U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Sexual Harassment Claims

Helping Victims of Workplace Sexual Harassment in California


Workplace sexual harassment is a serious problem across California and the rest of the nation. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—or EEOC—handles federal sexual harassment complaints. If you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment in California, you may choose to file a federal EEOC complaint. In the alternative, you can choose to file a complaint pursuant to The California Fair Employment and Housing Act with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (FEHA). In California the EEOC and DFEH work together in receiving sexual harassment complaints and providing right to sue letters to individuals who want to file a lawsuit. Under California law, a complaint must be filed with either of these agencies prior to filing a lawsuit.

No one deserves to experience workplace sexual harassment. If you are the victim of California workplace sexual harassment, you have legal options available to you. The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can discuss these options with you and may assist you with filing a federal or state claim or lawsuit.

How the EEOC Defines Sexual Harassment

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against an employee or an applicant due to that person’s sex. Sex discrimination can comprise sexual harassment, including unwanted sexual attention, sexual advances, verbal harassment, requests for sexual favors, or physical harassment.

In many cases, sexual harassment is physical, but it also stems from offensive remarks about an employee or applicant’s sex. For example, a supervisor who makes demeaning or offensive statements in the workplace about women could commit sexual harassment. Moreover, men as well as women can suffer from sexual harassment. In fact, both men and women can commit sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment may take place in a hostile workplace environment, when the level of harassment grows so widespread that it leads to a decrease in productivity and a lack of comfort or safety among employees.

Another type of sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or manager promises something, such as a raise or bonus, in return for a sexual favor. Similarly, sexual harassment occurs when an employer threatens to fire, lay off, or punish an employee who refuses to submit to sexual advances.

Finally, sexual harassment need not always occur at the hands of a workplace manager or supervisor. Others, including non-employees or clients of the employer, may perpetrate sexual harassment. If the employer knows about these instances of sexual harassment or sexual harassment of prior victims and fails to take proper action, the employer could face liability for any harm caused to the victim.

The experienced California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can determine if you have a viable claim for workplace sexual harassment. If so, our attorneys can take the necessary legal actions on your behalf and pursue monetary compensation.

Potential Employer Retaliation

Under both federal and state laws, an employer cannot punish you or retaliate against you for making a complaint about workplace sexual harassment. In other words, your employer cannot threaten to fire or demote you to a lower-paying position for complaining. If your employer takes these steps, you could have a claim against your employer for wrongful termination or retaliation.

Employer’s Duty of Care

When it comes to workplace sexual harassment, employers have a legal duty of care for their employees. This duty applies under both the FEHA and its federal counterpart, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, employers have a duty to take necessary and reasonable steps to prevent and/or stop instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. Moreover, employers must ensure that employees know how to file legal complaints for workplace sexual harassment. Finally, employers have an affirmative duty to take seriously and adequately investigate workplace sexual harassment claims once employees file them.

Before filing a formal complaint with the DFEH or EEOC—or filing a lawsuit with the court system—you should take care to consult with an experienced sexual harassment attorney. Your lawyer will advise you as to whether and how to notify your employer and the appropriate government agency about what happened. You may first need to follow your employer’s sexual harassment policy, something your lawyer can help you accomplish.

The knowledgeable California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, can review your claim and help you decide the appropriate legal action. Our lawyers can also help you decide whether you should file a claim or lawsuit against your employer directly and against the harasser—and whether to do so through the federal or state system.

Steps to Take if You Suffer Sexual Harassment at Work

If you experience sexual harassment at work, speak with an attorney. An experienced sexual harassment lawyer will advise you whether, and if so how, to tell the offender to stop the inappropriate or otherwise offensive conduct. Your attorney may encourage you to inform your supervisor in writing, and may help you do so.

As soon as you experience sexual harassment, it is sometimes helpful to write down exactly what happened. Keep a complete log of the inappropriate physical touching or contact that occurred, comments that the harasser made, and words that he or she spoke. Keep track of all places, dates, times, and possible witnesses to any harassment. If possible, and with the help and advice or your attorney, speak with your coworkers and write down anything that they say they heard or observed. Finally, do not keep the only copy of this written record at work. Instead, keep it in a safe place at your home, and make sure you give a copy to your lawyer. Keeping notes is usually a double-edged sword. Although it provides some evidence that the sexual harassment actually happened and helps the employee to remember incidences, the employer will use it against the victim by trying to indicate that the employee was setting up a claim. It is a no-win situation for the employee, which is why it is useful to obtain an attorney’s advice rather than try to navigate the issue of whether it will help or harm a case.

