Sexual harassment at work covers a swath of conduct, from unwanted touching to derogatory sexual remarks. George says that in California it is typically based on quid pro quo, meaning that, ‘If you do this for me, I will do this for you’. This type of behavior often will occur when a woman asks for a raise or wants a lateral move along the corporate ladder.
Of course the percentage of people who have been sexually harassed and remain silent is unknown, but George says that many men and women experience sexual harassment in the workplace on a daily basis. And many women in particular aren’t clear on what is considered sexual harassment - it can be very subtle. “People have different levels of tolerance for offensive conduct, and people who have been abused earlier have a much lower threshold,” says George. Thankfully the law in California takes “the eggshell skull plaintiff” into consideration. This is a legal expression that means someone with a pre-existing condition is more prone to injury.
“We recently made that [eggshell skull] argument for our client who was more prone to conduct that would probably be considered normal by someone else,” says George, with the law firm Mathew and George. “For instance, we recently - and successfully - helped a client who worked for a large corporation that required a lot of traveling with her male co-worker. His actions were very suggestive: he detailed his own sexually sordid affairs, inferring that she should try him out. She told us that he would place his hand on her thigh in the car when he was driving. She told him not to, but he said, ‘Hey I’m just being friendly’. And it went on for three months: being the new kid on the block she didn’t want to ruffle any feathers because this guy was established in the company.”
As well, her co-worker is African-American and she is white. George and his client thought he might pull the race card, and he did. They scrupulously went over his conduct and the degree of offensiveness. Oftentimes, this behavior isn’t a big deal for a man but for a woman it is inappropriate - putting your hand on a thigh is off-limits unless welcomed. And definitely not acceptable in the workplace. So why did she tolerate sexual harassment for so long before getting legal help? George explains that she was offended but at the same time silent about this behavior. “And some women have difficulty coming to terms with sexual harassment because they feel ashamed to admit it happened to them. And they have to admit to others it happened to them, that it was their fault somehow,” George explains.
“Historically women are trained early on in our culture not to complain but that attitude is changing. They are trained to smile and be more accepting of men’s behavior, to be a nice girl and get along.” In this case harassment was pervasive, meaning more than once a month. And the California courts look at how often the offence occurs.
According to George, bringing a California sexual harassment claim is not difficult - if you do the following:
• You must put your employer on notice. If your employer is harassing you go directly to a lawyer. Or report to someone higher. Refer to your employee handbook and follow those guidelines.
• Get therapy. This is important because it helps show what happened and how much impact it had on you, such as mental anguish. And a therapist is an expert witness.
• Keep a journal. Try to report and document everything as it happens so it won’t come back and bite you in court. You have to show that harassment occurred, when and what happened. Was it in exchange for sexual favors? A journal helps corroborate your story,
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Attorney Jacob George says his clients have had great success when they have good facts and documentation, when the incident was reported to the employer and procedures in the employee handbook were followed. With sexual harassment claims, George works on a contingency basis and his firm will “fight to the death” because the perpetrator won’t admit what happened.
“As a trial attorney, my goal has always been to help the “little guy” fight against much larger and better funded opponents. That is my passion and why I practice law,” says George.