The recent #MeToo movement has drawn attention to victims of sexual harassment and the suffering that they endure as a result of the misconduct and harassment that they are forced to suffer through. Many of the headlines have focused on how the careers and work environments of these victims were affected by the harassment, however this is not the only way that victims suffer. Sexual harassment victims often experience a great deal of emotional distress.
Can victims of sexual harassment be compensated for their emotional pain? Yes.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome or unwanted conduct that is sexual in nature, no matter how seemingly benign or severe. Sometimes, this is a request for a sexual favor or a physical assault, while other times it can be an offensive sexual joke or comment.
The law categorizes sexual harassment as either quid pro quo or hostile work environment harassment. The former refers to situations where someone offers something of value in exchange for a sexual favor. For example, a supervisor may make a quid pro quo offer if he offers a raise to a person in exchange for sex or allowing him to make inappropriate comments. A hostile work environment is created when the sexual harassment becomes so severe or frequent that it affects someone’s ability to perform their job duties. Whereas the inappropriate behavior only needs to happen once to be considered quid pro quo harassment, it needs to happen more than once to create a hostile work environment.
Most people think that harassment can only occur between a male supervisor and a female employee, but that’s not the case. Both males and females can be victims of sexual harassment. Harassers are often supervisors, but they can also be co-workers, clients, or third parties. In addition, anyone who has been affected by sexual harassment can file a claim against their employee. You do not need to be the person who is being harassed to take legal action against an employer.
How Sexual Harassment Can Affect Victims
Sexual harassment can severely affect a victim’s mental health in various ways. Many victims of sexual harassment start to blame themselves for what happened and question why they didn’t stop it earlier than they did. These feelings of self-doubt can eventually evolve into severe undiagnosed or diagnosed depression, which can last for years after the incident occurred. Self-doubt can also affect the victim’s self-esteem in all areas of life. As self-confidence starts to decline, it is the possible the victim may experience suicidal thoughts that stem from the harassment even years later.
Victims can also suffer from anxiety after being sexually harassed. Victims who remain in the work environment where the harassment occurred can experience extreme anxiety about going to work on a daily basis. Even if victims leave the hostile work environment, they can still experience anxiety in certain situations. Sometimes, the anxiety is so severe that it can affect the victim’s ability to sleep at night.
Studies have also found that victims of sexual harassment can develop conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well. Victims with PTSD often have flashbacks or nightmares of what happened and go out of their way to avoid people or places that remind them of their harasser. These symptoms can have longstanding effects on the victim and their daily activities.
Every situation is fact specific and very unique, so there’s no way to predict how long sexual harassment will continue to affect a victim’s mental health. However, some studies have found that victims can be affected for as long as a decade after the harassment first occurred.
Recovering Compensation For Emotional Distress
It’s clear that people who are sexually harassed can experience a significant amount of emotional distress, and they deserve to be compensated for this agony that they experience. Fortunately, the law allows sexual harassment victims to recover compensation for their emotional distress that they suffer as a result of the harassment.
Federal law places a limit on the amount of compensatory damages that a victim of harassment is able to recover. Compensatory damages refer to compensation awarded to victims for their out-of-pocket expenses as well as emotional distress.
However, the laws in California do not limit the amount of compensation that can be awarded to a sexual harassment victim. This means if the lawsuit is filed in the state of California, sexual harassment victims may not be restricted to the compensation limits that exist under Federal Law. Instead, they will be able to recover what the court (whether through a Jury, Judge or Arbitrator) believes they are owed for their emotional distress.
Other Forms of Financial Compensation Awarded to Sexual Harassment Victims
Sexual harassment victims can also recover compensation for their attorney’s fees and court costs in some cases. Some victims will also be able to recover back pay or front pay if the sexual harassment affected their ability to work in the past or in the future. Basically, the goal is to ensure the victim is financially made whole as if the harassment had never occurred.
Punitive damages are also damages available to be awarded to the victim if the court finds that the employer acted with extreme recklessness, fraud or malice. For example, these damages may be awarded if an employer let someone be assaulted, whether verbally or physically, numerous times without taking action to protect them even though they knew what was happening. These damages are used to punish the employer and deter other companies from making the same mistakes in the future.
If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, seek legal representation from an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. There are strict time restrictions, known as statutes of limitations as to when a lawsuit can be filed. The experienced attorneys at Shegerian Conniff are ready to hold your employer accountable, fight for your legal rights and seek justice on your behalf. Click to contact us today or call us at 310-322-7500 for a free consultation.