Michigan Sexual Harassment Lawyers

Everyone has a right to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many American workers. A recent study conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) revealed the rate of women experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace to be as high as 85 percent. 

Sexual harassment is illegal – whether based on sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. While it can be extremely challenging to come forward, those subjected to misconduct have the ethical and legal right to hold their perpetrators accountable.

Workplace Sexual Harassment Laws

Sexual harassment is difficult to discuss. However, decades of legal history have created the language to speak the unspeakable and bring perpetrators to justice.

To start, both state and federal laws prevent employers from discrimination based on sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act regulates sexual harassment as a form of employment discrimination. Michigan law strictly prohibits unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and sexual communication in the workplace under these conditions:

  • Submission to the conduct is an explicit or implicit term of continued employment.
  • Submission to the conduct is a factor in the employment process.
  • The conduct intentionally interferes with a person’s employment.
  • The conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Types of Sexual Harassment Claims:

There are two general types of sexual harassment claims in Michigan: (1) quid pro quo claims and (2) hostile work environment claims.

Quid pro quo is a Latin term that translates to “this for that.” It generally arises when a supervisor conditions a job or promotion on a sexual favor. The quid pro quo offer is sometimes explicitly stated. More commonly, there is an implied expectation of compliance.

By contrast, a hostile work environment involves an overall atmosphere of sex-based intimidation or harassment. Examples include: 

  • Crude jokes.
  • Posting offensive pictures in common areas.
  • Unwelcome physical touching.
  • Ridicule or name-calling.
  • Threatening remarks.

To be actionable, courts require the conduct to be either “severe or pervasive.” Pervasive harassment permeates the employee’s day-to-day work experience, even if the instances taken alone are mild. Severe harassment may involve an isolated instance traumatizing enough to cause the employee to miss work or look for another job.

In addition, the conduct must be sufficiently “based on sex” to be actionable. This means there must be evidence that the employee’s sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation is the subject of the harassment.

Depending on the circumstances, employers who do not directly participate in sexual harassment can be held liable. An employer has a general duty to protect an employee from harassing conduct, provided they knew or should have known it occurred. Courts typically consider the level of notice the employer was given and whether the steps they took to remedy the situation were reasonably sufficient.

Common Settings for Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment occurs in all industries, and any employee can be a victim. However, certain employment situations are associated with high rates of sexual harassment. These include:  

  • Employees working for tips: Employees in the food-service industry account for 14 percent of all harassment claims filed by the EEOC. This figure is significantly higher than any other industry. A recent study indicated that employees who make less than minimum wage and rely primarily on tips are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment. Because tips are essential to their income, these employees are often hesitant to come forward. 
  • Employees in isolated environments: Employees such as janitors, housekeepers, nannies, and agricultural workers experience high rates of sexual harassment and abuse. Because there are few witnesses on the job site leaves these employees exceptionally vulnerable.
  • Undocumented workers: Employees who lack immigration status often experience higher-than-average rates of sexual abuse and harassment. Fear of being deported strongly dissuades these employees from reporting their abusers.
  • Women in male-dominated fields: Women working in male-dominated industries – especially those involving physical labor – tend to experience a higher incidence of sexual harassment. Examples include the construction industry and the military. 
  • Employees in environments with significant power disparities: Perpetrators of sexual harassment often exploit the unequal power balance between themselves and victims. High-power individuals are more likely to see themselves as “above the law,” increasing their likelihood of acting on offensive or manipulative impulses. 

Sexual Harassment Retaliation

Speaking out about sexual harassment can be terrifying. According to the EEOC, between 87 and 94 percent of sexual harassment goes unreported. Most of our clients report serious concerns that their careers will be destroyed if they pursue lawsuits.

While nothing can reduce the discomfort and trauma of reliving abuse, the good news is the law prohibits employer retaliation. This law extends to witnesses, meaning employees who participate in an investigation or testify on a victim’s behalf cannot be punished by the employer about which they are speaking out.

Retaliation is defined broadly and not limited to firing. The following are all actions that could constitute retaliation:

  • Transferring an employee to a different, less desirable position.
  • Increasing the level of supervision over an employee.
  • Spreading false rumors about the employee.
  • Mistreating an employee’s family member (for example, by canceling a contract).
  • Giving an employee an unfairly harsh performance evaluation.
  • Making an employee’s work more difficult.

Of course, a sexual harassment claim does not grant immunity from termination or other adverse employment action. Employers can still discipline, transfer, or fire an employee for non-retaliatory reasons. However, the timing will naturally raise questions about the employer’s motives, leaving them with the burden of showing their decision was neutral and non-retaliatory.

What Remedies Are Available in a Michigan Sexual Harassment Claim?

Nothing can undo the psychological scars left by sexual harassment. However, victims are entitled to recover financially for their losses. Anti-discrimination laws are designed to bring the victim as close to “whole” as possible, so the degree of recovery will depend on the impact.

The law provides for two general types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages pay employees for actual losses incurred. These can be both economic (medical bills) and non-economic (compensation for emotional trauma).

Punitive damages are designed to punish an employer and are typically reserved for malicious or reckless discrimination. The size of the company impacts the availability of punitive damages:

  • Employers with 15 to 100 employees: up to $50,000 in punitive damages.
  • Employers with 101 to 200 employees: up to $100,000 in punitive damages.
  • Employers with 201 to 500 employees: up to $200,000 in punitive damages
  • Employers with over 500 employees: up to $300,000 in punitive damages. 

Victims of sexual harassment may also be able to recover attorney’s costs, expert witness fees, and court expenses.

Have You Faced Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

If you have been dealing with sexual harassment at work, you do not need to suffer in silence. Sommers Schwartz has spent years representing injured victims. Our attorneys have the knowledge and expertise required to handle the complex and sensitive nature of these claims to win you the compensation you deserve. To learn more, contact us for a free consultation today at 800-783-0989.

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