When you report sexual harassment on the job, sometimes you take your career in your hands. W-2 employees can file a retaliation claim under gender discrimination laws through the EEOC or local authorities. But what about independent contractors or contract workers? What can you do if your contract is terminated for reporting sexual harassment?
In this blog post, I will review a report that actor Eliza Dushku was written off the CBS show “Bull” for reporting sexual comments that made her uncomfortable on set. I will discuss what retaliation can look like for contract employees, and what to do if your contract is terminated for reporting sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment retaliation can happen to anyone, at any level, in any industry. In March 2017, it happened to Eliza Dushku. The actress is most well known for the role of Faith in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spin-off show “Angel”, as well as “Dollhouse” and “Banshee”. More recently she had signed on to play the role of criminal defense lawyer J.P. Nunnelly on the CBS series “Bull.” Initially brought on as a love interest for the show’s star, Michael Weatherly, Dushku impressed producers and she was promised the role was headed for more.
But then, Mr. Weatherly began making sexually inappropriate comments. According to a New York Times report, the TV star made remarks about Dushku’s appearance, joked about rape, and made reference to a threesome. Ms. Dushku confronted Weatherly, objecting to the comments. Then suddenly, she was written off the show in a move she believed was motivated by sexual harassment retaliation.
After Ms. Dushku’s contract was allegedly terminated for reporting sexual harassment, she and her employment discrimination attorneys entered a confidential settlement with CBS. The company ended up paying her $9.5 million -- the equivalent of four seasons worth of work. CBS also promised to improve working conditions following the settlement.
When your industry relies on contracts and gigs instead of permanent employment, enforcing anti-harassment laws can be challenging. Federal anti-discrimination laws prevent employers from considering sex or gender, or past reporting of sexual harassment claims in making employment decisions. Retaliation is a claim all on its own. So even if the conduct reported didn’t amount to gender discrimination or sexual harassment, you are still protected from being fired for reporting it or participating in an investigation. The definition of retaliation is broad enough to include any “adverse employment decision.” That include hiring and firing, but it also is broad enough to include not renewing or terminating a contract for an independent contractor or short-term worker.
For New York contract workers, there are additional protections available under the New York State Human Rights Law. The law is written broadly, to protect employees, non-employees, vendors, and anyone else providing services to a business. That means when a New York contractor’s contract is terminated for reporting sexual harassment, he or she can file a complaint with the Division of Human Rights just as though he or she was a full-time employee.
When contract workers report sexual harassment, they are often rightfully concerned their contracts won’t be renewed at the end of their term. Contract-based employment is less stable by nature. Actors like Ms. Dushku may find their show has suddenly taken a different turn. Consultants may find their clients have decided to “go another way”, often without any further information about why. That can leave the former employee with little more than a hunch that retaliation has occurred. When contract workers bring their former employers to court, the companies often claim the decision not to renew the contract was based on anything from budget to “economic factors” to vague references to “fit”.
When that happens, you need an experienced sexual harassment attorney to stand up for your right to be free from retaliation in your job. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our experienced gender discrimination and sexual harassment attorneys know you don’t have to earn a salary to face sexual harassment retaliation. When your contract is terminated for reporting sexual harassment, we know how to make federal anti-discrimination laws and the New York State Human Rights Law work for you. Contact us to schedule a consultation at our office in New York City, or over the phone.