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Does my co-worker's comments about me being "easy" and "liking 'em big" constitute sexual harassment?

Los Angeles, CA |

A co-worker said I am "easy" (with a sexual connotation) and another time said, "I heard you like 'em big" (referring to male genitalia). Both comments were made in front of several co-workers. I was so embarrassed/shocked that I didn't say "Stop" either time. He also talks about male body parts and fluids, has discussed sex acts, simulated masturbation with his hand, and has drawn phallic images.

He's the boss' pet employee and reacts explosively to any kind of criticism, so I am not comfortable asking him to stop commenting on my sex life. I work in TV, so there's no HR, and I fear retaliation/blacklisting if I go to the boss -- who adores this person -- or someone else on staff. His bullying behavior has interfered with my ability to do my work, and it's starting to show. Thoughts? TY!

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Attorney answers 7

Posted

All that can be offered here is clarity: there is no perfect solution to the problem you describe. Certainly there is no way to complain without complaining, or to cause the matter to be rectified without surfacing as a complainant.

Either you complain or you don't. If you don't, you do not have a strong case for a legal claim. If you do, your boss may or may not act consistently with the legal obligation to investigate and correct the situation. But at least in that event, your next step is identifiable.

Only you can decide whether the admittedly genuine risks are necessary to take or worth taking in your situation.

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Posted

In most states you must report misconduct in order to demand that your employer rectify the problem and in order to perfect any claim made for sexual harassment

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Posted

Maybe you can handle this as informally as possible and see what the results are. For example, is there a mutual coworker/friend that you and the harasser have? Perhaps that person can somehow tell him to think before he speaks and let him know how his "jokes" are not jokes to you at all. Best of luck.

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Posted

Sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful if it is either severe or pervasive. The conduct you describe may be grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit IF your employer is aware of the conduct and aware that you feel "harassed" by it and does nothing to stop it. It is also important to make sure that you don't go along with it, laugh at his remarks as if you enjoy the jokes or invite the comments, etc. I recommend that you ask your co-worker to stop the unprofessional and inappropriate behavior and to advise your boss that you asked him to stop because it is unprofessional, inapproprite in the workplace and that it bothers and embarasses you. It is unlawful for your employer to retaliate against you for making the complaint. Make the complaint via email and just after sending, visit with your boss to discuss it. If it continues after you complain about it to you boss, call an employment law attorney.

Posted

Lyle v. Warner Bros is a famous case (coincidentally, the plaintiff was employed at the studio that produced the TV show, Friends) that suggests that courts are "not the arbiters of civility." In other words, even though employees have legal protection from sexual harassment, workplace jokes may fall short of harassment, especially if the recipient of the jokes "appears" to be a participant in the joke. Unlike the situation you describe, the losing plaintiff in the Lyle case was not able to show that the jokes were "directed at her." Nonetheless, juries don't like "joke" cases that don't involve propositions or touching, especially if there is an implicit acceptance/agreement with the joking behavior.

In my experience, when the recipient of the jokes/alleged harassment has ever said anything in jest that was sexually-charged or otherwise appears to be in collusion with the defendent/joker, that person will have a rough time convincing a jury that the joking caused distress or a hostile environment.

Finally, my understanding about the TV industry is that it is very cliquish and a history of litigation can be a red flag to future employers. I agree with the other commentators that say you need to come to a decision about how you want to deal with the bullying behavior and stand your ground. In particular, pay attention to what others are doing to better deal with the situation.

This answer is not a substitute for legal advice and it does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Seek the advice of a licensed attorney before taking any action that may affect your rights

Kevin Rindler Madison

Kevin Rindler Madison

Posted

You should retain an attorney immediately to assist you in pursuing an EEOC complaint, immediately. A lawyer can assist you in making sure the proper paperwork is timely filed. Most attorneys do not charge hourly fees or a retainer. They are paid a percentage of whatever amount of money they are able to recover for you.

Posted

You concerns are appropriate, and it's your call how to resolve it.

Posted

This could absolutely be considered sexual harassment and might be a very good case. If the harasser is considered a superior of yours his actions may be attributable to the employer. Also, if the employer knows about the co-worker's comments and fails to prevent them the employer may be liable. This could be a very good case and you should consult with an attorney to help you plan a course of action. I'm sure you won't have any problems finding a good attorney.