With the help of your attorney, carefully report all instances of harassment directly to your employer or supervisor in writing. If you are not comfortable speaking with your direct supervisor about harassment, your company’s sexual harassment prevention manual may mention an alternative contact person, such as a human resources manager. In the complaint to your employer, your attorney can help you describe exactly what occurred and what you want your employer to do to correct the problem. However, reporting sexual harassment without first consulting with an attorney may create unexpected problems. For instance, many HR and operational managers are taught to minimize complaints by employees and to intentionally fail to collect information regarding each and every incident. An attorney will help you make sure the company receives a complete report about every incident.

Create and maintain a paper trail of all written communications with your supervisor, HR or other management employees. Review your employer’s sexual harassment complaint policy with your attorney to ensure you fully complied with it. If you need to file a civil lawsuit in the future, you do not want your employer to come back and say that you failed to comply with company policies and protocols.

Filing a Discrimination or Harassment Complaint With the EEOC

Victims of California workplace discrimination are not automatically eligible to file a lawsuit in state or federal court without first satisfying certain prerequisites. Specifically, you need to file a written sexual harassment complaint (or charge) with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act, also known as the FEHA, governs sexual harassment at the state level, and the EEOC’s state counterpart is the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. In addition to or instead of filing a federal claim or lawsuit, you may take similar action under state law. An experienced sexual harassment attorney can discuss with you the advantages and disadvantages of filing in federal versus state agencies and court.

You cannot file a federal or state lawsuit until you receive notification from either the EEOC or DFEH that your filing was reviewed and accepted and/or a right to sue letter was issued.

Deadline for Filing a Federal Complaint

The EEOC always places strict deadlines on filing complaints. Missing these unforgiving deadlines will likely cause you to forfeit your right to monetary damages due to your sexual harassment case. Under the EEOC’s regulations, you have 300 days from the date on which you experienced the act of sexual harassment to file your formal written complaint with the EEOC. However, you have 1 year to file a complaint with the DFEH. To be safe, California employees should generally file with the DFEH and not the EEOC or not just the EEOC.

The experienced California lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, handle sexual harassment claims in both the EEOC and DFEH as well as federal and state courts. Our attorneys can file the necessary written complaint with the EEOC on your behalf—and in a timely manner—paving the way to later filing a civil lawsuit for damages in the federal court system.

Filing a Legal Complaint for Damages With the Court

Once you have satisfied all of the prerequisites imposed by the EEOC and federal law and the DFEH and state law, you are ready to file your sexual harassment complaint in court.

When you file your lawsuit, you may name the harasser, and if appropriate, your employer, as defendants. If possible or appropriate, name your employer as a defendant. Many corporations and their insurance companies have far more ability to fund a potential recovery than the perpetrator alone.

The primary purpose of filing a civil lawsuit in federal or state court is to pursue monetary compensation, or damages. These damages are used to compensate you, to the greatest extent possible, for the sexual harassment you were forced to endure in the workplace.

If you filed a civil lawsuit against your employer for sexual harassment, your lawyer may advise you to pursue several legal remedies.

First, you may ask for monetary damages to compensate you for emotional distress, pain and suffering, mental anguish, or psychological or psychiatric harm stemming from the sexual harassment. If your employer retaliated against you for filing a sexual harassment claim or lawsuit, it may increase your financial recovery. Finally, you may influence your employer to change its sexual harassment prevention policies to prevent similar instances from occurring in the future.

Call a California Sexual Harassment Lawyer to Discuss Your Case Today

In addition to the legal remedies available to them under California state law, workplace sexual harassment victims may also take advantage of federal remedies. The main purpose of the EEOC is to help resolve employee grievances, especially as they pertain to workplace sexual harassment.

The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, have settled and litigated numerous sexual harassment workplace claims in both federal and state courts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and throughout the state. Our lawyers will work hard to help you obtain the monetary compensation you deserve.

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