How to File a California Sexual Harassment Claim

Assisting Victims of Workplace Sexual Harassment in California with Filing a Claim or Lawsuit and Recovering Monetary Damages

Sexual harassment is unfortunately all too common in the workplace today. The Fair Employment and Housing Act, also known as FEHA, governs sexual harassment claims in California. It defines sexual harassment—specifically workplace sexual harassment—as either quid pro quo sexual harassment or a hostile work environment:

  • A supervisor attempts to exchange preferential treatment at work for favors of a sexual nature. In other words, a manager or supervisor may require sexual favors to gain some sort of work advantage, such as a promotion or raise. Similarly, the supervisor or manager may require sexual favors to avoid negative consequences at work, such demotions or layoffs. This is known as quid pro quo sexual harassment, and it must come from someone in a position of authority over the employee, such as an immediate supervisor or company manager.
  • An employer creates or allows a hostile work environment in which sexual comments or advances directed toward employees harm their work product as well as the office environment. For an employee to succeed in a sexual harassment claim against an employer based on hostile work environment, another employee or employees must subject the employee to unwanted sexual advances or comments. Moreover, the harassment must alter the employment conditions. As such, an employee does not have a claim for sexual harassment based on hostile work environment due to isolated, occasional, or sporadic behavior. A hostile work environment, however, encompasses far more than sexual harassment. In addition, victims may base a hostile work environment claim on comments and activities that denigrate a person’s religion, race, ethnicity, age, or disability.

Sexual harassment may occur at the hands of more than employers or supervisors. Sexual harassment or sexual advances may also come from colleagues and other coworkers, as well as non-employees who are affiliated with the employer. These non-employees may include both independent contractors and clients of the employer. In this day and age, workplace sexual harassment can even take place over the internet or other types of social media. The bottom line is that no employee should have to tolerate harassment in the workplace—sexual or otherwise—from any source.

If you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you have rights under the law. Moreover, you should hire attorneys who can take action on your behalf.

The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, have assisted hundreds of clients in sexual harassment cases all over California. Call our experienced team of sexual harassment attorneys today at (800) 652-6137, or contact us online. Our attorneys have a proven track record when it comes to holding employers and harassers accountable for their actions. Let our experienced team of attorneys assist you with your case today.

Types of Legal Action You May Take

FEHA specifically states that employees should not have to put up with harassment, sexual or otherwise, in the workplace. Moreover, victims of workplace sexual harassment deserve to have their employers review and address their complaints. If complaining directly to your employer does not effectively bring an end to the sexual harassment, the courts might. The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can advise you on the next legal steps to take.

Informing Your Employer

If you were the victim of workplace sexual harassment, the first thing that you should do is to review your case with an experienced sexual harassment attorney. In California, your employer should have an anti-harassment policy in place, available to you in writing. Your employer must also distribute this policy to you when you accept an employment offer. The policy must identify the person or persons whom you should complain to if you believe you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. Your sexual harassment attorney can review this policy with you and guide you through the complaint procedure or, if you have left the job or sometimes even if you are still working at the company where you were harassed, an attorney may advise you that you are better off not reporting the sexual harassment internally.

In some cases, a coworker, client, or customer of your employer harasses you, not a supervisor or boss. In that instance, your attorney may tell you to speak to your immediate supervisor first. If speaking with your direct supervisor is not an option—or if you are not comfortable speaking with your supervisor for whatever reason—your employer should provide other alternatives for reporting a sexual harassment complaint. Those alternative options may include:

  • A manager in the human resources department
  • A sexual harassment complaint hotline
  • A designated individual at the office who is charged with responding to sexual harassment complaints
  • An office coordinator who is in charge of diversity or equal opportunity issues

Reporting Instances of Harassment to Your Employer First

If you are the victim of sexual harassment, you may first feel inclined to report your claim to DFEH—or to file a civil lawsuit directly with the court system. However, your sexual harassment attorney may advise to first try to resolve your complaint directly with your employer.

Complaining directly to your employer can also provide another potential benefit. Even if your complaint does not put an end to the harassment, it will likely bolster your case if your employer’s inaction or ineffective action forces you to file a claim or lawsuit for sexual harassment. If you complained to your direct supervisor, your employer cannot then turn around and claim that you did not comply with your office’s sexual harassment policy or handbook. But this is not always the case, which is why it is best to speak with an attorney before making any kind of report, either internal or with a government agency.

