The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII). More specifically, harassment based on sex is a violation of Section 703 of Title VII. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.
As stated by the EEOC, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual natures constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances. Victims may be male or female. The conduct must be unwelcome. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or a non-employee. The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. It can occur without economic injury and without an affected individual being fired.
It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding or litigation under Title VII.
For example, in a February 5, 2014 press release, the EEOC announced that a labor staffing company would pay $150,000 to settle a retaliation lawsuit brought by EEOC attorneys on behalf of a female office administrator who reported sexual harassment. According to the EEOC, the employee reported that she received sexually harassing phone calls from her supervisor and three days after the complaint, the company fired her, citing six separate reasons for the termination. She was then escorted off the premises by police officers. EEOC attorneys filed the retaliation lawsuit after the EEOC first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Although the company denied liability, in addition to monetary relief, the settlement included a two year consent decree which provided for equal employment opportunity training, and reporting and posting of anti-discrimination notices. An EEOC attorney familiar with the case stated that the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII were specifically enacted to prevent the type of conduct that the EEOC alleged took place in this case.
On September 27, 2013, the EEOC announced in a press release that property management company settled a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit, agreeing to pay a female food server $30,000 and implement preventive measures in order to resolve a case charging the company with violating federal law by not taking the food server’s sexual harassment complaints seriously, allowing the harassment to continue and then transferring her in retaliation. An EEOC attorney quoted in the press release said, in part, that when complaints are not met with an immediate and thorough response, an employee can conclude that a safe workplace is not a management priority. As alleged in the sexual harassment retaliation lawsuit, the food server was subjected to conduct that included persistent requests to have a relationship and unwelcome touching.
Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC’s investigation or enforcement efforts, is, according to the EEOC, one of six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan.
For Fiscal Year 2013, the EEOC reported in February 5, 2014 news release that it received 93,727 charges. That number represented a 5.7 percent decrease from the 99,412 charges the EEOC received in 2012. As in previous years, retaliation under all statutes enforced by the EEOC was the most frequently cited basis for discrimination charges, increasing in both actual numbers (38,539) and as a percentage of all charges (41.1 percent) from the previous year. In terms of sex discrimination charges, including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination, there were 27,687 charges filed, constituting 29.5 percent of total charges filed for Fiscal Year 2013. EEOC enforcement and litigation data for Fiscal Year 2013 can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm .
With respect to the EEOC, further information about the federal agency and the laws it enforces is available on the EEOC website at www.eeoc.gov . In addition, A Houston, Texas office for the EEOC and filing of employment-related complaints about racial harassment is located at Total Plaza, 1201 Louisiana Street, 6th Floor, Houston, Texas 77002. It is open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 pm. A phone number for the Houston office is listed as 1(800)669-4000. The Houston office of the EEOC oversees Eastern Texas and Louisiana.
In addition to the EEOC and federal laws prohibiting workplace sexual harassment, Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 protect individuals against employment discrimination and harassment based upon sex. At www.twc.state.tx.us/crd/sex-discrimination.html, the Texas Workforce Commission explains that sex discrimination occurs when one is treated differently than other employees because of one’s sex, including pregnancy, and stereotypes and assumptions based on sex. Examples of unlawful actions are denial of hiring, termination, promotion or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment.
As stated by the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division (TWC), Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect employees from employment discrimination based upon sexual harassment also.
Whether employment related job loss for reporting or opposing sexual harassment occurs in Houston, Karnes City or elsewhere in Texas, people subjected to employer retaliation arising out of opposition to sexual harassment may contact the TWC or EEOC to make charges of discrimination and trigger state or federal investigations of retaliation complaints. In addition, people subjected to unlawful workplace sexual harassment and retaliation may consult an attorney to discuss whether the facts and circumstances of the potential employment discrimination case support filing of a sexual harassment lawsuit.