Denver Sexual Harassment Attorneys
Sexual harassment was originally considered to be legal following the passage of Title VII. Sex discrimination was thought to mean something different than conduct involving sexual treatment of females. Not until some years later did the courts decide that:
- Sex discrimination did encompass sexual harassment; and
- The gender discrimination in Title VII should apply to prohibit this kind of conduct.
Workplace Sexual Harassment Law: Brief Background
The first types of sexual harassment cases recognized under Title VII involved sexual blackmail of employees. A female employee would sue, for example, because she was required to submit to a sexual act as a condition of continuing her employment or engage in a sexual relationship in order to secure a promotion or prevent a termination.
This type of “tangible” harassment involved harassment relating to the terms and conditions of employment. In these early cases, employees were required to show that the sexual blackmail occurred to only employees of one sex and not to both sexes.
Sexual Harassment & Hostile Work Environments
In the 1980s, the EEOC and the federal courts began to recognize another kind of sexual harassment, namely a “hostile work environment.” Under this theory, an employee could recover for an environment of sexual harassment if the offensive conduct itself:
- Became a condition of employment; or
- Was so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would consider it intimidating, hostile or abusive.
As the law developed in this area, courts permitted men, as well as women, to recover if the conduct complained about was “because of sex.” Courts also now permit recovery for “equal opportunity harassment” or when both women and men are being harassed.
Furthermore, the claim of hostile work environment has been extended to cover what the words imply—a hostile work environment regardless of sexual harassment. Thus, for example, a female who is simply subjected to non-sexual abuse and cruelty “because of her sex” may have a hostile work environment claim. Likewise, the claim applies to racial harassment where members of a racial group suffer racial epithets and jokes.
Workplace Sexual Harassment & Transgender Issues
It is still unsettled as to whether Title VII applies to sexual orientation and transgender issues. Currently, the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal are split, and the Trump administration has filed a brief with the Second Circuit arguing against Title VII protecting victims of sexual orientation discrimination.
Under the Colorado Fair Employment Practices Act, Colorado employees have a clear remedy for discrimination based on sexual orientation.
We Have a Record of Success in Sexual Harassment Cases
Lynn D. Feiger and her partners successfully brought the first sexual harassment case in the country under Title VII (see Heelan v. Johns-Manville Corp., 451 F.Supp. 1382 [D.Colo. 1978]).
In 2015, Lynn D. Feiger and Justin Plaskov successfully obtained a record-breaking $14,000,000 punitive damages verdict on behalf of seven mail handlers in a racial harassment case (see here).