Is it possible to bring a sexual harassment claim after a voluntary workplace relationship ends?
UPDATED: June 19, 2018
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The end of a voluntary workplace relationship - especially when one party does not want the relationship to end - can sometimes lead to cases of sexual harassment. In legal terminology, this type of sexual harassment situation is known as quid pro quo, meaning a more-or-less equal exchange. This situation typically occurs when one member of the voluntary relationship occupies a position of power relative to the other, and unfortunately decides to use that position of power to convince the other party to engage with him or her in a sexual context.
Examples of Sexual Harassment after a Voluntary Relationship
When a boss and a subordinate engage in a consensual or voluntary relationship, the intimate relationship may end but the work relationship may not. Under some circumstances, the boss may demand (overtly or otherwise) that the subordinate engage in certain sexual activities or otherwise consent to his or her sexual demands under the threat of losing his or her work position. Sometimes, rather than threatening the loss of a position, the harasser will change the working conditions of the subordinate. Sometimes the spurned party will actually try to continue the relationship as it was before the breakup, with or without material workplace environment changes.
In any or all of the above situations, the subordinate employee may have a sexual harassment claim or a hostile work environment claim. Both men and women are protected by the law in this area.
Legal Protections and Sexual Harassment
As evidence bolstering the status and availability of sexual harassment claims, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defined sexual harassment in regulations that were promulgated in 1980. According to these regulations, sexual harassment was specifically termed to be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 bolstered this status even further by strengthening the ability of victims of sexual harassment to sue for punitive damages.
False Claims of Sexual Harassment
Judges do recognize that anger at the end of a voluntary relationship can give rise to all manner of false or unfounded claims. However, in cases of sexual harassment, a party’s unfounded claim that an act of sexual harassment started the relationship becomes a question of proof. Agencies and courts consider the parties’ testimony, as well as the facts and circumstances of the case as a whole, in determining whether the original advances were unwelcome or if the conduct after the relationship constituted harassment.
If you think you may be the victim of sexual harassment, or the victim of a false sexual harassment claim, you should seek legal assistance immediately. An experienced attorney will guide you through the process and ensure that all legal options are made available to you.