Moreover, if you complained to your direct supervisor about the harassment, and you later file a civil complaint, you may argue that your employer failed to take the necessary and reasonable actions to prevent or eliminate the harassment. This is an important element of proof in a civil harassment case.

Complaining to your employer can feel nerve racking. Filing a civil claim or lawsuit can prove difficult and tedious. If you needs to approach your employer about the harassment you’ve suffered, or are eventually forced to file a civil claim or lawsuit for workplace sexual harassment, the skilled California lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can guide you through the process, and if appropriate, take legal action on your behalf and pursue monetary damages in your case.

Potential Retaliation by a California Employer

Many California sexual harassment victims worry that if they complain to their supervisor about the harassment, their employer will retaliate against them—or even fire them. Legally, however, a California employer is not allowed to do that. In California, an employer is not permitted to retaliate against an employee who files an oral or written complaint about sexual harassment. Similarly, California law prohibits employers from retaliating against any employees on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, or any other protected class under state or federal law.

Consequently, do not let fear of potential workplace retaliation prevent you from reporting or filing a valid claim for sexual harassment. An experienced attorney can tell you how best to do that while protecting your rights. If your employer violates the law and terminates your employment after you report the sexual harassment, you may have an additional cause of action against your employer for wrongful termination.

If your employer threatens you with wrongful termination or any other adverse employment action such as a demotion, the knowledgeable employment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, may respond by filing the appropriate claim or lawsuit in the California court system.

Filing a Formal Complaint With the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)

If you experience sexual harassment in your workplace, consult an attorney about how best to resolve the issue directly with your employer. Sometimes that strategy works, but if it does not—or if the harassment continues—you may need to take the process one step further. This usually involves filing a harassment complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (or DFEH).

Filing a formal harassment complaint with DFEH is a prerequisite to filing a civil lawsuit for damages in the California court system. If you file a civil lawsuit for damages without first filing a complaint with DFEH, your employer may meet your lawsuit with a motion to dismiss. Upon review, a judge may grant that motion and dismiss your lawsuit for not following the proper protocol.

Filing Deadline

When it comes to filing the formal DFEH complaint, timeliness is extremely important. Under most circumstances, you must file your DFEH complaint within either one year of the harassment, or within one year of retaliation for complaining about the workplace harassment. If you fail to file your harassment complaint in a timely manner, a court could prevent you from later filing a lawsuit for harassment or from seeking monetary compensation for your damages.

Knowing exactly when the one-year time limit expires can take an experienced sexual harassment attorney to determine. Sometimes, it can prove difficult to determine exactly when the problematic behavior started—or exactly when the behavior rose to the level of harassment, when the “clock” begins to run.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not always consistent. It can start and stop at any time. Sometimes, the victim may believe that the problematic behavior has ended, only to see it begin again unexpectedly.

Also, when it comes to timeliness, some employees actually put their own cases in danger by waiting for the supervisor, human resources department, or management to take action to resolve the case internally. During this time, however, the DFEH clock continues to tick away. This can prove extremely problematic and could even prevent you from filing a future lawsuit for monetary damages.

Get in touch with a California sexual harassment lawyer about your case from the outset. The attorneys at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can review the facts and circumstances of your harassment case with you and can try to pinpoint when the DFEH deadline will likely expire.

Filing the DFEH complaint within the proper timeframe can make the difference between your case’s success or failure. The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can meet all time deadlines and file your DFEH complaint at the proper time and in the proper manner.

Prerequisite to Filing a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit in the Court System

To file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer or directly against your harasser, you must first receive a “right to sue” notification from the California DFEH. If you do not receive this letter, you cannot file a lawsuit for damages in the court system. To file a lawsuit with the court—and after you have already filed your formal complaint with the California DFEH, take one of the following actions:

  • Contact the California DFEH and make a formal request to immediately issue the required “right to sue” notification.
  • Decide not to make this request. However, if you decide not to make a formal request of the DFEH, it will not issue the required notification until it has completed a full investigation of your formal harassment complaint.

