Distributing Nude Pictures of Coworkers is Sexual Harassment and a Crime in New York City

Coworkers Looking at Nude Photos on Smartphones

Distributing nude pictures of coworkers may be one of the most humiliating things a person can do to a fellow employee. Yet, the media has made news out of celebrities' nude images going viral. That has prompted angry ex-partners to engage in "revenge porn" that hurts coworkers pride, and their professional reputations. Now the New York City Counsel is stepping in to stop it. The City has declared distributing nude pictures of coworkers both sexual harassment and a crime, and it can expose employees and employers alike to lawsuits and steep civil fines.

In this blog post I will review the New York City ordinance prohibiting unlawful disclosure of an intimate image. I will explain when distributing nude pictures of coworkers is sexual harassment and could expose employees to civil lawsuits and criminal charges in New York City. And I will explain what the victims of so-called “revenge porn” should do to protect their rights and their privacy.

New York City Council Cracks Down on Sexual Harassment

2018 has been a big year for the New York City Council. Earlier this year the City passed one of the nation's strictest anti-sexual harassment ordinances. The law put into place many reporting requirements and protections for employees facing sexual harassment at work. It was also the first law of its kind to require city agencies and private employers with at least 15 employees to hold annual anti-sexual harassment training for their staffs.

New Ordinance Makes Distributing Nude Pictures of Coworkers a Crime

At the same time, a law the New York City Council passed late last year has now fully come into effect. The law makes it illegal, and a crime, to distribute nude pictures of another person without his or her consent. Perhaps, the law was prompted in part by the recent trend of celebrity "revenge porn" incidents.

Section 10-177*3 of the NYC Administrative Code makes "unlawful disclosure of an intimate image" a crime. That includes traditional pornographic images of sex acts, but it also includes any image that shows another person's "intimate body parts". The law also protects against the threat of distribution as long as the victim could be identified either from the picture itself or the circumstances of the disclosure. A person who engages in distributing nude pictures of coworkers -- or anyone else -- without consent may be charged with a criminal misdemeanor and face up to one year in jail.

Distributing Nude Pictures of Coworkers Can be Devastating Sexual Harassment

There are few forms of sexual harassment more severe than distributing nude pictures of coworkers. When explicit images of a person make their way around an online office chat system or email server, or get put up on the factory floor, it can immediately decimate the victim's professional reputation. Particularly when such images target a woman, it forces even well-meaning employees to think about their coworker not for her abilities, but for her body.

This kind of demeaning sexual harassment can cause immense emotional harm, even to the point of resulting in physical illness. It can force a person to leave gainful employment to be rid of the hostile work environment caused by the exposure of his or her intimate images.

City Law Gives Victims of "Revenge Porn" the Power to Sue Coworkers and Employers

To combat the harmful effect of distributing nude pictures of coworkers, the New York City Council built a powerful civil cause of action into the new law in addition to the criminal charges. It says that the victim of non-consensual distribution of nude pictures can sue the person violating the statute and the company that allowed it to happen to recover damages for:

  • Compensation of actual costs associated with the disclosure, including medical or psychological bills, or costs associated with finding replacement employment
  • Punitive damages designed to punish the defendant
  • Injunctive and declaratory relief intended to change company policy and prevent future distribution of nude pictures or other forms of sexual harassment
  • Attorneys' fees and costs
  • Any other relief the court deems appropriate

This civil cause of action gives New York judges and sexual harassment attorneys the flexibility to craft legal remedies that will address the harm caused by distributing nude pictures of coworkers. Since every workplace and every employee is different, what will make one person whole may not address the needs of someone else.

Similar statutes have been considered by state legislatures and city councils across the country. Employees outside of New York City may have access protections as well. Even where there is no explicit statute against distributing nude pictures of coworkers, the behavior could be the basis of a sexual harassment complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or in federal or state court.

The harm caused by distributing nude pictures of coworkers cannot be overstated. An experienced sexual harassment attorney can help you understand what local protections are available and choose a strategy to receive compensation for your loss. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we know how to fight back against this form of severe sexual harassment. We can meet with you at our headquarters in the heart of New York City, or conference with you remotely, to help you find protection and compensation under federal, state, and local laws. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to a sexual harassment attorney.

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