Despite the progress that the modern world has made toward protecting workers from sexual harassment in the workplace, there is still a long way to go before workplaces are free from harassment entirely. Many people still experience sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination regularly, and may have grounds to file a civil suit against their employer.
For some victims, the difficulty of filing the suit does not seem worth the effort and risk, especially if they work in an environment that encourages this behavior from the top down. This is a reasonable fear, although victims may have more to gain from defending themselves than they realize.
Where to begin
In order to file a lawsuit, a victim should first examine their employer’s policies on sexual harassment. If the employer already has an internal process for handling sexual harassment allegations, it is wise to pursue this avenue first.
If the issue is not resolved fairly through the internal process, then the victim may file a complaint with the appropriate oversight agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Should the agency review the complaint and agree that it justifies a lawsuit, it will issue the victim a “right to sue” letter, freeing the victim to move forward with a civil suit.
If the victim is successful, they may receive a number of remedies. The public’s current focus on harassment and discrimination in the workplace often adds some momentum on the victim’s side once they receive a right to sue letter, which means that the oversight agency already believes that they have strong grounds for a claim.
If successful, the lawsuit may yield:
- Triple back pay for any lost income or promotions
- Compensation for emotional distress
- Legal fees
- Reinstatement to a position, if the victim lost their job over the claim
- Mandates on the employer to institute acceptable sexual harassment training and policies
While most of the remedies are financial, it is important to note that the employer cannot simply pay their way out of the mess. Settling the suit will involve acknowledging the violation and changing internal procedures to combat bad behavior in the workplace.
If you experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, then you should strongly consider your legal options. Not only can a well-built lawsuit protect your rights and offer you financial compensation for your suffering and losses, it can also provide victory over an experience that robs you of power and agency. Do not hesitate to use the full strength of the law to promote safe, respectful workplaces for all.