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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment Claims in Employment Law

Minneapolis Sexual Harassment Lawyers
There are two types of workplace sexual harassment in Minnesota: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. The former refers to situations in which a manager or employer offers something in return, such as a salary increase or promotion, in exchange for sexual favors. The latter occurs when there is pervasive conduct, whether physical or verbal, that is sexual in nature. It could also include gender slurs, sexual jokes, or threats made on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation.
Under federal, state, and even local law, you may have a claim against your employer or coworker if you have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace. Minnesota law considers sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination, which makes it illegal. Here is an overview of sexual harassment under the employment law in Minnesota.

Being the most commonly recognized form of sexual harassment, this occurs when any form of job benefit, ranging from a raise or reassignment, to a big promotion, is offered in return for sexual favors. If you find yourself in this situation, or if you think that having rejected a sexual demand from a manager or authority figure is the reason you were fired or didn’t get hired, then you have the right to file a claim.

Quid pro quo is a very specific form of sexual harassment, regardless of the nuanced motivations behind it. Whether you refuse or accept the contingent exchange, either option may be to your detriment.

Another form of sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when there is a pattern of harassing conduct or behavior, which then creates an intimidating or hostile work environment. To successfully prove a claim, you need to demonstrate that the sexual advances are unwelcome and that they are pervasive and severe enough to make you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed at work.

The best way to handle a hostile work environment case is to immediately notify management. Unlike quid pro quo claims, a hostile work environment may be harder to prove, as the court will have to consider the work environment as a whole. When building your case, consider the condition of your coworkers. Do they have the same experiences as yours? Do they feel compelled to leave the company because of similar circumstances?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered one of the most difficult charges to prove, mainly because it ends up being a case of your word against the harasser’s, especially when there are no witnesses to help you prove your claim. Nevertheless, you should still take action and fight for justice so you can return to your normal life, as soon as possible.

Having fierce employment lawyers in Minnesota by your side is the key to building a strong case. But before you initiate any legal action, there are several steps you can take to make your evidence indisputable and to improve your odds of winning the case.

  1. Record your experiences in detail – whether the harassment is a one-time or a regular thing, document each experience in great detail, from the date, time, location, to other minute aspects that may support your case and counter the version of events that your harasser or employer may provide.
  2. File an internal complaint – notifying management is an essential first step when confronting sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are well aware of the repercussions of not taking action when an employee files a report. If they don’t launch an investigation right away, they will need to face the legal consequences once you take your case to the EEOC.
  3. Save any correspondence with the harasser – collect whatever evidence you can get to prove your claim. This could include emails, text messages, or written notes that are either downright offensive or may show sexual subtexts.
  4. Gather as much support for your case – support can come from different sources, including witness assessments, statements from other victims, or conversations and other documentation that may be critical to supporting your case.
  5. File a report with the EEOC or Minnesota Department of Human Rights – if the harassment ensues and your employer fails to do anything about it, it’s time to bring your case to the EEOC or MDHR.

Sexual harassment means and covers many things under federal and Minnesota law. Your boss can’t offer you advances in your career in exchange for sexual favors. Nobody can make comments about your appearance, your body, your sex life, your partners, or your sexual preference. Of course, sexual harassment also includes sexual advances, comments, touching, groping, patting, rubbing, or grabbing. Basically, a good general rule is that if it makes you feel uncomfortable or scared, there’s a good chance that you’re being sexually harassed.

It is a sad reality in the US that victims of sexual harassment choose to keep mum about their suffering rather than confront it and seek justice. There have been several cases of victims quitting their jobs instead of notifying their managers or filing a sexual harassment case. The term for this situation is “constructive discharge.” And under federal and state laws, being forced to quit because of unlawful working conditions can give you a strong claim for constructive discharge.

