Sexual Abuse and Harassment

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Experienced Employment Lawyer in Sexual Harassment Cases

Serving Employees and Employers in the Annapolis, Columbia, Glen Burnie, Silver Spring, Frederick. Anne Arundel and Howard County Areas

In the workplace, unwelcome and uninvited conduct or communication of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment. Employees who are victims of sexual harassment in Maryland can seek compensation and other remedies under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is treated as a form of sex discrimination. While employee complaints of sexual harassment were once considered isolated incidents and issues were often downplayed in terms of severity, today, sexual harassment is recognized as a serious matter that must be treated accordingly by employers of all sizes throughout Maryland.

Having practiced employment law for more than 17 years, attorney Joyce E. Smithey provides experienced legal representation for employers and employees in matters involving sexual harassment. This includes representing employees in sexual harassment claims, defending employers whose employees have been accused of sexual harassment, and counseling employers on claim prevention. If you believe that your rights under Title VII have been violated as an employee, or if you need experienced, insightful advice and counsel as an employer, contact Ms. Smithey for a confidential initial consultation today.

Understanding What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Both the state and federal courts in Maryland generally use the definition of sexual harassment contained in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines. The EEOC guidelines state:

“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

  1. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,
  2. submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or
  3. such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. (29 C.F.R. § 1604.11 [1980])”

When is Conduct or Communication “Unwelcome?”

In many ways, the most important part of the EEOC’s definition is the very first word: “unwelcome.” If conduct or communication of a sexual nature is unwelcome, it is prohibited. If it is welcome or invited, it is not. So, for example, while a romantic relationship between consenting co-workers may violate company policy, it does not rise to the level of unlawful sexual harassment. However, consent to engage in a romantic relationship can be withdrawn. Once consent is withdrawn, any continued romantic or sexual words or actions will not be protected by the past relationship.

When is sexual conduct or communication “unwelcome?” Importantly, the courts have generally concluded that a victim need not say or do anything in particular to indicate that an advance is unwelcome. Instead, the courts in Maryland will typically review all of the facts and circumstances involved in order to make a determination as to whether it was reasonably clear to the harasser that the conduct was unwelcome.

This approach is based in large part on the recognition that victims may be afraid to express their concern if either (i) the harasser is their boss, or (ii) the harasser is physically intimidating. Victims may feel coerced into participating in sexual talk or activities because they believe they will be punished or fired if they protest, or they may fear for their safety if they try to resist a physically imposing coworker’s unwelcome advance.

When is Conduct or Communication “Sexual” in Nature?

The EEOC guidelines prohibit unwelcome “sexual” conduct and words or actions “of a sexual nature.” While some forms of sexual harassment will be obvious, others will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case bases. For example, a hug could be either sexual or nonsexual depending on the context. Kissing, pinching, patting, grabbing, blocking the victim’s path, leering, staring, and standing very close to someone may all lean more toward sexual harassment, but again must be evaluated based upon all of the facts and circumstances involved. Communications need to be assessed using a similar analysis, and both oral and written communications (including email) can cross the line into sexual harassment.

Discuss Your Situation with Maryland Employment Lawyer Joyce E. Smithey

If you believe that you may be a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, or if you are an employer in need of legal representation for a sexual harassment claim or for development and implementation of a company sexual harassment policy, Joyce E. Smithey is available to assist you. To discuss your situation in confidence, call (410) 269-5066 or request an appointment online today.