Fighting for Female Workplace Equality in the #MeToo Era

Sexual harassment of any kind, from suggestive comments to unwanted sexual advances, is a clear violation of civil rights. But although employers have been legally obligated to fight gender-based discrimination since 1964, as defined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, women in particular still face routine sexual harassment at work. It’s estimated that anywhere between 25% and 85% of women have experienced sexual harassment and discriminatory practices in the workplace: The large gap in those percentages speaks to the difficulty in pinpointing just how many millions of women have been affected.

Thanks to the #MeToo movement sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, more and more women are now speaking up about the workplace inequality that they’ve endured for too long. But if you’ve ever experienced sexual harassment, you know it can be daunting to report, and you may be rightly afraid of retaliation from your harasser – or even your employer. At Shellist Lazarz Slobin, our Houston sexual harassment lawyers understand how difficult this process can be, and we’re here to help you navigate it. In this post, we’ll discuss a few strategies to seek justice when someone has harassed you based on gender.

Is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Illegal?

As mentioned, the federal Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 forbids “unwelcome sexual advances” that could affect an individual’s employment rights. This means that this behavior can be reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as any retaliation you face after reporting a sexual harassment incident.

But although this was an important first step towards ending workplace inequality, there’s still a troubling lack of clear federal legislation on the subject of gendered violence. Moreover, aside from reporting to the EEOC, there is often little civil recourse for women confronted with gender discrimination. The 1994 Violence Against Women Act originally included a provision that allowed women to sue abusers, but this was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court. This means that only comparable state legislation allows you to file a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Luckily, in the state of Texas, the Texas Labor Code serves to protect women from workplace inequality. If you experience sexual harassment, you can file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission, in addition to a complaint to the EEOC. You can potentially win damages up to $300,000 if you’ve suffered a loss of promotion, termination, or other employment harm because of sexual harassment.

What Can I Do to Fight Sexual Discrimination and Seek Justice?

If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, it can be overwhelming to know how to proceed. Many people at work may try to discourage you from speaking up, or from reporting the incident to HR or supervisors. However, because of Texas law, there are several ways that you can fight back even if the corporate route ultimately fails.

The first thing you should do is clearly document the incident, and any other interactions with the individual who has harassed you, and show your findings to HR or other designated resources. Then, if you don’t find success for your sexual harassment claim within the company, you can file complaints with the TWC or EEOC. As long as you file within 180 days, and can show that you suffered harm as a result of your experiences, you may indeed have a case. Even if you can’t receive damages in a particular instance, continuing to document and report instances of bad behavior may ultimately help to change the culture and the dialogue around female workplace equality.

At Shellist Lazarz Slobin, our Houston employment lawyers can fight on your behalf, and provide a sounding board for your sexual harassment case. Women are entitled to equality and safety in the workplace, so if that has been violated, don’t hesitate to contact us at (713) 352-3433, or fill out our form online.