In the case of sexual harassment, if you notified management but their inaction made you quit, or your harasser made your working conditions deplorable and management didn’t do anything about it, you have high chances of winning the suit and recovering monetary damages from your employer. To prove that your discharge was illegal and to know if you have strong legal claims, you will need help from experienced sexual harassment attorneys.

There are different factors that might influence the total monetary value of your case, but here are the main considerations:

  • The strength of your case on the merits – this refers to how strong your case is against the harasser and/or your employer
  • The offensiveness and egregiousness of the hostile work environment – the jury may award you with damages depending on the severity of your experience. Your case will be weightier, the worse the conduct was and if management knew about the abuse but did not act on it or even participated in it.
  • The amount of damages you’ve suffered – on top of emotional suffering, sexual harassment can result in wage loss. The victim may have to seek medical care and counseling, which translate to more monetary losses, especially if the victim doesn’t have private insurance.
  • Whether your employer has the ability to pay a large amount – big corporations would usually pay a large settlement to avoid the courtroom. The value of your case may be higher the more resources the company has.
  • Your tolerance for risk – the value of your case will also increase the bigger the risk you are willing to take. Most sexual harassment cases take over a year before litigation begins, so the more willing you are to pursue the case, the higher the value will be.

Being subjected to unwanted sexual advances from a fellow employee or authority figure can have several implications on a person’s personal and professional life. Whether you submitted to the inappropriate requests or did not and, as a result, got fired, you should still file a claim and seek legal assistance. If you file a claim and the evidence is strong, you may recover the following compensatory damages:

  • Emotional distress – this refers to the emotional harm your employer or coworker’s harassment has caused you, but Minnesota courts may have to prove if the emotional distress is serious enough or if it is the direct result of the harassment.
  • Medical bills – sexual harassment, no matter the degree of severity, can cause real emotional anguish on the victim. It may result in traumatically induced neurosis, chronic depression, or phobia, all of which may possibly require psychological care or regular counseling well into the future. If you’re in a similar situation, then you may claim damages for medical expenses.
  • Lost wages – if you miss work or claim constructive discharge as a result of being sexually harassed at work, you may be entitled to recover wages and benefits and other compensatory damages.
  • Punitive damages – in circumstances where the harasser’s conduct is particularly offensive and malicious and shocks the jury’s consciousness, your may recover punitive damages, including a reasonable portion of your attorney’s fees and costs. If you win the case and your employer is held liable, your employer will need to pay all your legal expenses.
  • We represented a female firefighter who endured gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Male employees, including supervisors, targeted her and made her the subject of a ruthless stream of sexual comments, innuendos, touching, and ultimately – grabbing. Her supervisors ignored or brushed aside her complaints. Male firefighters told her that her “ass looks nice” when she exercised and told her how good she looked “bent over.” They made comments about her breasts and said that they should lower the room temperature to make her nipples show. This case settled without filing a complaint: the defendants paid $100,000.
  • We represented an office worker who endured awful, sexually-laced comments from her supervisor. Because it was her supervisor, the employer was liable and the employee didn’t need to report it to management. Her supervisor bragged to her about his sexual endurance; made vulgar comments about her body; told her to give him lap dances; told her that she should leave her fiancée for him; and tried to get her to watch pornography on his phone. We litigated this case all the way through summary judgment. After we beat the employer’s motion to dismiss our case, they settled for $160,000.
  • Unlike other states where sexual harassment claims have a six-year statute of limitations, Minnesota courts only give you a year from the date you’ve been sexually harassed to file a claim or bring forth a lawsuit.  With the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you only get 300 days from the date of the last sexually harassing act to file a claim. This is why you should move quickly and hire an attorney, immediately, so you can build a strong case and improve your chances of achieving the best outcomes.

The first thing you should do the moment you experience sexual harassment is to notify your supervisor or HR manager and a trustworthy coworker. First of all, you will need a few people as witnesses when you file a claim; secondly, employers are responsible and can be held accountable if they don’t take appropriate corrective action, right away.                                                                                                        

However, if it’s a manager or supervisor who’s sexually harassing you, then your employer is automatically liable. You should tell someone if you fear for your personal safety, but you don’t need to notify anyone in order to protect your legal claim.