After you receive the necessary “right to sue” notification from the DFEH, another time period comes into play. Specifically, you have one year from the date on your DFEH notification letter to file a civil lawsuit for workplace harassment in the California court system.

If appropriate, your lawsuit may name both your harasser and your employer as defendants. You may also request monetary damages and other compensation for everything that you went through as a result of the workplace harassment.

Knowing exactly when to file a sexual harassment lawsuit with the court can sometimes prove difficult to determine. Moreover, every sexual harassment lawsuit filed with the court should contain certain standard language. The experienced California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can help you determine when and how you should file your civil lawsuit. Our litigators can also include all of the necessary and correct language in your complaint, maximizing your chances of recovery.

Potential Defendants in Workplace Harassment Lawsuits

When it comes to filing a sexual harassment lawsuit in California, one of the biggest decisions you will face is whom to file suit against—the person or persons who sexually harassed you, or your employer, whether a corporation, limited liability company, or other similar business entity or organization. Under some circumstances, your attorney may advise you to file a lawsuit against both your harasser as well as your employer and to name both as defendants.

In determining about whom to file your suit against, keep in mind:

  • Your civil sexual harassment case is primarily about damages—in other words, the amount of compensation you should recover as a result of everything that you experienced. The primary purpose of monetary damages in a civil case is to try to make you whole to the greatest extent possible. When it comes to pursuing and obtaining monetary damages, large corporations, as well as their insurers, have better ability to pay settlements and potential judgments than most perpetrators.
  • The identity of the person or persons who harassed you will directly correlate with the amount of responsibility your employer bears for your workplace sexual harassment. For example, you may file a strict liability lawsuit against your employer if your supervisor committed the act of harassment. However, if a coworker, client, or other non-supervisor sexually harassed you, the court could deem your employer negligent for taking improper actions or inactions.

The experienced California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can review your sexual harassment claim with you and can look at all of your legal options. This includes determining about whom to file suit against to maximize the potential damages in your civil case.

Potential Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment

Employers can face civil liability for harassment that occurs in the company workplace and sometimes outside the workplace if the encounter was work-related. The extent of an employer’s potential civil liability for this type of harassment generally depends on:

  • The individual who committed the harassment
  • The type of workplace harassment as well its nature and extent
  • The employment relationship between the victim and harasser

The skilled California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can determine whether you can hold your employer liable for the workplace sexual harassment you experienced. If so, our experienced litigators can file the appropriate legal action with the DFEH and court, and pursue monetary damages on your behalf.

Strict Liability in Sexual Harassment Cases

In some workplace sexual harassment cases, you may assert a claim for strict liability directly against your employer. Your employer may face strict liability if any of your supervisors sexually harassed you. To show strict liability, you do not need to prove fault on the part of your employer or anyone else. Rather, you simply need to show that the act occurred at the hands of your supervisor. If you can prove strict liability for sexual harassment on the part of your employer, you may recover monetary damages.

The knowledgeable California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can help you determine if you can file a claim or lawsuit for strict liability against your employer, based on the facts of your case. If so, our lawyers are ready and willing to file the claim and litigate your case through the California court system.

Negligence in Sexual Harassment Cases

In addition (or as an alternative) to filing claims or lawsuits for sexual harassment based on strict liability, employees may also file claims or lawsuits directly against their employers for negligence if they experienced harassment at the hands of someone other than supervisors, such as coworkers or clients of their employers.

For example, if your employer failed to take the necessary and proper measures to prevent the harassment you experienced (such as by failing to put the proper protocols in place), you may file a lawsuit for negligence. Common measures that employers can (and should) take to prevent workplace harassment include:

  • Developing a written handbook or policy against workplace sexual harassment
  • Communicating the company’s sexual harassment policy to all employees when the company hires them
  • Making sure that all company supervisors receive the proper training in the company’s sexual harassment policy
  • Placing the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s poster regarding sexual harassment in the workplace in a prominent place
  • Distributing a copy of the DFEH’s sexual harassment brochure to all company employees at the time the company hires them

A court may deem your employer negligent under the law for failing to take the necessary actions to stop the harassment after you reported it—or otherwise failing to adequately respond to your harassment complaint. If you report an instance of sexual harassment in the workplace to your employer, your employer has a legal duty to take action to protect you. These actions may include:

  • Beginning a thorough company investigation into your sexual harassment complaint
  • Informing all involved parties of the results of the company investigation
  • Enforcing corrective action under the company’s sexual harassment policy

If you are a recent victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, the experienced attorneys at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can help you determine any negligence on the part of your employer. If we find it, our skilled litigators can help you file a negligence complaint for damages in the California court system.

