Tracy Hopper is suing her former employer, the Lake California Property Owners Association Inc., claiming that she was sexually harassed by her former boss, general manager Scott Kelly. Hopper, formerly a bookkeeper at the organization, alleges that Mr. Kelly “expressed physical attraction” and often demanded private meetings with her for extended periods of time. Ms. Hopper also claims that Mr. Kelly told her that her job was safe because she was “special to him.” Hopper has asked for an unspecified sum for punitive damages.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity and the California Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing both provide very broad definitions of sexual harassment. Under federal law, prohibited sexual pestering does not have to include an outright request for sex or sexual remarks. It may also include any kind of obscene comments that are related to a person’s gender. In effect, simply making obscene or offensive comments about women in general can be considered to be sexual harassment. The prohibition applies equally to men and women, meaning that a woman making offensive sexual comments to men would also be liable. California law largely mirrors federal law though it is somewhat more explicit, specifically outlawing slurs or jokes of a sexual nature.
In general, the courts have applied the reasonable person doctrine to interpreting sexual harassment. This means that if a reasonable person would find a comment or gesture offensive, it may be considered sexual harassment.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual harassment at work, you may be entitled to recover damages from your employer as well as from other individuals involved in the sexual harassment. It is important consult a skilled sexual harassment attorney who understands the law so that your rights are fully protected.