Call a Trusted Sexual Harassment Attorney in Minnesota

Filing and proving a sexual harassment case, whether it is a quid pro quo or hostile work environment claim, can be difficult if you don’t have a strong case. If you’re looking for a fierce sexual harassment attorney in Minnesota who will aggressively champion your case and help you collect just compensation for the harassment you suffered, contact Madia Law, right away.

The process for a free consultation with our employment lawyers is pretty simple. First, call our firm. You’ll talk to a clerk for about 5-10 minutes. They’ll get some basic information about you and your case.

About 3 or 4 hours later, you’ll get a call from us. If you’ve got a case that’s a little outside our wheelhouse, then we’ll will call you and give you a referral for an attorney that we think is better suited to handle your case. Our number one goal is to make sure you get the best representation possible for your particular matter – if that’s not us, we’ll tell you immediately and get you to someone else that we trust.

If we think that we can help you, then someone will call you and set an appointment for you to talk to one of our employment lawyers. We’ll call you at time that works for you and discuss your case and give you our honest assessment of its strengths, weaknesses, and value. We’ll then set a time where you can come to our office and meet your employment lawyer personally – at that time, we’ll discuss your case in more detail, sign a contingency fee retainer agreement, and talk about the process of moving forward with your case.

THE MADIA LAW WAY

We have a process that works in getting exceptional results for our clients. 

We are trial lawyers who prepare every case for trial from Day 1. Investigation and legal research are the first things we do, and we spend a lot of time on them. Because we haven’t filed the case yet, we have complete control – the defendant has no say and we want to use this time wisely.  We interview witnesses that can help us prove the case.  We’ll ask you for all relevant documents in your possession and review those carefully as well.  We also will spend some time conducting legal research about unique issues in the case.  We pull the jury instructions that the judge will ultimately charge the jury with after closing arguments at trial. 

Our next step is typically to send a demand letter to the defendant. In the letter, we thoroughly lay out: the facts surrounding the defendant’s misconduct; the applicable law (including statutory and case citations) that make clear that the defendant broke the law; an analysis of your damages and the defendant’s monetary exposure; a demand for a monetary amount to settle the claim; and an instruction to preserve all relevant evidence, including electronic evidence. The point of this letter is to give the defendant a chance to do the right thing and pay a fair amount before litigation, and to give the defendant an opportunity to present any defenses or evidence it wants us to consider before moving forward.  Sometimes we skip the demand letter if there are strategic reasons to move straight to filing, but we typically give defendants a chance to do the right thing.

If early negotiations fail, great – we file a Complaint and serve the defendant with it. A Complaint is a legal document that states the facts of what happened and alleges how the defendant broke the law. It formally starts the lawsuit.  Many lawyers draft complaints in a general and relatively vague way, just to get it done and filed – because that’s all that’s really required.  We take a different view. We view the Complaint as our first chance to tell your story to the judge, and we take it seriously. So we draft detailed complaints and include legal citations to statutory and judicial authority on unique points.  Sometimes we’ll include a number of exhibits, diagrams, or other demonstrative aids to help the Court understand our claims.  A secondary benefit of this approach is that defense lawyers reading the Complaint can become educated on the problems of their case and the state of the law – sometimes this leads them to reach out to us shortly after service of the Complaint to re-initiate settlement negotiations.  Of course, by that time, the price for settlement has gone up.

