female employee looking uncomfortable with man's hand on her shoulderThe federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 plays a pivotal role in addressing and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace across the United States, including Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Title VII of the Act specifically prohibits discrimination based on sex, which includes sexual harassment. As the backbone of worker protection, the Civil Rights Act spells out the responsibility of employers to prevent harassment and protect workers who report harassment.

Employment discrimination attorney Scott Blankenship takes on companies that fail to protect workers from employees who engage in sexual harassment. He fights for the rights that are guaranteed under Title VII.

What Is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act?

Title VII aims to combat workplace discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, and national origin. In the context of sexual harassment, Title VII prohibits employers from subjecting employees to a hostile or intimidating work environment based on their sex. It encompasses both quid pro quo harassment (where employment benefits are conditioned on submitting to unwelcome sexual advances) and hostile work environment harassment (where pervasive offensive behavior creates a hostile atmosphere).

What Title VII Requires of Employers

Title VII imposes several obligations on employers to prevent and address sexual harassment. Some of those obligations include the following:

  • Prohibiting harassment. Employers are prohibited from subjecting employees to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
  • Preventing hostile work environments. Employers cannot create or tolerate a hostile work environment where unwelcome conduct based on sex is severe or pervasive enough to alter the terms and conditions of employment, creating an abusive environment for employees.
  • Not retaliating. Employers are barred from retaliating against employees who oppose discriminatory practices or file complaints under Title VII. Retaliation can take various forms, including termination, demotion, or other adverse actions.
  • Taking responsibility. Employers are responsible for the actions of their employees and must take reasonable measures to prevent, address, and rectify instances of sexual harassment.
  • Making reasonable accommodations. Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who have been sexually harassed, ensuring they can continue working without exposure to the harasser.

If you believe you were the victim of sexual harassment at work and your employer failed to take appropriate action, you should consult an employment law attorney to learn about your right to recover damages.

Remedies for Victims of Sexual Harassment Under Title VII

Title VII provides various remedies for victims of sexual harassment to seek redress and hold employers accountable. These actions include the following:

  • Cease and desist orders. If a court determines that harassment has occurred, it can issue cease and desist orders, restraining the harasser from engaging in further misconduct.
  • Compensatory damages. Victims may receive compensatory damages to cover emotional distress, psychological harm, and other non-economic losses resulting from the harassment.
  • Punitive damages. In cases involving intentional discrimination or egregious misconduct, courts may award punitive damages to punish the employer and deter future violations.
  • Back pay and front pay. Victims can be awarded back pay for lost wages and benefits due to the harassment. Additionally, if the harassment forces the victim to leave their job, front pay may be awarded to cover potential future earnings.
  • Injunctive relief. Courts can order injunctive relief, requiring the employer to implement policies, training, and practices that prevent future instances of sexual harassment.
  • Attorney's fees and other costs. Successful plaintiffs can recover attorney's fees and litigation costs, ensuring access to legal representation for victims who seek justice.
  • Reinstatement or promotion. Courts may order reinstatement to the victim's previous position or a promotion to a position the victim would have held if not for the harassment.
  • Equitable relief. Courts can provide equitable relief, such as mandating training programs, policy revisions, and changes in the work environment to prevent future harassment.

In Washington state, Title VII is reinforced by the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), which offers additional protections against sexual harassment and discrimination. WLAD extends protections to a broader range of employers and includes provisions specific to the state.

Impacts of Sexual Harassment on Victims

Experiencing sexual harassment can have profound and lasting impacts on victims, affecting various aspects of their lives, including their careers, emotional well-being, and physical health. The trauma caused by sexual harassment can extend far beyond the initial incident, leading to a range of negative outcomes that may persist over time. The potential effects of sexual harassment on employees include:

  • Career derailment. Victims of sexual harassment may experience disruptions in their career trajectory. They might miss out on opportunities for advancement, raises, or promotions due to a hostile work environment or retaliation for reporting harassment.
  • Anxiety and depression. Victims often experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression triggered by the trauma of the harassment and the fear of its recurrence.
  • Low self-esteem. Harassment can erode victims' self-esteem and self-worth, as they may blame themselves or feel powerless to protect their rights.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In severe cases, victims can develop PTSD, characterized by intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and emotional distress related to the harassment.
  • Stress-related health issues. The stress from sexual harassment can lead to physical health issues, including headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and compromised immune function.
  • Sleep disturbances. Anxiety and trauma can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia, fatigue, and a further decline in overall health.
  • Substance abuse. Some victims may turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism, leading to potential addiction and exacerbating physical and mental health problems.
  • Chronic pain. Stress and anxiety can manifest as chronic pain conditions, including muscle tension, migraines, and other physical discomforts.

Experiencing sexual harassment is a deeply traumatic experience that can have far-reaching consequences. The intersection of career setbacks, emotional distress, and physical health issues creates a complex web of challenges that victims must navigate. It's essential for victims to recognize that they are not to blame and that seeking support is crucial for their well-being.

Understand Title VII to Protect Your Rights

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act serves as a cornerstone of legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. By prohibiting harassment, mandating employer responsibilities, and offering remedies for victims, Title VII plays a vital role in fostering safe and inclusive work environments. Victims of sexual harassment have legal avenues to seek justice and hold employers accountable for failing to prevent or address harassment. However, navigating sexual harassment claims can be complex, and it's advisable for victims to seek legal counsel to ensure their rights are upheld under Title VII and applicable state laws.