Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a particularly insidious form of employment discrimination violating Massachusetts and Federal law. A hostile work environment can be characterized by sexual innuendo, requests for favors, or inappropriate comments, photos, or actions, and can cause severe emotional distress to a woman or man. It should not be tolerated. Such harassment or abuse can cause the victim to feel intimidated, humiliated and isolated, whether the person is heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered. A single or isolated event(s) or joking might not constitute such harassment unless of a particularly offensive nature. Harassment often comes as repeated events and meets the following definition and includes interfering with one’s ability to work.

    • Sexual harassment may be defined as:

      …sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when (a) submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decision; (b) such advances, requests or conduct have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, or sexually offensive work environment.

      When hiring, it may include “sexual overtures, requests for sexual favors and/or verbal or physical conduct of an explicit sexual nature, which thereby creates a hostile, humiliating or offensive work environment and interferes with one’s ability to work. Sexual harassment occurs when employment decisions are based on submission to or the rejection of the sexual overtures.”

    • Hostile environment in violation of M.G.L. c. 151B, s. 4(1)

      To establish a case of hostile work environment harassment, the Complainant must establish that (a) he or she was subject to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on her membership in a protected class; (b) the words or acts were sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter her conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment; and, (c) the harassment was carried out by an employee with a supervisory relationship to Complainant or Respondent knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action. A hostile work environment is pervaded by harassment or abuse, with the resulting intimidation, humiliation, and stigmatization, that poses a formidable barrier to the full participation of an individual in the workplace.

    • Cases of Harassment

      Hostile work environment does not always include the classic elements described above. Our office had a case against Verizon where co-workers called a male homosexual and treated him with overtly hostile acts and behavior that was verbally degrading and included sexually explicit and humiliating drawings and pictures. A manager had permitted previously degrading verbal acts and they escalated to even more intolerable conduct. Such harassment is unlawful whether based on requests for favors, quid pro quo, or simply allowing an intolerable environment to exist or continue. In another case, a consensual love affair between the CEO and a senior manager ended when the CEO’s spouse discovered it and the CEO wrongfully terminated the manager even though she had ended the relationship. We settled both cases without needing to file with MCAD.