Most people know what sexual harassment is when they see it. Whether an employer is responsible for sexual harassment that occurs at the workplace, however, is a more complicated fact specific inquiry.
It is first important to understand the definition of unlawful sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The first form of sexual harassment is quid pro quo harassment. A claim of quid pro sexual harassment occurs when an employer attempts to make an employee’s submission upon a sexual demand or sexual proposition a condition of employment. The second form of sexual harassment is a claim of hostile work environment sexual harassment. The elements of a hostile work environment sexual harassment is when the harassment (1) would not have occurred but for the employee’s sex, and the harassment was (2) severe and pervasive enough to make a (3) reasonable woman believe that (4) the conditions of the employment are altered and the working environment is hostile or abusive.
The first issue to determining whether an employer can be liable for sexual harassment that occurs at its workplace in a lawsuit is to identify the damages an employee is seeking in the case. An employer will be liable for equitable damages and relief if he or she seeks restoration of the terms, conditions and privileges of employment that he or she would have enjoyed but for the discrimination or sexual harassment. Equitable relief is not money damages. Instead, an employee who seeks equitable relief as a result of sexual harassment is looking for the court to require the employer to act or refrain from performing a particular act such as stopping the harassment, job reinstatement or other non-monetary relief.