Retaliation & Wrongful Termination for Reporting Sexual Harassment
Are you a sexual harassment whistleblower? Were you wrongfully terminated for reporting sexual harassment? In addition to a claim of unlawful sexual harassment, you may have a claim of retaliation for opposing and/or reporting sexual harassment. If you are unable to prove unlawful sexual harassment but can show that unlawful retaliation occurred, you may still be entitled to relief. The majority of employees who report or oppose sexual harassment are often retaliated against.
Who is Protected From Retaliation Related to Sexual Harassment Complaints?
Individuals protected from retaliation emanating from sexual harassment may include but are not limited to:
- Victims of sexual harassment
- Any employee who complains and/or relays a complaint of sexual harassment even if this employee is not the victim
- If you saw something and said something, you are protected from retaliation.
- Any employee who assisted someone with a complaint of sexual harassment even if this employee was simply doing his/her job to help the victim
- Witnesses to sexual harassment
- Anyone who participated or assisted in an investigation or resolution of a sexual harassment complaint
- Anyone who opposed or refused to engage in sexual harassment
- Anyone who opposed and/or complained of retaliation for reporting sexual harassment
What if I Made a Report of Sexual Harassment but There was No Finding that Sexual Harassment Occurred?
California law protects you from retaliation if you acted on a reasonable and good faith belief that you were reporting or opposing unlawful sexual harassment even if turns out that you were incorrect. The broad nature of the law is intended to encourage you to come forward without fear of retaliation. Furthermore, employer’s findings that no unlawful sexual harassment occurred may not be credible. Regardless of the outcome of any investigation, so long as you acted in good faith you may have a claim of retaliation if your employer retaliates against you.
What Constitutes Retaliation After a Sexual Harassment Complaint?
Retaliation is any form of punishment or effort to force you to quit and/or force you out of your job. Illegal retaliation is not just limited to the “ultimate employment actions” such as terminations or demotions but also the entire spectrum of employment actions that are reasonably likely to adversely and materially affect an employee’s job performance or opportunity for advancement in his or her career. Some examples of retaliation include:
- Wrongful Termination
- Refusal to Promote
- Relegating you to undesirable duties/schedule
- Excluding you from important meetings and opportunities
- Withholding training
- Setting you up for failure
- Undeserved criticisms
- Disparate treatment
How does Retaliation for Opposing Sexual Harassment Occur?
There is no requirement that an employer’s retaliatory acts constitute one swift blow, rather than a series of subtle, yet damaging, injuries. You may be a victim of a retaliatory course of conduct rather than a discreet act of retaliation. A series of separate retaliatory acts collectively may constitute an adverse employment action, even if some or all of the component acts may not be individually actionable.
You may come to the realization that you are being retaliated against in retrospect because the employer’s retaliatory motives may not be readily apparent at the outset. By way of example, your employer may find sudden undeserved cause to place you on a Performance Improvement Plan while preventing you from ever satisfying the goal posts to justify progressive steps of discipline used to ultimately terminate your employment.
“Retaliation often follows quickly upon the act that offended the retaliator, but this is not always so. For a variety of reasons, some retaliators prefer to take their time: They may wait until the victim is especially vulnerable or until an especially hurtful action becomes possible.” Coszalter v. City of Salem, 320 F.3d 968, 977–78
By way of example, employers may exploit your need for medical and/or pregnancy leave by denying medical accommodations.
What Can You Do About Retaliation for Reporting Sexual Harassment?
Below are some steps you can take. An attorney may suggest an individualized course of action tailored to your unique circumstances.
- The most effective action you can take is to contact an attorney specializing in sexual harassment claims and related retaliation to discuss a potential course intended to neutralize the hostility.
- Preserve evidence of your complaints of sexual harassment, any sexual harassment that occurred and the retaliation that followed. Without warning, employers may cut off your access to relevant emails and documents to undermine your ability to substantiate your claims.
- Before signing a document affirming false accusations against you, note therein that you do not agree with the accusations (handwrite it if you have to). It may also be a good idea to follow with a rebuttal.
- In addition to reporting sexual harassment internally, you may also make a separate complaint of retaliation. For some, neither option is reasonable because employer’s remedial and/or grievance procedures may be ineffective. See How to Report Sexual Harassment.
- File a Complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing with assistance from an attorney.
The weight of opposing bullying from an entire organization may be too stressful for one person to handle. Have an advocate on your side. If the writing is on the wall that your employer is retaliating against you, contact us now. No need to wait to speak to a sexual harassment attorney until you are fired.
What to Do if You are Fired for Reporting Sexual Harassment?
- Contact a sexual harassment and workplace retaliation attorney. We provide free and confidential consultations.
- While applying for Unemployment Insurance, do not cite your employer’s false, pre-textual reason for your termination. Many make this mistake and are denied. Notify EDD that you were terminated because of and/or for reporting sexual harassment.
- Take steps to seek treatment (to the extent you can afford it) for the emotional harm that follows.
- Take steps to work with your attorney to preserve your ability to bring your claims.
What to Do if You are Offered a Severance Agreement relating to Sexual Harassment?
Please do not accept a severance offer or try to negotiate a severance package without speaking with an attorney. Severance is not required under California law. Your employer is not extending an offer of severance out of the goodness of its heart. An offer is often made in return for a release of your sexual harassment claim and related retaliation claims. You may not know the value of what you are giving up.
How We Help Victims of Retaliation Related to Sexual Harassment
We offer compassionate and effective legal representation. We specialize in this area of law. We can assist you with an informal confidential resolution or file a lawsuit on your behalf to prosecute your claims to the full extent. We often receive requests from individuals seeking to switch lawyers. While there have been times when we were able to accommodate such a request, our preference is to work with you at the earliest stages to help you lay a strong foundation. California offers the strongest protections to whistleblowers. Work with an advocate who knows the law and the road to justice and restitution you deserve.