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Workplace sexual harassment illegal under Connecticut and federal laws

Sexual harassment, of which there are two types, is an unlawful kind of discrimination based on gender.

An office supervisor is denied a promotion because he rejected a sexual advance by a manager. A construction worker becomes fearful and intimidated because she is subjected daily to crude sexual humor and comments about her body by colleagues at the job site. An important client leers, stands unnecessarily close and brushes up against an associate accountant repeatedly in business meetings.

Many people would not think that these things still happen in modern workplaces, but they are all examples of unlawful sexual harassment that happens all too often. An Internet search or perusal of court opinions in sexual harassment lawsuits unfortunately quickly reveals that such workplace behavior, although reprehensible and illegal, is not that uncommon.

Connecticut workers are protected by strong state and federal anti-discrimination laws that forbid sexual harassment as a type of sex discrimination. As the examples suggest, there are two kinds of sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo (meaning "this for that" in Latin) sexual harassment in which submission to an unwelcome sexual advance or request for sexual favor is an explicit or implied condition of hiring, continued employment or decision affecting a term or condition of employment
  • Hostile work environment sexual harassment in which serious or persistent conduct of a sexual nature interferes with a person's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment
  • Behavior that could contribute to the creation of a hostile work environment includes:
  • Explicit images or pornography, electronic or in print
  • Leering or sexual gesturing
  • Unnecessary or unwanted touching, including groping or assault
  • Crude humor or banter
  • Suggestive comments about someone's body or about a particular gender
  • Repeated requests for dates
  • Sexual advances
  • Inappropriate messages, electronic or on paper
  • Physical intimidation, including standing too close or blocking

Significantly, the harasser could be of either gender against either gender (same-sex sexual harassment is also illegal) and could be a manager, supervisor, co-worker or other person regularly in the workplace like a client, customer, contractor or service provider.

Employers have the responsibility to prevent sexual harassment by creating policies, disseminating information such as by training programs and so on. They should put a complaint and reporting procedure in place so that employees know where to turn and how to report sexually harassing behavior to management. Upon receipt of a complaint, the employer should swiftly investigate the matter and take action to stop any harassment that is substantiated and protect victims.

Sexual harassment laws are complicated and legal counsel can be essential both to victims seeking direction about how to respond and about potential legal remedies, and to employers wanting to create anti-harassment policies and procedures, or needing representation to respond to an allegation of sexual harassment.

Employment law attorney Leonard A. McDermott of Employee Advocates, LLC, with offices in Naugatuck, Connecticut, represents employees and small employers in matters related to sexual harassment throughout the state.