Si usted tiene una demanda de acoso sexual laboral, lo que usted reporta inicialmente a la Comisión de Igualdad de Oportunidades de Empleo (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission en inglés), y cómo lo reporta, puede afectar su demanda legal en las cortes.

Antes de interponer una demanda de acoso sexual laboral en contra de su empleador bajo el Título VII de las leyes de Estados Unidos, la vícitma debe de primero presentar cargos con el EEOC (siglas en Inglés para la Comisión de Igualdad de Oportunidades de Empleo). El EEOC entonces emite una notificación llamada “derecho a demandar,” la cual le permite a la víctima interponer su demanda en las cortes.

En la reciente opinión en el caso Little v. CRSA emitida el 15 de Agosto del 2018 por el Décimo Primer Circuito de la Corte Federal de los Estados Unidos, la Corte decidió que la demanda de acoso sexual de Sybil Little estaría limitada sólo a los cargos que ella presentó anteriormente con el EEOC, y afirmó la decisión de la corte del distrito, la cual desestimó la demanda federal de Sybil Little en su totalidad.

Sybil Little estuvo empleada desde el 2006 como Técnica y Coordinadora de Seguridad de la compañía CRSA en Fort Rucker, Alabama. En su demanda en la corte federal, Sybil Little alegó que ella había sido víctima de continuos acosos sexuales de parte de Jason Patrick, el Director de Operaciones de CRSA, y de Ricky Norris, Jefe de Técnincos de CRSA. Ella alegó que Patrick le propuso tener relaciones sexuales y que Norris le hizo comentarios sobre su cuerpo y apariencia personal, y la motivó a que usara vestidos y tacones para que él puediera verla trepar por la escalera.

El principal error de Sybil Little al presentar su demanda en la corte federal fue que ella sólo incluyo en su cargo con el EEOC la alegada discriminación sexual de parte de Norris, y no la de Patrick, y tampoco incluyó en su demanda con el EEOC ningún alegato de discriminación sexual en contra de su empleador, CRSA.

La decisión del Décimo Primer Circuito detalla lo siguiente:

Las demandas ante el EEOC no se interpretan de manera estricta, y la demandas judiciales son permitidas sólo si las mismas amplian, aclaran, o se enfocan con más detalles en las alegaciones presentadas antes el EEOC. En el caso de Sybil Little, las alegaciones de su demada federal no podían aclarar alegatos que ella no incluyó en su demanda ante el EEOC.”

Bajo el Título VII de las leyes de los Estados Unidos, un reclamo de acoso sexual no se puede mantener en contra de personas naturales como Norris y Patrick, sólo en contra de empleadores como CRSA. Basado en el único alegato de conducta indebida de parte de Norris, CRSA pudiera haber sido responsable bajo el Título VII si Norris hubiera sido un supervisor inmediato de Little, lo cual haría a CRSA responsable subsidiaria por la conducta de su empleado. CRSA también pudiera haber sido responsable subsidiaria si hubiese sabido o debía de haber sabido sobre la conducta de acoso sexual de su empleado, y no hubiese tomado medidas correctivas con relación a ésta conducta. Little, sin embargo, no inluyó en su demanda ningún alegato estableciendo que Norris era su superior, ni tampoco incluyó alegaciones de que ella reportó la conducta indebida de Norris a sus directores o al departamento de Recusos Humanos. Las meras alegaciones de Little de que Norris le hizo comentarios ofensivos no son suficientes para demostrar que la dirección de CRSA sabía o debió de haber sabido del acoso sexual.

Si usted ha sido víctima de acoso sexual en su lugar de empledo, usted debe de hablar de éste asunto con un abogado especializado en este tipo de leyes, él cual lo puede guiar en todos los aspectos necesarios para poder reclamar sus derechos, desde el presentar un cargo con el EEOC hasta radicar la demanda en las cortes estatales o federales.

A Florida appellate court reversed a lower trial court’s decision to summarily dispose of a guidance counselor’s workplace sexual harassment claim against the Broward County School Board for the conduct of the principal of the school where she worked. The lower court had ruled that Cherellda Branch-McKenzie, the guidance counselor, did not provide evidence to support her claim sufficient for proceeding to trial.

