supervisor or your company’s Human Resources department about the situation and do it in writing (make a record).

Notifying your employer about harassment is an important component of a claim, as it can help prove that the conduct was unwelcome, and can prevent the defendant from lowering your damages in court. Any claim made by you, mu­­­st be investigated efficiently, promptly and impartially; the employer may have additional liabilities if they fail to take action or if they retaliate against you. In any event, if you have been sexually harassed by way of touching or in some other manner, you should contact the Akin Law Group right away to learn your rights.

Don’t let fear of retaliation hinder you from taking action!

You may feel hesitant about taking any of the above steps for fear of ostracism, ridicule, or retaliation. Rest assured that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, New York State Executive Law, and New York City Human Rights Law make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against applicants, employees, workers, or independent contractors because they complained about sexual harassment. If you claimed that you were sexually harassed, and were subsequently fired, demoted, harassed, humiliated, denied benefits, or subjected to any other form of retaliation, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

Because many of the laws involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit are state and local ones, you should endeavor to find a lawyer well-versed in Federal, New York State and New York City law. The lawyers at Akin Law Group, located right by Wall Street, on Broadway in downtown Manhattan have in-depth knowledge of both Federal and New York’s laws. Call us today to set up a free consultation to discuss the details of your case.

The lawyers at Akin Law Group will fight passionately and effectively for your rights. Call them today at 212-825-1400

All too often, perpetrators of sexual harassment don’t face the consequences of their actions. Don’t let that be the case in your situation – set up a Free and Confidential consultation with one of our attorneys today. We are so confident in our ability to help our clients succeed, if we accept to represent you, we may do so on a full contingency basis, where you will not be charged any legal fees unless we make a recovery on your behalf.