Not all interactions with your co-workers and supervisors occur inside the walls of your workplace during normal working hours. More and more, our interactions extend beyond the walls of our workplace because we are now more connected than ever through social networking and other forms of communication. Many employees are now working remotely from their home, while others make the road their office, traveling between client sites or conferences. No matter where you are, though, sexual harassment by your co-workers and supervisors does not have to be tolerated. Employers can and have been held liable for the discriminatory actions of its employees well beyond the old water cooler.
In this posting, we’ll discuss the basic requirements of a sexual harassment claim, including when and where such harassment can occur, and give some examples of sexual harassment cases that occurred outside of the workplace. If you’ve been sexually harassed by a co-worker or supervisor in or outside of the workplace and would like to discuss your legal options, please contact Eisenberg & Baum. We have an experienced group of New York sexual harassment attorneys who are ready to help and advocate on your behalf.
Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination that is prohibited under federal law as well as many state and local laws, like the Human Rights Laws of New York State and New York City. The definition of sexual harassment across these laws is very similar: sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual conduct that either creates a hostile work environment or is used as a basis for employment decisions.
What the law does not typically limit are the place and time where the harassment can occur. In fact, courts in New York and beyond have looked at activities outside of the typical office environment to support findings of sexual harassment against employers. If the harassing activity can be shown to be related to the employment relationship, even if it took place beyond the workplace and normal work hours, it could be grounds for a sexual harassment claim.
While not all interactions with co-workers and supervisors outside of the workplace can be grounds for a sexual harassment claim, courts have consistently found employers liable for sexual harassment that occurred during business travel and other outside work-related events. In the 1995 federal appellate court case of Tomka v. Seiler Corporation, a female employee alleged she was sexually assaulted by a supervisor after a dinner she attended while away at a client’s site. The court determined that the employer could still be liable for sexual harassment and retaliation under the federal Civil Rights Act and the New York Human Rights Law even though the assault occurred beyond the normal work environment.
In a more recent federal district court case, Parrish v. Sollecito, a female employee alleged she was sexually harassed by a manager while attending a funeral reception for a co-worker’s relative. Although the employee reported the conduct to her employer, no action was taken against the manager. The New York federal district court hearing the case found the employer liable for sexual harassment under the hostile work environment theory, extending the work environment to the funeral reception because the employee attended the reception as a result of her employment relationship.
Interaction between employees outside of the workplace is no longer confined to restaurants, bars and other events. When anti-discrimination laws were first enacted decades ago, lawmakers could not have envisioned the various methods of electronic communication being used today, from email and texting to Facebook and Twitter, people now have countless ways of staying in contact both during and outside of work. Though the law may not have been specifically designed with these newer forms communication in mind, courts have shown that the law can still be applied to them.
For example, in a 2010 case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Fry’s Electronics, the EEOC alleged that a Fry’s store manager sexually harassed an employee when he texted her sexually explicit messages and invited her to his house for a drink. The employee’s supervisor reported the harassment, and in return Fry’s fired the supervisor. Fry’s wound up settling the case with the EEOC, agreeing to pay damages to both the employee and her supervisor and making policy changes to help prevent future incidents.
No matter if you’re in the office, at a happy hour event, on business travel, or in the confines of your own home, sexual harassment can occur almost anywhere. If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment by a co-worker or supervisor outside of work, report it to your employer immediately and get legal help. Eisenberg & Baum’s experienced sexual harassment attorneys are ready to discuss the merits of your case and advise you on your next steps. We offer free initial consultations for sexual harassment claims and bill on a contingent fee basis, so you won’t have to pay us unless we win your case.