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Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is illegal under both Massachusetts and federal law. The law provides protection from both opposite-sex and same-sex harassment. Conduct can be deemed sexual harassment even if the conduct is done jokingly, without intending offense or without motivation by sexual desire. The two classic forms of sexual harassment are "quid pro quo" sexual harassment and hostile work environment sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment usually occurs when the workplace harasser makes requests for sexual favors or conduct in return for some form of reward, such as a raise or promotion. Quid pro quo sexual harassment can also occur when the workplace harasser makes demands for sexual favors or conduct, or subjects the victim to such conduct, and threatens the victim with some form of punishment, such as a pay cut, demotion or termination, if the victim objects.

Hostile work environment sexual harassment usually occurs when the workplace harasser subjects the victim to unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate sexual comments or jokes, unwanted touching or invasion of personal space, the transmission of sexual or pornographic material, or other offensive sexual conduct. The traditional legal framework requires such sexual conduct to be both severe and pervasive. The severity requirement prevents potential plaintiffs from bringing claims for trivial infractions. The pervasive requirement prevents potential plaintiffs from bringing claims for minor, one-time offenses. A plaintiff may have a claim for a one-time offense that is severe, such as particularly offensive communications, transmission of pornographic materials, or unwanted touching. The courts will usually consider all of the circumstances when evaluating the severity and pervasiveness of alleged sexual acts.

There are a number of effective defenses available in sexual harassment cases, the most important of which typically involve the distinction between claims that may subject the employer to liability, instead of merely subjecting the individual harasser to liability. The harasser's position and the employer's sexual harassment policy are often extremely important factors in this determination.

If you or your business require affordable legal advice or representation in litigation with regard to a sexual harassment claim, call Toomey Legal.