In a common sexual harassment scenario, a male supervisor sexually harasses a female subordinate by making sexually explicit comments, touching her inappropriately, or engaging in other harassing behavior. But sexual harassment isn’t just a “women’s issue.” Men are frequently victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, and California and federal law protect men and women from sexual harassment equally.
In a federal sexual harassment case brought under Title VII, the federal law which protects employees from sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal found that men can be victims of sexual harassment. “It cannot be assumed that because a man receives sexual advances from a woman that those advances are welcome … whether one person welcomes another’s sexual proposition depends on the invitee’s individual circumstances and feelings. Title VII is not a beauty contest, and even if [the sexual harasser] looks like Marilyn Monroe” the victim might not be receptive to sexual advances in the workplace. EEOC v. Prospect Airport Services, 621 F.3d 991, 997 (2010).
In the Prospect case, a male employee was sexually harassed by his female co-worker. The female co-worker sent the plaintiff a series of love notes which ranged from merely flirtatious to sexually explicit. Despite the plaintiff repeatedly telling the harasser that he was not interested in her romantically, the harasser escalated her efforts, giving the plaintiff a semi-nude photograph of herself, and recruiting co-workers to pressure the plaintiff to go out with the harasser. The plaintiff was embarrassed and hurt by the harasser’s actions, and complained several times to several different managers, all of whom did not reprimand or discipline the harasser. Incredibly, one of the managers told the plaintiff he should feel flattered and sing to himself “I’m too sexy for my shirt.” Other co-workers began speculating that the plaintiff wasn’t interested in the harasser because he was a homosexual.
As a result of the sexual harassment, the plaintiff’s work performance suffered and he began seeing a psychologist. After failing to stop the harasser from sexually harassing the plaintiff, the defendant company terminated the plaintiff’s employment for performance issues. The Ninth Circuit found that the company was liable for the female sexual harasser’s behavior because “[m]en as well as women are entitled under Title VII to protection from a sexually abusive work environment … [and] the company knowingly denied [the plaintiff] protection.”
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, call Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck, LLP for a free consultation at (619) 342-8000.