You’ve had enough of the jokes, the comments, and the inappropriate touching. You’re ready to get help. But should you head straight to court? What should you do before you report sexual harassment to the EEOC or your state anti-discrimination agency?
In this blog post I will discuss how to prepare to report sexual harassment or gender discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the New York Department of Human Rights. I will provide strategies for employees facing a hostile work environment, and tips for what to do before you report sexual harassment to the EEOC.
At the first sign of sexual harassment, when you first start to consider whether you should file a report with the EEOC, you should start the process of gathering your proof right away. What that means will depend on the type of sexual harassment you were exposed to, and when and where it happened. It could include:
It is important to gather this proof in a way that you can take with you even if you eventually have to leave your company or are fired. Retaliation is illegal, but sometimes people do lose their jobs when they report sexual harassment. You need to be prepared by maintaining a hard-copy file off-site or at least sending everything to a personal email address.
Before you report sexual harassment to the EEOC or file a lawsuit in federal court, you may need to “exhaust your remedies” through filing internal complaints. That means you have done everything you could in-house before turning to an outside agency. This could include reporting the sexual harassment to your HR department or supervisor. If you are in a union you may need to go through the grievance process.
Even if you are not legally required to file internal complaints, it can still be important to your EEOC complaint that you do. For conduct to be considered sexual harassment, it needs to be unwanted. If you haven’t filed internal complaints, you may face defenses from your employer that the sexual conduct was consensual or that you were playing along with the sexual banter or jokes in the office. Filing an internal complaint, or even publicly asking your harasser to stop can help fight back against these defenses and make sure your report of sexual harassment to the EEOC can continue and you can get the relief you need.
More than any other step you can take before you report sexual harassment to the EEOC, you should make an appointment to talk to a sexual harassment lawyer. First, an attorney with experience at the EEOC and in court can help you decide whether filing a report will get you the relief you are looking for. An attorney can help you look at what happened to you objectively and evaluate whether it reaches the point where a judge may say sexual harassment has occurred.
Next, a discrimination attorney can help you prioritize what relief you want:
Some of these goals are best served by reporting the sexual harassment to the EEOC or filing a federal lawsuit. But in other cases, those complaints may raise the stakes of your case unnecessarily and increase the chances that your relationship with your employer will be broken beyond repair.
You don’t officially need a lawyer to report sexual harassment to the EEOC. But deciding whether to file, when to make the claim, and how to prove your case aren’t easy choices. They shouldn’t be made alone. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our experienced gender discrimination and sexual harassment attorneys know that the decision to take action happens long before you report sexual harassment to the EEOC. We have a variety of tools at our disposal to end the harassment and get you back to work, if that’s the outcome you want. Contact us to schedule a consultation at our office in New York City, or over the phone.