The Fourth District disagreed with the lower court in Branch-McKenzie v. Broward County School Board, released on September 12, 2018.

Cherellda Branch-McKenzie worked as a guidance counselor at Riverland Elementary where Oslay Gil was the principal. Among the inappropriate conduct alleged to have happened, Mr. Gil placed his fingers on Ms. Branch-McKenzie’s lips if he thought she was talking too loud and told her “Girl, you look good. I sure would like to see what that’s like. I know I can have THAT!” Another incident involved him touching her on the neck and saying, “come on, let me kiss you right there.” When Ms. Branch-McKenzie said “no,” he said next time he would not ask, he would just do it. Mr. Gil also inappropriately touched her buttocks on multiple occasions, and on one occasion stated, “oh, I’m sorry, but it felt good.” These incidents would sometimes happen in front of co-workers, like the time when Mr. Gil touched her back and hair, and then told a co-worker who saw the exchange that Ms. Branch-McKenzie was “like a mango…you can’t have just one.” It came to a point where Ms. Branch-McKenzie would ask a co-worker not to leave her alone with Mr. Gil. Several other co-workers provided testimony of other incidents where they observed Mr. Gil’s inappropriate conduct and comments towards Ms. Branch-McKenzie.

One of the elements of a hostile work environment claim is that “the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment and create a discriminatorily abusive working environment.” Despite Ms. Branch-McKenzie’s testimony and the testimony of co-workers corroborating her claims, the lower court ruled that the evidence did not show that Mr. Gil’s conduct was pervasive enough to support a hostile work environment claim because after Ms. Branch-McKenzie reported the conduct to the School Board’s Equal Employment Opportunity office, Mr. Gil’s conduct stopped, although she testified it was because she made a point of avoiding him.

In order to determine whether offensive conduct is pervasive enough, four factors are considered: “(1) the frequency of the conduct; (2) the severity of the conduct; (3) whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating; and (4) whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with the employee’s job performance.”

The Fourth District Court of Appeal engaged in a fact-intensive analysis of these factors and held that Ms. Branch-McKenzie came forward with sufficient evidence as to all four factors to support a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim. The appellate court reversed the lower court’s order disposing of her claim, thereby allowing the claim against the School Board for the conduct of Mr. Gil to proceed to trial.

If you have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you at the lower court level and appellate court level. Please let us know if we can help.

Escuchamos sobre el acoso sexual en las noticias, pero quizás ustedes se preguntan cuál es la definición de acoso sexual? Hay acaso diferencias entre las leyes federales y las leyes de la Florida?

Bajo las leyes federales, el acoso sexual as una forma de discriminación sexual que viola el Título VII de la Ley de Derechos Civiles de 1964. Es illegal el acosar a una persona debido a su sexo. El acoso puede incluir acoso sexual, proposiciones sexuales indeseadas, solicitudes de favores sexuales, y otros acosos verbales o físicos de naturaleza sexual. Bajo las leyes federales, el acoso no necesariamente debe ser de naturaleza sexual, y puede incluir comentarios ofensivos sobre el sexo de la persona. La Asociación Americana de Mujeres Universitarias proporciona en su sitio web una sección dedicada a preguntas y respuestas sobre el acoso sexual bajo el Título VII, e incluye ejemplos y explicaciones de diferentes tipos de acoso sexual.

En la Florida, el acoso sexual también es una forma de discriminación sexual que viola la Ley de Derechos Civiles de la Florida de 1992, la cual cataloga como una práctica de empleo illegal el “despedir, dejar de o rehusar contratar a un individuo, o discriminar en su contra con relación a compensación, términos, condiciones, o beneficios laborales,” basado en el sexo del individuo.

Muchos manuales de empleados incluyen una definición o política del empledor con relación al acoso, incluyendo el acoso sexual. Por ejemplo, La Oficina de Derechos Humanos y Prácticas de Empleo Justas del condado de Miami-Dade ha publicado un folleto disponible en línea con relación al acoso sexual de los empleados del condado, el cual define al acoso sexual como “conducta de naturaleza sexual indeseada, que puede consistir en avances sexuales, solicitudes de favores sexuales, y otra conducta verbal o física. La conducta puede constituir acoso sexual cuando la misma explícita o implicitamente afecta el empleo de un individuo, interfiere indebidamente con el desempeño laboral del empleado, o crea un ambiente de trabajo intimidatorio, hostil, u ofensivo.”

