Unfortunately, sexual harassment occurs in more workplaces than you might think. That doesn’t make it right or legal. As a victim of sexual harassment, know that you can sue your employer under both Florida state law and federal law. These laws prohibit an employer from discriminating on the basis of sex. Courts have held that if an employer allows an employee to be harassed based on sex, the employer is discriminating by providing unequal working conditions.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
The law recognizes two different kinds of sexual harassment. The first, quid pro quo, happens when someone who is your supervisor or otherwise superior in the workplace solicits sex from you and either promises a job benefit if you agree or threatens your employment if you decline.
The other type of harassment is called a hostile work environment, and it’s much more difficult to prove. Basically, it means that all the harassment you suffered from supervisors and fellow employees was bad enough to make your work environment significantly worse based on your sex. Harassment causes a hostile work environment when it is severe and pervasive – that is, when it is happening frequently enough that: (a) a reasonable person would be psychologically damaged by it and (b) you actually suffered psychological damage. Whether harassment is serious enough to create a hostile work environment is a complicated question involving all of the facts in context.
Can I Sue If I Didn’t Report It?
Being able to show that you reported the harassment can make proving your case easier, but even if you didn’t report it, you still may have a case.
If you prove that the harassment caused a hostile work environment, your employer will be held liable for it if the employer knew that it was happening or the abuse was so obvious or frequent that the law will treat the employer as knowing that it was happening.
If you didn’t report the harassment, you still may be able to show evidence that your employer actually knew about it – for example, if someone else reported the harassment or if people frequently talked about it.
Note that if your employer knew about the harassment, it may argue that it took steps to remedy the harassment. You will need to show that the steps your employer took did not adequately address the situation.
If you don’t have evidence that your employer knew about it, you can still make your case if you can prove that the harassment was so widespread and obvious that a reasonable employer would have seen it.
Filing A Sexual Harassment Complaint
Florida law and federal law require you to start a complaint about sexual harassment (or any other kind of workplace discrimination) in what’s called an administrative agency.
The federal administrative agency that handles discrimination complaints is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Florida agency is the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR). You can file a complaint with either agency by yourself. You only need to file with one agency, but you must file within 365 days of a discriminatory act. If the harassment is ongoing, you have a case that the discriminatory acts are continuing. If you leave work or the harassment stops, you have one year from the last time you suffered harassment to file.
Whichever agency you file with will investigate your claim. It will contact your employer and give it an opportunity to respond to your complaint.
If you file with the FCHR, it will offer your employer the opportunity to send the case into mediation. In mediation, both you and your employer will meet with a mediator who will try to negotiate a settlement. If you can agree to a settlement, that will end your case.
If your employer does not agree to mediation, or if the mediation doesn’t result in a settlement, you must let the agency investigate for 180 days. The FCHR will look at whatever documents or other evidence that you and your employer provide and may request additional information.
Sometimes the agency finishes its investigation within 180 days. Even if it doesn’t, you may decide to let the agency complete its investigation. Once the investigation is complete, you will receive a notice informing you whether it found reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred.
If the agency finds no reasonable cause, your only option is to go to court. You will be issued a letter stating that the case has been resolved by the agency and that you can now file in court. This is called a Right to Sue letter. Once you receive that letter, you have ninety days to file a case. If you don’t file within ninety days, your case is lost.
If the agency finds in your favor, you can either file in court within ninety days or request a hearing on your case. If you opt for a hearing, you will get something like a mini-trial before a special kind of judge who will rule on your case and find your employer liable or not.
In most cases, the agency will still be working on your case by the time the 180 days are up. Any time after that, you can request a Right to Sue letter. That request stops the agency’s involvement in the case and starts the ninety days in which you need to file in court to keep your case alive.
Florida Sexual Harassment Lawyer
If you have been sexually harassed by your employer in Florida, then you can respond by taking legal action against them. The Watson Firm consists of experienced sexual harassment attorneys. We will carefully investigate the facts of your case and will fight hard on your behalf to get you compensation and justice from your abusive employer.
Feel free to call (850) 403-4779 or contact us online to consult with a Florida sexual harassment attorney at The Watson Firm regarding your case.