If you are the victim of sexual harassment, the first step is to preserve evidence of the harassment and to follow employer guidelines for reporting sexual harassment. You may want to consult an attorney at this point. Next, you will need to report the harassment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and possibly to a state agency. Once you have filed the claim with the EEOC, you will be able to file the harassment lawsuit.
When preserving evidence of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to understand the two types of harassment. The first is quid pro quo harassment, in which the employee has to tolerate the harassment in order to keep his or her job. The second is hostile work environment harassment, which occurs when the harassment causes the employee's work performance to suffer. Any paper or electronic evidence of the harassment should be kept, and any other harassment should be recorded, as well.
You also need to report and follow the guidelines set forth by your employer for reporting sexual harassment. This will aid in your harassment lawsuit by showing that you took action to stop the harassment. You will not be able to win a lawsuit if the employer can prove that the company took the necessary measures to prevent and correct the harassment or that you did not take advantage of the opportunities to stop the harassment.
Consulting an attorney is advisable. An attorney will be able to determine if you have a legitimate case and to help you take the next step in contacting the EEOC. Choose an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment lawsuits.
You are not able to file a harassment lawsuit unless you have obtained a right to sue letter from the EEOC. Once a report of the sexual harassment has been filed with the EEOC, that organization will conduct an investigation. The investigation will determine if sexual harassment actually occurred and if the same type of harassment has affected other employees. The EEOC often delegates some of the investigational responsibilities to a local state agency, so it is also appropriate to file a sexual harassment complaint with the state fair employment practices (FEP) agency.
The FEP agency may or may not conduct an investigation, depending on the state. Similarly, the FEP does not protect victims' identities. They are obligated to, if the tasks have been delegated by the EEOC, though. Your attorney should be able to help determine if filing with the state FEP is an appropriate step in preparation for your harassment lawsuit.
In approximately 1% of cases, the EEOC will file a sexual harassment lawsuit for the victim. For the other 99%, if it is concluded that sexual harassment did occur, the EEOC will provide a right to sue letter. This can be obtained either before or after the investigation. It is generally more favorable to have the EEOC complete the investigation, but your lawyer will be able to advise on whether to proceed without it. Generally, the EEOC prefers victims to attempt to settle out of court prior to filing a harassment lawsuit.
After receiving the right to sue letter, file the lawsuit in the appropriate jurisdiction. It is important that your attorney review statutes to determine how long after the event the lawsuit can be filed. Lawsuits should be filed in a timely manner, as the process is typically quite lengthy. Filing as soon as possible will help to protect you and and to ensure that witnesses and evidence are fresh.