First and foremost, do not secretly record a private conversation! It is illegal. It is a criminal offense and you can be sued by the person who you recorded if they ever find out. Nor is it admissible in court to prove your case.
As for whether you can sue your company for sexual harassment, the facts you have stated in your post do not indicate you have been sexually harassed. Speaking in Spanish in front of you and laughing is not sexual harassment unless you know that these employees are making sexually offensive comments about you. If the IT guy sexually harassed another employee, she may have a case but that does not translate to a case for you, unless he is actually sexually harassing you. I am not sure if that is what you mean by him "picking" on you. If he is creating a sexually hostile work environment, you should start documenting what he is doing. But don't record him.
If your employer is deducting money from your paycheck, without your authorization, that is illegal. But it appears you will have to pay her back, somehow, as it is doubtful the money she gave you was a gift.
You probably need to sit down with a lawyer and go over all of the details of your situation so you can obtain a more informed legal opinion and get the legal advice you need to deal with this.
They say you get what you pay for, and this response is free, so take it for what it is worth. This is my opinion based on very limited information. My opinion should not be taken as legal advice. For true advice, we would require a confidential consultation where I would ask you questions and get your complete story. This is a public forum, so remember, nothing here is confidential. Nor am I your attorney. I do not know who you are and you have not hired me to provide any legal service. To do so would require us to meet and sign written retainer agreement. My responses are intended for general information only.
1) You can, and most people do, pursue claims without "recorded proof". 2) The reason that is the case is because it is illegal in California to record another person without their consent. So do not record anything. 3) Take notes of everything instead of recording. That will be your recorded proof. 4) Consult with an experienced attorney about your potential claims as more information is needed to determine if you have a claim for sexual harassment or not. Most of us offer free consultations and take cases on a contingency. Good luck.
As the previous answer indicates, a lot more information is needed before we can evaluate the strength of your harassment claim. You can sue without recorded proof, but you will ultimately have the burden to prove your case if it proceeds to trial. A tape recording or other documented evidence is not required. Some cases can be proven through eye witness testimony, including your own, or circumstantial evidence. To answer your second question, it is illegal to record someone without their knowledge in a situation where the recorded individual has an expectation of privacy.
I highly recommend speaking to an employment attorney who can help you properly document your employer's actions and evaluate the merits of your case. Many attorneys will provide free consultations and, if your case is good, many will take it on a contingent fee basis. Good luck!
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I too would need more specific and substantial facts about sexual harassment to know if you have a case. It is illegal to record your employer with an audio tape. I just settled a sexual assault/harassment case for less than we deserved against Home Depot because my client recorded her boss apologizing. Instead of recording, make contemporaneous notes by emailing yourself from a personal email account (not work email). Emails time and date stamp events down to the second and are useful evidence to support what happened.
Unauthorized deductions from your paychecks are not okay. For help fixing this, you could call the California Labor Commissioner.
Surreptitious recording of others where there is an expectation of privacy is not okay.
You didn't mention any details about the sexual harassment.
I answer questions on Avvo to try to help get you pointed in the right direction. But, I am not your attorney. Beware, my answers here are general, limited, incomplete, and can never be as complete, thorough, or accurate as one I would give to a client after hearing all of the facts and details of my client's situation and applying the correct law. Also, I am admitted to practice law only in California and all of my answers are intended exclusively for the Golden State.