Un abogado puede ayudarlo a determinar si usted está experimentando acoso sexual en su lugar de empleo y sus derechos bajo las leyes federales y estatales. Nuestros abogados pueden asistirlo en cualquier etapa del problema, incluyendo antes de iniciar una acción legal. Por favor no dude en ponerse en contacto con nostros para programar una consulta confidencial con nuestros abogados.

If you have a claim for workplace sexual harassment, what is initially reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and how it’s reported, may affect your legal claim in court.

Before filing a lawsuit based on workplace sexual harassment against an employer under Title VII, a victim is required to file a charge with the EEOC. The EEOC then issues a “right to sue” notice, which allows the victim to file his/her claim in court.

In the recent case of Little v. CRSA, released by the Eleventh Circuit on August 15, 2018, the Court held that Sybil Little’s sexual harassment claim was limited by the scope of her EEOC charge, and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of her complaint.

Since 2006, Sybil Little had been employed as a technician and safety coordinator at CRSA in Fort Rucker, Alabama. She alleged in her federal court action that she was the victim of continuing sexual harassment by Jason Patrick, CRSA’s Operations Manager, and Ricky Norris, CRSA’s Lead Technician. She alleged that Patrick propositioned her for sex and that Norris commented on her body and appearance and encouraged her to wear dresses and heels so that he could watch her climb a ladder.

Sybil Little’s mistake was to only include in her EEOC charge the alleged discrimination carried out by Norris, but not by Patrick and, more importantly, she failed to include any allegations about her employer, CRSA.

The Eleventh Circuit opinion pointed out that

EEOC complaints are not strictly interpreted, and judicial claims are allowed if they amplify, clarify, or more clearly focus the allegations in the EEOC charge. But, Little’s allegations could not clarify what was not in her EEOC charge.”

Under Title VII, a claim cannot be maintained against individuals like Norris and Patrick, only against employers like CRSA. Based on the only alleged misconduct by Norris, CRSA would be held liable if Norris was alleged to be a supervisor with immediate or successively higher authority over Little, which then would make CRSA vicariously liable. CRSA could be also held directly liable if it knew or should have known of the harassing conduct but failed to take prompt remedial action. Little, however, plead no facts that Norris was anything other than a co-employee, and Little did not set forth any allegations that she told management about Norris’s misconduct. Her mere allegations that Norris made offensive comments were not enough to show that CRSA management should have known of the harassment.

If you have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you in all the steps necessary to properly assert your legal claim, from filing a EEOC charge through handling litigation in court.

We hear about sexual harassment in the news, but you might be wondering how is sexual harassment defined? Is there a difference between federal law and Florida law?

Under federal law, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include sexual harassment, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Under federal law, the harassment does not have to be sexual in nature and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. The American Association of University Women provides a comprehensive FAQ section on sexual harassment under Title VII that provides examples and explanations of different types of sexual harassment.

In Florida, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates The Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) of 1992. The FCRA makes it an unlawful employment practice to

discharge or to fail or refuse to hire any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,”

because of a person’s sex.

Many employee handbooks include the employer’s own definition or policy regarding harassment, including sexual harassment. For example, The Miami-Dade County Office of Human Rights and Fair Employment Practices published a brochure available online regarding sexual harassment of county employees and defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature and may consist of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct. Conduct may constitute sexual harassment when it explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

An attorney can help you determine whether you are experiencing sexual harassment at work and your rights under the law. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage, including pre-litigation. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.

On June 25, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued its opinion in Wilcox v. Corrections Corporation of America in favor of the employer in a Title VII sexual harassment claim. The 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s granting of the employer’s Rule 50 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (“Rule 50 Motion”) after a jury returned a verdict for the employee, Felicia A. Wilcox, of $4,000 in actual damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the employer, Corrections Corporation of America, that the employer could not be held liable because it took prompt remedial action after Ms. Wilcox complained about the harassment.

