The #MeToo movement is still big news these days (as it should be). Unfortunately, sexual harassment remains the norm in many industries. But lawyers? The answer is sadly, yes. Not a week goes by without another report of boorish behavior followed by a sexual harassment lawsuit.
This week a New Jersey woman filed suit against CKR Law LLP (also known as Crone Kline Rinde), a New York City law firm. The woman filing suit – we will just use her first name “Catherine” - was hired as the law firm’s marketing director.
Hired in December of 2017, she says it didn’t take long before the harassment and hostile work environment began.
According to her lawsuit, in June 2018 an attorney at the law firm “began emailing and calling [Catherine] after work hours and during all hours if the night to ‘chat.’” He also asked her if she had “less professional pictures to share.”
Catherine was married in a same sex marriage in July of 2018. What should have been a happy life event appears to have turned into a nightmare at work. Catherine says a female attorney at the firm “would continuously sit on [her] desk” wanting to discuss her homosexual lifestyle.
Yet another attorney that month asked her “if she was done with men forever or if he could do anything to change her mind.” When she ignored his rude comments, he allegedly became hostile and disrespectful.
Catherine says she complained about the ongoing behavior to her immediate supervisor, the managing partner of the law firm. According to her, there was no investigation or remedial actions taken.
Finally, she asked if she could work from home, apparently to avoid the hostile workplace.
At first, the law firm let her work from home. Within a month, the firm changed its mind and told her she had to spend time at the office.
By December, she says that she never received her bonus like other employees. She was terminated shortly thereafter for her alleged inability to work in the office. She says her assistant was promoted to her old job after her termination and allowed to work from home.
[Please note the source of this post is a complaint filed in the New York Supreme Court. Allegations in a complaint are just that, allegations. Until a judge or jury sorts out the facts, we make no assumptions as to whether the allegations are true and if Catherine is the victim of illegal discrimination.]
Hostile Workplaces Not Limited to Law Firms
This case involves a small New York City law firm. Many readers, however, can relate to Catherine’s anxiety caused by her coworkers’ boorish behavior. A hostile workplace can happen everywhere.
Many workers believe that simply having a bad boss constitutes a hostile workplace. That alone isn’t enough for a discrimination claim, however.
A hostile workplace happens when a boss or coworker’s actions makes doing your job difficult or impossible.
A second requirement is that those actions be discriminatory in nature. In Catherine’s case, her complaint details both gender and sexual orientation discrimination.
It is also important to show that the discriminatory behavior lasts for a period of time. A one time incident probably isn’t enough. As we have seen in Catherine’s case, it is also important to demonstrate that management is aware of the wrongful conduct and doesn’t investigate or take corrective action.
Responding to a Hostile Workplace
If you are working in a hostile workplace or lost your job because of a hostile environment or illegal harassment, you have three choices:
- Complain to HR or your boss
- File a complaint with the state or EEOC
- File a lawsuit
Our team of sexual harassment lawyers can help you decide what is the best course of action. Contact us to learn more.
Complain to HR or Your Boss
Complaining to your boss or HR is often a good first step. It can be difficult to bring a lawsuit if your employer is unaware of harassment or a hostile environment. This is especially true if you believe that the situation can be resolved internally.
Make sure you document the incidents of abuse. If you have received inappropriate text messages or emails, save them. If you are getting verbally abused, keep a journal so that you have the details, dates and times.
Depending on your comfort level, sometimes telling the person who is making you uncomfortable is enough to remedy the situation.
Filing a State or EEOC Complaint
The law allows you to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for a hostile workplace environment. Most states have a similar state law process.
If you reported the harassment or hostile environment to the company and the abuse continues, filing an official complaint with the state or EEOC is the next step. It is important to do so quickly, you may have only 180 days to do so!
In most cases, this is the step to take if your employer failed to resolve the situation and the abuse continues.
Remember that it is essential to act quickly because in many jurisdictions you only have 180 days from the date of the harassment to file your formal complaint.
After you file your complaint, the state or EEOC or both should investigate. That doesn’t always happen, however. Government investigators have the ability to interview witnesses and collect evidence. They can also mediate a settlement between the parties.
If no settlement occurs or if the process is taking too long, the agency can issue a Right to Sue letter giving you permission to file a lawsuit in court.
Win or lose, it is still against the law for an employer to retaliate against you for filing a complaint.
Filing a Lawsuit
If you can’t settle, or don’t like the decision of the agency or if the agency is simply taking too long, you have the right to file a lawsuit. Unlike a complaint with the EEOC or state agency, hostile workplace and harassment cases are decided by a judge or jury. In recent years, however, many employers are inserting lawsuit waivers in employment contracts which force workers to arbitrate their claims.
If you are claiming discrimination based on sexual orientation, you may have better protections under state law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite the law, the EEOC has often interceded in LGBT discrimination cases. In many states, state laws offer better protection.
Some cities now have their own LGBTQ ordinances that can offer more protections.
How We Can Help
Our experienced team and network of sexual harassment and employment lawyers can help you obtain the justice you deserve.
We will thoroughly review your evidence and let you know if you have a case; present your case in court; hire experts and investigators to help prove your case; and take your case all the way to trial if your employer won’t settle.
We generally accept cases where the employee has lost his or her job or suffered serious monetary losses. Cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis meaning you don’t pay unless we win.
All inquiries are kept strictly confidential.
There is no reason why any employee should suffer from a hostile workplace. Constant harassment and hostility can mean more than lost wages. Your health and professional reputation can also suffer.
For more information, visit our sexual harassment FAQ page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone at 877.858.8018.