Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964

Sexual harassment, which is considered to be sex discrimination under Title VII, is often referred to as one of two types. First, an employee may be required to submit to unwanted sexual contact in order to receive one or more job benefits. Second, behavior that is objectively severe or pervasive may alter the conditions of employment and create a hostile work environment (for example, sexual favoritism, bothersome attention, or sexual remarks). Conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe is actionable regardless of the victim's sexual orientation. A working environment heavily charged with ethnic, racial, or religious discrimination also violates Title VII.


California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

In California, it is unlawful to subject someone, based on a protected status (for example, race, gender, or age), to unwanted harassment that causes the work environment to be hostile or abusive. Harassing conduct may include verbal, physical, or visual harassment, or unwanted sexual advances (for example, conduct conveying the message that management views women as "sexual playthings" or that the way for women to succeed in the workplace is to engage in sexual conduct). Similar to federal law, the harassment must be severe or pervasive, considering the conduct, its frequency and duration, the circumstances under which it occurred, whether it was physically threatening or humiliating, and the extent to which it interfered with the employee's work performance.


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Too often, an employee who suffers from AIDS, cancer, or another medical condition is insulted or ostracized at work as a result his or her condition. A hostile work environment claim can be brought under the ADA in the same way as a hostile work environment claim under Title VII. To recover on such a claim, the employee must demonstrate that he or she subjectively perceived the work environment as hostile, and that a reasonable person would perceive it in the same way.


Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

Several federal circuits have recognized hostile work environment claims based on age. The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the issue, however. Where such a claim is recognized, the employee must be at least 40 years old, experience age-related harassing words or actions that unreasonably interfere with his or her work performance and create an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, and there must be some basis for holding the employer responsible for the harassment.


Retaliation (or Retaliatory Discrimination)

Too frequently, complaints about harassment result in a materially adverse employment action (for example, the employee is fired or otherwise penalized). This is unlawful retaliation. A materially adverse employment action is defined as one that would dissuade a reasonable worker from exercising his or her protected rights (for example, to complain about harassment).