What Types of Conduct Constitute Illegal Sex Discrimination?

Sex discrimination is the subject of a number of lawsuits and legal skirmishes in employment. This type of discrimination occurs when an employee is subject to unwanted sexual advances or behavior from another employee or company client.

A number of laws governs the way that sex discrimination is dealt with from a legal standpoint. Most companies fall under the purview of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This law creates an obligation on employers with companies of 15 or more employees to prevent or be held liable for sex discrimination.

Types of Illegal Conduct in Sex Discrimination Claims

Sex discrimination differs from other types of related forms of discrimination such as gender discrimination. Gender discrimination involves differential treatment of works based on their sexual orientation. Sex discrimination deals with unsolicited nonconsensual sexual contact, harassment, or even assault at work.

Overall the conduct in dispute can cover a wide range of behaviors that the law deems inappropriate for work and worthy of legal action. It’s important to note that the behaviors should be unwelcome and non-consensual in order for the law to step in with a remedy.

Unwanted sexual touching or sexual advances as well as comments implying sexually offensive topics have required legal action in court. Also, requests for sexual favors, bribing on the condition of sexual acts or threats regarding sexual acts could also warrant liability. In addition, even showing or revealing sexually illicit writing or print materials in the workplace could lead to a successful sex discrimination lawsuit against an employer

Types of Sex Discrimination

Within the realm of sex discrimination cases, there are two general categories. The first, sexual harassment, involves common forms of harassment involving sexual remarks, comments, behavior or actions against an employee.

This type of sex discrimination has been highlighted in quite a few high profile and famous sex discrimination trials such as the case involving a Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, in the early 1990’s, and his former employee, Anita Hill.

Perhaps one the most talked about forms of sex discrimination is called quid pro quo sex discrimination. Here, the Latin term ‘quid pro quo’ describes a transfer of goods or services in which one transfer is contingent on the other. In terms of sex discrimination, quid pro quo means that an employer has made a particular aspect of a position within the company contingent on sex or sexual favors.

Quid pro quo sex discrimination may also occur when one employee with authority over another punishes him or her for refusing to comply with a quid pro quo sexual advance.

Whose Conduct Can Constitute Illegal Sex Discrimination?

Quid pro quo sex discrimination is considered an extreme. Indeed, employers are usually held to strict liability standards when charged with this type of illegal conduct.

Strict liability refers to whether or not the employer can be held legally responsible for the actions of the employee who allegedly performed a discriminatory act. Strictly liability depends heavily on the accused employee’s position within the company. Someone who is high up enough in the company could be considered by the courts to act as the employer’s proxy for purposes of the law. Actions taken by the proxy are considered, then, just as if they are actions taken by the company itself.

On the other hand, the actions of a co-worker with no direct supervision over an employee may not be considered the actions of the employer. In other words, in some instances even if an employee is able to prove that another co-worker sexually harassed or discriminated against him or her, the employer (the company) may not be held liable.

However, immediate supervisors with direct supervision over an employee-victim of sex discrimination could place the entire company in jeopardy of a successful lawsuit.

Sex Discrimination and Retaliation

Beyond sexual harassment, retaliation based on a sex discrimination claim is also prohibited. If an employee steps forward with allegations of sex discrimination, whether by reporting to supervisors or human resources or by filing a formal charge with the EEOC, the employee should expect not to be harassed or dealt with adversely by her employer.

This is because federal law also offers protection from this type of retaliatory behavior on the notion that employees who have filed charges or complained about sex discrimination should not have to undergo unfair treatment from an employer based on these actions.

When an employer crosses the line with retaliation, it is up to the employee to prove that the adverse action taken, such as a demotion or other types of retaliatory behavior, was closely linked to the sex discrimination charge or complaint. This close link is called the “but for” causation standard. This standard holds that “but for” the employee’s complaint of sex discrimination, the adverse action would likely not have been taken by an employer.

Sex Discrimination and the Hostile Work Environment

According to law, an employer must take action to stop or prevent further acts of sex discrimination if he or she knows or should have known that the conduct is ongoing. Failure to do so can give rise to what’s known as a hostile work environment.

A hostile work environment in terms of sex discrimination means that an employee is being forced to work in an environment where sexual harassment is the norm or occurs on a regular basis or an employee has been exposed to such egregious forms of sexual harassment that the employer should have taken action to prevent it. When liability occurs due to a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment it is often the employer’s negligence that is the cause.

Facing Sex Discrimination at Work

It is understandable that many employees may not at first know where to turn when they are exposed to the types of conduct that constitute illegal sex discrimination at work. Many may be reluctant to come forward due to fears about retaliation from their employer.

However, it is important for every employee to understand the legal remedies available when an employer crosses the line and that help is only a phone call away. To get help with your sex discrimination claim, consider contacting a capable and competent employment rights attorney to get the justice you need in order to move forward with your career.