Being the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace can be devastating and difficult to talk about. We’re sorry if you have experienced poor treatment at work, and we want you to remember that you have legal rights you can assert against your harasser. While it might be burdensome to deal with the aftermath of sexual harassment, you need to take affirmative steps and protective actions at the first sign of harassment to build a strong legal sexual harassment case.
Sexual Harassment Victims Have Rights Under Maryland and Federal Law
Both Maryland and federal laws prohibit sex discrimination in an employment setting. This prohibition includes sexual harassment. As a victim of sexual harassment, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR). You may file your complaint with one or both entities. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you could have a right to money damages or injunctive relief such as job reinstatement.
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
In general, sexual harassment is unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment comes in many forms, and legal authorities look at all the facts of your case when deciding whether you have suffered sexual harassment at work. For more information on what details the law uses to identify sexual harassment, you can visit our Sexual Abuse and Harassment webpage. Workplace sexual harassment can also come from many different sources, including:
- Customers, and
- Other non-employees.
Let’s discuss some tips on how to make a strong legal sexual harassment case once you suspect that you have been the victim of harassment.
Steps for Putting Together a Strong Legal Sexual Harassment Case
The State of Maryland takes many of its cues regarding sexual harassment from federal law. The EEOC is more likely to find that you’re a victim of sexual harassment if the unwelcome conduct of another was either frequent or extremely serious. You can hold your employer responsible for a supervisor’s sexual harassment if it results in your punishment at work, or:
- You reported the harassment to management and tried to avoid the harm; and
- Your employer didn’t reasonably address the harassment.
Although the factors above apply specifically to hold your employer responsible for a supervisor’s harassment, they are a good foundation for building any kind of case against sexual harassment in the workplace.
Step 1: Communicate to Your Harasser That Their Conduct Isn’t Acceptable
It can be intimidating to confront someone who has mistreated you. But making your harasser aware that you don’t accept their conduct right from the start makes it easier for authorities to establish that the conduct is unwelcome. Try to communicate this to your harasser as early, cordially, and clearly as you can.
Step 2: Document the Harassment
Normally, you should speak to management very quickly after suffering harassment, but it’s important to have your facts straight first. Gather emails, text messages, and other documents reflecting the unwelcome conduct. Be clear on as many dates and circumstances as you can. If you have a trusted colleague who was a witness, speak to them about giving a statement. If you previously had a romantic relationship with your harasser, be clear about when that relationship and your comfort with the harasser’s sexual behavior ended. Don’t worry if you don’t have a paper trail of the harassment you have endured—your own statement of the events may be enough to get the ball rolling.
While a severe, isolated incident of harassment can be enough to get legal relief, you have a better chance of winning if you can prove an ongoing pattern of unwelcome conduct. Make a timeline of as many harassing events (and their details) as you can remember or find in correspondence.
Step 3: Complain About the Harassment to Management or Human Resources (If You Can)
Speak to management immediately after gathering proof of your harassment or preparing your statement of events. This step is very important because some sexual harassment cases are denied if they don’t have proof that the victim made efforts to resolve their problems through management. However, the law recognizes that using an employer’s sexual harassment complaint procedure isn’t always possible.
Document the complaint procedure and try to avoid additional harassment
Complaining about harassment for some employees might be virtually impossible because those in charge of complaints are the harassers—or because there have been expressed or implied threats of retaliation. If this is the case for you, document the factors of the complaint procedure or threats that have prevented you from reporting the abuse, and do your best to avoid the harassment.
Document how your employer handles your complaint
If you are able to file a complaint at work, document how your employer investigates and resolves the complaint. Not all employers properly handle sexual harassment complaints. Your employer could be liable for your suffering, even if they have a seemingly solid sexual harassment policy in place.
Step 4: File Complaints with the EEOC and the MCCR Before the Deadlines Pass
Don’t wait for your employer’s complaint investigation to end before you file a complaint with the EEOC or the MCCR. You don’t have a lot of time to file sexual harassment complaints with the government. You could have as little as 180 days to file a complaint with the EEOC, and you have 300 days to file a complaint with the MCCR. So do not delay filing a complaint.
Putting your life and your career back together after enduring sexual harassment is often difficult. It’s normally best to enlist the help of an experienced sexual abuse lawyer to preserve and uphold your rights while you recover.
Get the Confidential Support and Professional Guidance You Need from an Attorney
Smithey Law Group, LLC is a top-rated employment law firm that handles sexual harassment cases. Our lawyers have 158 years of combined experience, and we are leaders in our field. We focus entirely on labor and employment issues, and our attorneys have won multiple awards for their outstanding work. You can lean on us when your workplace betrays your trust. If you need help, don’t hesitate to contact us online or call us at 410-881-8572.