Helen H. Albee, one of Ms. Wilcox’s attorneys, was surprised that the 11th Circuit followed what the district court did and were “unconcerned with the amount of factual analysis the district court did on the Rule 50 motion.” Ms. Albee noted that after the jury’s verdict, the district court did “a lot of re-weighing the evidence the jury did already.” Let’s take a look at the facts and what happened in this case.

What Happened and When?

Ms. Wilcox alleged that a coworker, Larry Jackson, slapped her buttocks twice, squeezed her thigh, and made sexually explicit remarks on different occasions. When Ms. Wilcox filed a complaint with her employer, the employer took the following steps:

  • The employer ordered Jackson not to be around Ms. Wilcox immediately, but nonetheless he rolled his eyes at her repeatedly and punched a metal machine in front of her to intimidate her;
  • After Ms. Wilcox made a second complaint to the employer about prior sexual harassment incidents and her fear that he would touch her again, the employer’s investigator interviewed Ms. Wilcox 6 weeks after her first complaint;
  • The employer’s investigation included interviews with 16 other employees that resulted in sexual harassment complaints against Jackson by other employees;
  • 8 weeks after Ms. Wilcox’s complaint, the employer’s investigator found that Jackson sexually harassed Ms. Wilcox and other employees; and
  • The employer terminated Jackson five days after the investigation report.

Knowledge + No Prompt Remedial Action = Employer’s Direct Liability

An employer can be held liable for a hostile work environment claim through either vicarious or direct liability. If the harasser is not the victim’s supervisor, an “employer will be held directly liable only if it knew or should have known of the harassing conduct but failed to take prompt remedial action.” Miller v. Kenworth of Dothan, Inc., 277 F.3d 1269, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002). Wilcox argued that her employer should have known about Jackson’s additional harassment after she complained about him because he would inappropriately hug female employees and make intimidating looks and gestures toward Ms. Wilcox after her first complaint. The 11th Circuit didn’t think the harassment was sufficiently pervasive to impute knowledge to the employer because (1) Ms. Wilcox didn’t report the hugging or intimidating conduct; (2) there wasn’t any evidence that the hugging was widespread or considered offensive; and (3) the employer’s anti-discrimination policy was well-known and vigorously enforced.

As for the employer’s “prompt remedial action,” the 11th Circuit held the employer’s action was effective “and a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find otherwise.” Wilcox v. Corr. Corp. of Am., No. 17-11919, 2018 WL 3099892 (11th Cir. June 25, 2018). The only prompt action that seemed to occur here was ordering Jackson to stay away from Ms. Wilcox. Nine weeks is a long time to be working alongside a harasser who is being physically intimidating without saying a word. During oral argument, the employer’s attorney argued that Jackson’s termination within 5 days of the report concluding sexual harassment occurred and investigation into numerous other allegations showed that the ends justified the means because “the investigation was reasonable under the circumstances.” The 11th Circuit reasoned that a jury could not find that the employer failed to act promptly because “there were a lot of moving parts in the company’s investigation, and each of those workings took time” and “culminated in Jackson’s termination.” Wilcox, No. 17-11919, 2018 WL 3099892 (11th Cir. June 25, 2018).

Many employees want to know what is going on with the company’s investigation after lodging a sexual harassment complaint. Working alongside a harasser while an investigation is ongoing can be excruciating, but many employers don’t keep the victim apprised of the investigation. While taking six weeks to interview a victim scarcely seems “prompt,” a court may conclude otherwise if the investigation is complicated and results in the harasser’s termination. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, an attorney can help you understand your rights and guide you through the pre-litigation phase.

As the #metoo movement continues gaining momentum, the dialogue around sexual harassment and assault is shifting to reveal the epidemic of sexual misconduct in our culture. Up to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, 75% of victims of hostile work environments do not report the harassment, and 75% of those who report harassment experience retaliation. What actions come next? On April 25, 2018, activists, advocates and lawmakers gathered at the U.S. Capitol to say Enough is Enough to the culture of sexual harassment and discuss how to strengthen federal law and policy, organize survivors, address workplace policies, and develop survivor-centric solutions. The Summit exemplifies the types of discussions we need to achieve justice for sexual harassment victims and prevent harassment. Video of the Summit is available on CSPAN.

