Call Now For a Free Consultation

Local: 510-250-7278

Toll-free: 877-741-5160

Oakland Employment Law Blog

Companies should take steps to end sexual harassment

The numerous recent news reports and the #metoo campaign have shed light on the prevalent problem of sexual harassment in society and in California. Workplaces are not immune, and many workers are the targets of sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace as a forbidden form of sex discrimination, and it is imperative that employers take steps to prevent it from happening.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there were 27,000 charges of discrimination that were filed with the agency in 2016. Experts say that this number is only the tip of the iceberg. Only about 30 percent of women who have experienced workplace sexual harassment file complaints within their companies because of the fear of repercussions.

Addressing sexual harassment

Statistics indicate that about 71 percent of women decide against reporting workplace sexual harassment due to the fear of being retaliated against. However, there are certain steps that individuals can take to help prevent future incidences of sexual harassment and support their colleagues.

One action entails addressing the workplace misconduct when it is witnessed. This means that individuals should speak up when they hear inappropriate and sexual comments regarding a colleague or sees a colleague being victimized by a sexual harasser.

About workplace sexual harassment

California workers should know that the United States Department of Labor recognizes two types of sexual harassment. A hostile work environment is the result of sexual harassment that makes the work area offensive or threatening. Quid pro quo refers to using whether a victim succumbs to sexual harassment as a basis for making employment decisions, such as promotions or work assignments.

There are different types of behaviors that qualify as harassment. They include making unsolicited sexual advances, making unpleasant and nonsexual statements about an individual's sex, asking for sexual services and any other physical or verbal type of harassment that is rooted in sex.

Football player claims wrongful termination

California pro football fans may have heard of Erin Henderson. He was on the New York Jets roster until he was released in February after the team declined to pick up his option for 2017. The option would have been worth $2.25 million. Henderson claims that he was wrongfully terminated and was discriminated against because of a disability. In a lawsuit, he seeks $3.3 million in compensatory damages in addition to punitive damages.

On Sept. 14, an attorney for the former player wrote a letter to a team representative indicating that a lawsuit was coming if the sides couldn't come to an agreement. According to the lawsuit, the team failed to pay $580,871 in salary and a $250,000 bonus after being placed on a non-football injury list in October 2016. Although this was allowed under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players union, Henderson's attorney claims that the Jets violated New Jersey law.

Minorities may still face discrimination by employers

Many California residents believe that hard work and education are the keys to success. While this may be part of the equation, societal tendencies may also play a role in whether an individual has success as a professional. Research has shown that black and Latino individuals have faced bias when it comes to being hired by companies. A study that included researchers from Harvard and Northwestern found that hiring discrimination against black workers hasn't changed in 25 years.

Hiring discrimination against Latinos has only fell slightly in that same time period. To come to their findings, the researchers analyzed data from 28 studies beginning in 1989, and the data set included 55,842 applicants who were competing for 26,326 jobs. Among the findings was that white workers were called back 36 percent more often than black workers. They were also called back 24 percent more often than Latino workers.

Physical therapists face sexual harassment from patients

Someone receiving care from a California physical therapist might not realize how often that professional might endure unwanted sexual advances from patients. A study that surveyed 892 physical therapists reported that 84 percent of them experienced everything from lewd remarks to sexual assault. A portion of victims expressed to researchers the indifference of their employers toward the harassment. Management in some cases considered the harassment to be part of the job and did nothing to protect employees.

Health care professionals as a whole have a risk of nonfatal violence that is 16 times higher than other occupations, according to the research study. The researchers determined that therapists, especially females, experienced harassment at four times the rate of normal when they served predominantly male patients. Providing therapy to people with brain impairments also increased the chance of inappropriate patient behavior.

Google accused of tolerating sexual and racial harassment

The technology giant Google became mired in a controversy in August after one of its engineers claimed that women were unsuited to work in the technology sector because of their biological characteristics. Google subsequently fired him, but the ensuing media storm has prompted several other women formerly employed by Google to step forward with accounts of sexual and racial discrimination and harassment at the company's California headquarters.

The women claim that Google generally promoted men even when qualified women were vying for the same position, and they say that the barriers to advancement were particularly pronounced for women of color. They also claim that Google's failure to enforce its own workplace rules and policies nurtured racism and misogyny within the company and allowed a hostile work environment to develop. The reports suggest that the problems at Google were institutional with accounts of security guards demanding identification from black employees while allowing their Caucasian colleagues to continue without hindrance.

Activists push for Title VII protection of sexual orientation

The lawsuit against the employer of a skydiving instructor should pique the interest of people in California concerned about workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. According to court filings, the employer stands accused of firing the man because of his sexual orientation. The case has gained national attention now that the Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief insisting that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect people from discrimination because of sexual orientation.

The brief stated that sex discrimination only occurred when employees of one sex were treated poorly in comparison to similar employees of the opposite sex. A statement from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights described the actions of the DOJ as a direct contradiction to guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that interprets Title VII as applying to sexual orientation. The director of the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT & HIV Project added that the current administration wanted to promote discrimination.

Age discrimination in the tech industry

As many California workers are aware, tech startups and other companies within the technology industry are known for their youthful, hip work culture. While this free-spirited energy can make these types of places fun to work for recent college graduates, it creates a serious age discrimination issue as workers who are 55 years old and above tend to get relegated to jobs that are considered to be "old people" work.

According to a study of 18 large, well-known tech companies, the median employee age was 37 while the U.S. average is 42. However, when the ages of employees from various tech companies were analyzed, the businesses that have been well established for decades had median employee ages that were older than those that are new to tech scene. For example, HP and IBM had median employee ages of 36 to 37 while Amazon, Google and Facebook had median employee ages of 29 to 30.

Wage discrimination includes more groups than women

A review of filings at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that discriminatory pay practices by employers in California and nationwide do not emerge solely from discrimination against women. Race, age, national origin, disability and religion also inspire many wage discrimination claims.

Charge filings at the EEOC from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2016 show that the percentage of cases of racial wage discrimination for each of those years was nearly equivalent to gender wage discrimination cases or exceeded their percentage by a small margin. Although the bulk of gender wage discrimination claims were filed by women, an average of 15 percent of allegations came from men over that period.