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What Is Sexual Harassment Law?

Definition of Sexual Harassment Law

Sexual harassment is a broad term that includes unwanted sexual advances and other unwanted verbal or physical attention of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment does not have to be specifically about sexual behavior or directed at a specific person.  Nonconsensual sexual touching violates most states’ penal codes and is more commonly known as sexual assault.

The federal government and most state governments consider sexual harassment a form of sexual discrimination. Therefore, sexual harassment is prohibited in schools or workplaces, and many organizations have internal procedures for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.

The process of navigating these procedures, determining whether there has been sexual harassment, and suing the people who sexually harass others comprises sexual harassment law.

Terms to Know

  • Hostile Work Environment: A workplace that has a persistent and pervasive habit of objectifying and insulting a particular gender. The harassing behavior must be so severe as to interfere with employees’ ability to perform their duties.
  • Quid Pro Quo: An offer to advance a particular employee or student in exchange for sexual favors.

Practice Area Notes

Sexual harassment attorneys work in a variety of settings. Some work for employers or educational institutions to keep these institutions informed and in compliance with relevant laws. Sexual harassment attorneys who work for employers and educational institutions may also help employees or students with complaints to navigate the internal complaint procedures.

Sexual harassment attorneys may also work independently and represent employees or students who have tried to resolve their sexual harassment complaints but have been unsuccessful. These attorneys will help their clients sue their school or employer. Plaintiffs’ attorneys usually practice in small law firms and get paid through contingency fees; that is, they take a percentage of any damages award or settlement.

Finally, some sexual harassment attorneys work for state or federal government agencies designed to address complaints of sexual harassment.

Related Areas of Law

  • Employment Law: Sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace forms a large part of employment law.
  • Education Law: Sexual harassment is prohibited in school and forms a large part of education law.
  • Litigation: When sexual harassment complaints are unable to be resolved in any other way, victims of sexual harassment turn to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and then the courtroom.
  • Civil Rights: Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination and is a civil rights issue.

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