The Takeaway from the Summit

Toni Van Pelt, NOW President

For Toni Van Pelt, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the takeaway from the Summit was “the deeply embedded need to overhaul the ways we deal with sexual assault from a political, legal, and cultural lens.” For her, identifying the scope of the problem, and where activists should target their energies were at the top of her list. Deborah Vagins, Senior Vice President of Public Policy & Research with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), found the Summit to show “we are at a moment in time where hopefully something can be done to address this problem” because the #metoo movement has “pierced the public consciousness” in a way we have not seen in decades.

How do We Strengthen Federal Law and Policy to Address Sexual Harassment?

Deborah Vagins, AAUW Senior Vice President, Public Policy & Research

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the federal law that makes it unlawful to discriminate because of an individual’s sex and makes sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination. In addition to built-in limitations in Title VII, court decisions have interpreted the statute in ways that further limit the protections and relief a victim can seek in court. Ms. Vagins, one of the participants on the federal law and policy panel at the Summit, said her panel identified the following barriers in Title VII cases:

  • Standards of liability against the employer have become more difficult over the years. Holding an employer vicariously liable for the misconduct of a daily manager, for example, is more difficult if the manager doesn’t have the power to hire or fire you;
  • Forced mandatory arbitration clauses that force victims to forego their day in court;
  • Non-disclosure agreements that are a condition of employment;
  • Short statute of limitations;
  • Title VII’s fifteen-employee threshold for the law to apply to the employer; and
  • Title VII’s limited reach that does not cover independent contractors.

Ms. Van Pelt adds that we need to look “towards strengthening Title VII protections for all workers,” including those in small companies, contractors, domestic workers and laborers like caregivers and maids, and farm and migrant labor workers because they “are some of the most abused and exploited workers in the world.” Ms. Van Pelt also emphasized the importance of renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which will automatically expire if not renewed this year. She believes VAWA should also specifically address sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and in schools.

Potential Legislative Proposals

Besides strengthening Title VII and VAWA, Ms. Vagins and Ms. Van Pelt shared the following existing or potential bills with me:

  • Arbitration Fairness Act – to prohibit pre-dispute mandatory arbitration in employment discrimination, consumer, antitrust, and civil rights cases;
  • Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act – limits pre-dispute mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment cases only;
  • Equal Remedies Act – an older bill that would lift the caps on Title VII damages, helping to deter companies from knowingly violating Title VII;
  • Fair Employment Protection Act – makes employers liable for harassment by workers who have the authority to control the daily lives of employees regardless of the authority to hire or fire;
  • Bills relating to the legislative workforce and their unpaid interns;
  • Bills addressing non-disclosure clauses as a condition of employment, requiring that public companies disclose the number of settlements in connection with harassment; and
  • Bills with requirements for developing and disseminating workplace training programs.

Ms. Vagins points out that none of these bills holds the answer, “but in combination would go a long way.” Ms. Van Pelt believes it is also important to strengthen Title IX to ensure it is “not only protecting students on campus, but that there are clear and transparent reporting processes.” As for timing, movement on these proposals and bills won’t have to wait until after the 2018 mid-term elections. “Right now a bipartisan committee is already working on VAWA; however I believe that the influx of progressive women running for office in November will inevitably bring about a much-needed cultural change” says Ms. Van Pelt. Ms. Vagins is equally optimistic and says to

never underestimate the power of public pressure to make change.”

If either chamber flips to a different party, Ms. Vagins thinks we will “probably see a flurry of these bills pass,” so legislators need to be careful to protect existing civil rights bills from unfriendly amendments.

Year-Round Resources

The Enough is Enough Summit may become a much-needed annual event to continue this important dialogue and find solutions. Throughout the year, AAUW, NOW, and some of the other organizations that participated in the Summit provide resources and legislative campaigns for sexual harassment victims their attorneys including: AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund to offset litigation costs and Know Your Rights materials; NOW’s national action campaigns; and the National Women’s Law Center’s Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, we can help you understand your rights.