Labor and Employment

Pursuing a Sexual Harassment Claim

If you've been sexually harassed at work you want first and foremost to make it stop. If you have complained to management but gotten no relief, it's time to consider alternatives.

Workplace Harassment: File a Title VII EEOC Claim

You should contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state equal employment opportunity agency or department of human rights. You will be offered the chance to file a claim. You can do this yourself, or with a lawyer's help.

You must file your claim within 180 days of the harassment. Your claim needs to be in writing, but it does not have to be a formal document. All you need to do is state the facts of your claim. You can submit your claim by letter. Many agencies also accept complaints by e-mail. You will be contacted by the agency for further information.

Usually, you will be given a right to sue letter from the EEOC. This clears the way for you to file a lawsuit in court. You won't be able to file a lawsuit without one.

Educational Institutions: File a Title IX Complaint

If you work at a school, college or university that receives federal funding, you can file a complaint with the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 covers all institutions receiving any federal aid or assistance, including financial aid to students.

You don't need a lawyer to file a claim. You must file the complaint within 180 calendar days of the date of the alleged discrimination. You may, but need not, use any grievance procedure at your school first to try and resolve the matter. If you choose that route, your must file your claim with OCR within 60 days from the school's decision.

OCR will investigate your claim. If you're unsatisfied with the progress of the claim, try contacting your members of Congress. Their constituent services may contact the Secretary of Education, seeking information and asking to be kept abreast of the status of the investigation.

Filing a Title VII or Title IX Lawsuit

You usually may file a lawsuit in court if you are unsatisfied with the outcome of your claims. If your claim is for Title IX sexual harassment, you don't need to file a claim with OCR at all. You can proceed directly to court. Most people prefer to file the claim with OCR because OCR will conduct an investigation that can be very helpful.

In contrast, you can't file a sexual harassment lawsuit under Title VII without first filing an EEOC claim. This is very important because many people lose their sexual harassment cases because they didn't file an EEOC claim within the 180-day deadline.

Beyond Sexual Harassment

There are related claims you can file in a civil lawsuit. You can file a state law battery claim if the abuse involves physical touching. If you've been threatened with physical sexual abuse or other violence, or of course been assaulted, you can file an assault claim. Verbal abuse, intimidation, stalking, and the like can support a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. It's worthwhile to discuss these possible issues with a lawyer.

Criminal Sexual Assault and Abuse

The uninvited touching of breasts or genitals may support criminal charges of sexual misconduct. Of course, rape or other sexual assault and the attempt to commit these acts are illegal. This sort of conduct should be reported to the police.

When you make a police report it may be a good idea to have someone with you. It could be your lawyer, a friend or family member. You should make your report as soon as possible after you're assaulted. Your recall of the events is likely to be better, and you will not be faced with the question, "why did you wait to tell?"

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I'm an administrator at a university. Can I file a claim under Title VII and Title IX?
  • My harasser is an independent contractor working for my firm. Do I sue him, or my firm?
  • Does the time my company was investigating my report of harassment count towards the 180-day limit for filing with the EEOC?
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