Sexual Harassment Lawyers in New York City

Sexual harassment is illegal and often results in job loss, stress, low self-esteem, and various other psychological and medical issues. It is essential for all employees–and especially those employees who believe they may be the target of sexual harassment–to have a full understanding of the legal protections and remedies available to them. If you need a sexual harassment lawyer in New York, Contact Us for a free consultation. We have been helping sexual harassment victims since 1999. Worried about the cost of a lawyer? We handle these cases on a contingent fee basis, so you don’t pay unless we win.

sexual harassment lawyers

Read our blog post about reporting Sexual Harassment

Read more Frequently Asked Questions about Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment Lawyers and the Laws they Use

Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered a form of gender discrimination, and is prohibited by a variety of federal, state and local laws. On the Federal level, sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In New York state, employees are also protected against sexual harassment by the State Human Rights Law, and employees in New York City are also protected by the City Human Rights Law. Sexual harassment lawyers use these laws to protect the victims of sexual harassment.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Broadly speaking, sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, including unwelcome verbal or physical sexual conduct. Over the years, sexual harassment lawyers have developed labels for the two types of sexual harassment cases that exist. The first is referred to as “quid pro quo??? sexual harassment and it occurs when an employee is required to engage in sexual conduct as a condition of employment or to gain a promotion or other employment related benefit. Quid pro quo cases involve a “trade??? of sexual services in exchange for promotion or other benefit at work. The second type of sexual harassment, which is known as “hostile work environment,??? occurs when sexual words or conduct in the workplace create a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment.

If you have questions about any of this, please contact one of our sexual harassment lawyers.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

When most people think of sexual harassment in the workplace, they are probably thinking of quid pro quo harassment. Quid pro quo harassment happens when an employee is required to engage in sexual conduct–including submission to unwelcome advances–as a condition of that person’s employment. In other words, quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employee must submit to sexual conduct in order to keep her job or receive a promotion or other benefit. Our sexual harassment lawyers handle these cases on a regular basis.

One of our sexual harassment lawyers, George Vallas, recently represented a waitress who worked at a restaurant in New York City. The owner of the restaurant frequently made sexual advances and demanded that our client go on vacation with him. The owner made it clear that if she wanted to keep her job, she had to be romantically involved with him. When she refused, she was fired. This is a class quid pro quo sexual harassment case. We sued the restaurant and obtained a large settlement.

Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

The second type of workplace sexual harassment claim is for “hostile work environment.??? Hostile work environment harassment is different from quid pro quo in that the unwelcome conduct does not need to come from a direct supervisor or someone in authority, and does not need to be a condition of the victim’s employment. Consequently, the standard for establishing a claim of hostile work environment harassment is somewhat higher.

Simply put, a victim can state a claim for hostile work environment harassment when verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in her place of employment is so extreme that it materially alters the conditions of the victim’s employment. Courts look to several factors to determine whether a hostile work environment exists: 1) whether the conduct was verbal or physical or both; 2) the frequency of the conduct; 3) whether the harasser is a supervisor or simply a coworker; 4) whether the conduct is objectively offensive; and 4) whether the conduct was directed at more than one individual. No one factor is necessary or dispositive.

The Supreme Court has made clear that Title VII is not a general workplace “civility code.??? Incidental and occasional comments are therefore not enough to establish a claim. Although an isolated incident may be sufficient if it is truly outrageous–such as rape or assault–generally the conduct must be pervasive and frequent. The conduct must also be objectively severe, not simply subjectively offensive. At the same time, the conduct need not be so severe that it leads to a complete nervous breakdown. The Supreme Court has made it clear that an abusive work environment may detract from an employee’s job performance or discourage an employee from remaining on the job even if it does not have a debilitating effect on the employee’s psychological well-being.

Workplace Sexual Harassment Doesn’t Just Involve Physical Contact

Sexual harassment lawyers will tell you that the laws do not establish a “general civility code,??? and incidental comments, even if they may be vulgar or rude, will usually be insufficient to state a claim. However, workplace sexual harassment is not limited to physical contact. In New York, the following have all been found to constitute sexual harassment, either under the “quid pro quo??? or the “hostile work environment??? approach:

  • Sexual innuendos, obscene jokes, slurs, lewd remarks & language
  • Content in letters/notes, faxes, e-mails, graffiti
  • Demeaning names based on gender or sexual orientation
  • Persistent unwanted sexual or romantic overtures or attention
  • Leering, whistling or other sexually suggestive sounds or gestures
  • Pornographic photos, naughty cartoons, sexual materials at work
  • Forced touching, patting, brushing up against, pinching, kissing, stroking, massaging, squeezing, fondling, tickling
  • Subtle or overt pressure for sexual favors
  • Coerced Sexual Intercourse (as a condition of employment, or for promotion or for salary increase)
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Touching, rubbing, pinching, hugging, massaging, patting, kissing, or unwanted physical closeness
  • Email, texts, letters, or calls regarding sex
  • Sexual jokes, comments or teasing
  • Graphic workplace discussions about sex
  • Questions about your sex life, sexual fantasies or experiences
  • Touching of your hair, body or clothing
  • Making sexual gestures or comments in the workplace
  • Spreading sexual rumors or stories

Remedies for Sexual Harassment

A sexual harassment lawyer can obtain three general categories of remedies. The first, economic damages, provides recompense for any lost wages and benefits. This is also known as back pay. Victims are also entitled to injunctive relief, such as reinstatement or promotion. In lieu of reinstatement, many employers prefer to pay the victim an approximation of her salary for the number of years she would have been employed had it not been for the harassment. This is known as front pay.

In addition to economic damages, victims of sexual harassment in the workplace are also entitled to compensatory damages for emotional distress. Punitive damages are also available. These are designed to punish the harasser for the violation rather than reimburse the victim. Under Title VII, the federal law, compensatory and punitive damages are capped based on the sized of the employer. The New York State Court Human Rights law does not provide for punitive damages, but under the New York City Human Rights law, both punitive and compensatory damages are available with no cap. Finally, a victim may also recover the legal fees owed to her/his sexual harassment lawyer and the costs of the litigation.

Sexual harassment lawyers are available to help you. There is no fee unless we win. Call The Ottinger Firm, P.C. at 212.571.2000 or Contact Us online. We have been helping sexual harassment victims since 1999. We provide free consultations and handle sexual harassment cases on a contingent fee basis.