Some lawyers view written discovery as a necessary evil – something to get done and out of the way before depositions.  Not us.  Written discovery is a gift and an opportunity.  We spend a great deal of time crafting requests for documents and interrogatories (questions for the defendant to answer in writing) that are specific, detailed, and tailored to get what we need to prove our case.  Many lawyers – even great ones – think written discovery is a waste of time because defense lawyers typically answer them on behalf of their clients and can try to stonewall with legalese and objections.  We view this as a wonderful opportunity.  In our experience, most defense lawyers can’t help themselves when answering discovery: they over-state their defenses and make assertions that their clients will not be able to support in testimony. So we get to commit the defendant to defenses that they can’t back up, leading to contradictions, confusion, and chaos in their depositions later on.  We also use Requests for Admission – which many lawyers don’t.  The Federal Rules and Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure allow us to ask defendants to “admit” certain facts.  We send them RFAs that are very difficult for them to deny.  Of course, they do it anyway, but that sets them up later for cost and fee-shifting, which the Rules mandate for defendants that deny RFAs that are later proven true.  And usually, we can get the defendants’ own witnesses to admit facts that their defense lawyers denied in RFA.  That’s a great situation that leads to more chaos and confusion on the defense side.

One last point on written discovery – we send multiple waves of it throughout discovery.  We typically send 3 or 4 sets of written discovery requests to defendants throughout discovery.  This compounds the problems for them, because the defense lawyers continue to overstate their defenses, but now run into contradictions from not just the defendant witnesses’ deposition testimony, but also their own previous discovery responses.  This makes for a great record that we can present to the judge at dispositive motions, and use for impeachment at trial.

This is our chance to question relevant witnesses, on the record with a court reporter (we typically videotape important depositions as well). We get to confront the defense witnesses with all of the evidence we’ve developed through written discovery and document production. By this time, the defendant put its witnesses in an impossible position through its written defenses, which are often untrue and indefensible.  So the witness has to either lie to support the defense, or admit it’s not true.  That’s a dilemma that works for our clients either way, no matter which option the witness takes.  We use depositions to expose contradictions, create a record for dispositive motions, lock witnesses into their stories so that we can impeach them later at trial, and sometimes, to show defense lawyers how hopeless their case is.  We often calls from defense counsel shortly after depositions of their clients, seeking to re-start settlement negotiations.

The defendant will usually make a motion for summary judgment after discovery, asking the Court to throw out the case without having a jury trial. Because we’ve hit discovery so hard – both through written discovery and depositions – this is a tough motion for defense counsel to write in our cases.  We draft our response for the Court and now get to bring everything together: the admissions, contradictions, nonsense, and obvious fact disputes that we’ve uncovered through discovery.  We tell a compelling story that wraps everything together for the Court and makes clear that the defense motion has to be denied, and the defendant needs to face a jury for its conduct.

Sometimes, we’ll even make an affirmative motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to grant judgment in favor of our client without a trial. These motions are generally rare for plaintiffs to make, because the defendant can usually point to some fact dispute on its intent or some other factor that necessitates a trial. But we make affirmative summary judgment motions significantly more than is typical for plaintiffs, and that’s because the work we put in during discovery helps build a fantastic record to do so.

After the Court denies the defense motion for summary judgment, the defendant has only 2 options: 1) do the right thing and pay you a fair amount to our client to settle your claim (usually much, much more at this point than the defendant could have paid at the beginning of the case to settle); or 2) face a jury for its conduct and risk an enormous verdict. This is the dilemma that we have been creating and forcing the defendant into for the entire case. We’ll engage in settlement negotiations at this point from a position of extreme strength, mainly because most defendants are (rightly) terrified of facing a jury to defend their conduct.

This is, candidly, our favorite part of the case – why we went to law school: to hold the powerful accountable before juries.  We prepare heavily for trial, including: detailed witness preparation, focus groups, and mock trials.  At this point, the potential outcomes and consequences for the defendant are much more severe than if it simply did the right thing at the beginning of the case and paid a fair amount to compensate our client for its misconduct.  As we advocate to the jury for our client, we’re also mindful of protecting the record so that defendants will be unsuccessful in attacking the verdict in post-trial motions or appeal.

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