Potential Damages Available to Victims of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Workplace sexual harassment can cause victims a tremendous amount of pain and embarrassment. You can, however, recover compensation for all of that in California. If you prove negligence or strict liability for the acts of sexual harassment from which you suffered on the part of your harasser and/or your employer, you may pursue monetary compensation.

Civil sexual harassment cases may recover monetary compensation for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional distress
  • Psychological harm
  • Psychiatric harm
  • Past wage loss
  • Future wage loss
  • Past psychological treatments
  • Future psychological treatments

To recover monetary compensation for damages in a civil case, you must show that the damages directly resulted from the sexual harassment you experienced in the workplace. The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, may file a civil complaint with the court and pursue monetary damages on your behalf.

Past Successes

At Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, we are proud of what we do. In the past, our experienced team of attorneys has settled and litigated hundreds of workplace sexual harassment cases throughout California. We have also obtained literally millions of dollars in damages on behalf of our clients for the sexual harassment they were forced to endure in the workplace. Some of our recent successful cases and verdicts include:

  • Two employees whom a co-worker sexually harassed brought a case against FedEx. FedEx didn’t take their complaints seriously, and forced the two women to continue to work with their harasser. The case resulted in a $2,328,000 verdict.
  • A plaintiff alleged inappropriate sexually touching on the part of a plant manager for a large manufacturing company. Other female employees had complained about the plant manager, but the company failed to take action to stop his conduct. Because the company’s plant managers supervised local human resource managers, the Human Resource Department felt intimidated by the plant manager to whom they had to report. The plaintiff recovered a $1,950,000 settlement.
  • A 29-year-old paralegal was sexually pursued and propositioned by an officer of the company. The company dismissed the overwhelming evidence and blamed the victim for leading him on. The company settled for $1,000,000.
  • A 22-year-old custodian whose supervisor forced him to perform oral sex. In fact, the supervisor threatened the custodian with termination if he reported the incident to anyone. After the supervisor’s boss failed to correct the situation, the custodian’s coworkers encouraged him to contact an attorney. The lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, negotiated a $585,000 settlement, given that the defendant’s conduct was egregious enough to warrant punitive damages under California law.
  • A plaintiff who suffered from a mental disability was sexually pursued by one of her department store coworkers despite her complaints. She recovered a settlement of $290,000.
  • A plaintiff who claimed that several coworkers—both male and female—sexually harassed him while he worked as a restaurant waiter. The attorneys at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, conducted numerous discovery depositions and found witnesses who could attest to the plaintiff’s claims. The case settled for $375,000 because the company did not undertake the proper measures to thoroughly investigate the plaintiff’s harassment claims.
  • The case of a plaintiff in his early 20s who worked as a personal trainer. The plaintiff claimed that his male supervisor sexually harassed him and that he sustained a loss of sexual function. The case ultimately settled for $225,000.

Many of the cases that Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, has settled are highly confidential. In order to provide consumers with an accurate list of settlements, we have accurately stated the amount of the settlement and the facts of the case, but we have changed the location of the cases and the industry of the companies we have sued to make the identification of the actual company impossible.

Call a California Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today for Legal Help with Your Case

If you were the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you may assert a civil claim or lawsuit directly against your harasser and/or your employer, if appropriate. The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, may assist you with your case by first meeting with you to discuss the facts and circumstances surrounding your harassment claim. If appropriate, our lawyers can file the necessary formal complaint with DFEH, and upon receiving the proper notification, file a civil lawsuit in the California state or federal court system for damages.

We represent sexual harassment victims in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas and throughout California. To schedule a free consultation and case evaluation with a California sexual harassment lawyer, please call us today at (800) 652-6137, or contact us online.