The popular AMC television show “Mad Men” captures with authenticity the lifestyles and working habits at a fictional advertising agency during the 1960’s. The themes of the plot center around adultery, sexism, alcoholism, racism, and other behaviors that some might consider to be unlawful today in the workplace.
Sexual harassment in Pennsylvania and across the country is an ongoing problem in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines sexual harassment as occurring when “one employee makes continued, unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical contact of a sexual nature to another employee against his or her wishes”. Generally, there are two types of sexual harassment: Quid Pro Quo and a Hostile work environment.
Quid Pro Quo is defined as “you do something for me and I’ll do something for you” and is typically found in a situation where a superior of an employee demands sexual favors in exchange for getting or keeping a job or job benefit. The company may be held liable for damages caused as a result of the supervisor’s action.
In the “hostile work environment” scenario, conduct is unwelcomed based on sex that is severe or persuasive and this generally involves sexual advances, touching, degrading comments, pornography, vulgar language, drugs of a sexual nature, or questions of a sexual nature. An employer can be held responsible for damages if such behavior rises to a level that causes the workplace to be intimidating, hostile, or offensive.
When I started my career as a legal intern in government offices in the late 1970’s and progressed through several law firms, I watched office interpersonal behavior that was once considered acceptable, as manifested on “Mad Men”, become actions which could potentially give rise to a legal claim entitling the claimant to recovery of damages for loss of income, emotional pain, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and other damages.
If you are being sexually harassed on the job, review your employer’s policy prohibiting sexual harassment and follow the steps necessary to file a claim. Clearly notify the offender or your employer in no uncertain terms to stop. Always make a written record if possible and present it to your employer. If your employer takes retaliatory steps against you, this may give rise to a legal claim. If the harassing behavior continues, it is wise to consult with an experienced sexual abuse or sexual harassment attorney who may determine whether or not to file a Complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or in some cases state agency.
Our law firm recently resolved a sexual abuse and invasion of privacy claim on behalf of an employee who was non-consensually repeatedly photographed in restroom facilities at her job, as well as another claim where the victim was sexually and physically abused.
While it may be fun to watch “Mad Men”, the sexual escapades and drinking on the job that occur on TV may not be so much fun if they happen to you or a loved one today at your office.
If you are the victim of sexual abuse or assault claim while on the job, it’s not so funny and sometimes the actual facts can be more strange and harsh in consequences.