Who is Liable for Sexual Harassment?

Who is Liable for Sexual Harassment?

by Jul 5, 2017Employment Law, Sexual Harassment

Despite increased awareness, sexual harassment in the workplace continues to account for up to 25% of discrimination claims. Sexual harassment is discrimination based on the sex of the victim. It also includes gender harassment and harassment related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Personal Liability

People are responsible for their own behavior. Harassers are liable for the consequences of their own actions, and a lawsuit can and should be brought directly against the individual. A harasser’s personal liability is different from employer liability, and one does not negate the other.

Third Party Liability

Other people or third parties can also be held liable if they facilitate or assist in the sexual harassment. Maybe they arranged for the harasser to be alone with the victim knowing that the harassment was likely to occur.

Even if they did not directly participate in the harassment, they are considered to have aided and abetted the harasser if they encouraged or facilitated it.

Employer Liability

Employers are also liable for sexual harassment under certain circumstances. The victim must be able to show that the employer knew or should have known what was going on and failed to stop it.

This requirement doesn’t apply when the harasser is a supervisor, manager or owner. These roles typically have the power to hire, fire, promote, reward, or suspend employees.

Under those circumstances, the employer doesn’t have to have known that the sexual harassment was happening. The employer is liable regardless of knowledge or of any particular fault. This is called strict liability.

Sexual Harassment Recourse & Compensation

All damages suffered by a victim of sexual harassment are recoverable in a lawsuit. This includes:

  • Lost wages
  • Lost benefits
  • Medical costs
  • Out of pocket losses
  • Emotional injury
  • Attorney’s fees and costs

If the harasser knew that the behavior was unwelcome and did it anyway, the victim may also be entitled to additional compensation called punitive damages. An award of punitive damages is additional punishment for knowingly and intentionally harassing the victim.

Employers who know sexual harassment is taking place but either take part in it or fail to stop it may be liable for punitive damages. This is considered when the employer:

  • Hired the harasser knowing that the harasser posed a risk to others
  • Authorized or ratified the sexual harassment
  • Personally committed fraud, oppression or malice

An employer who doesn’t investigate a report of sexual harassment risks facing punitive damages if the harassment occurred.

An attorney with experience in workplace harassment will help you understand your rights and guide you through the process. There may be a short statute of limitations, so it is important to act quickly if you feel you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.


At Vonder Haar Law Offices, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 529-3200.

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