Sexual Harassment/Employment Discrimination Update:
An Administrative Law Judge has awarded nearly $2 million to a former prison guard at the Rensselaer County Jail for sexual harassment directed at her by fellow guards. The Times Union reports that Lora Abbott Seabury had accused a group of male guards referred to as the "Boys Club" of creating an unbearable working environment through their repeated acts of harassment, including an incident in 2007 when she was sexually assaulted. Seabury asserted that the harassment became more severe after she filed an internal complaint against two officers for sleeping on the job in 2010. Later that year, Seabury left her position and went on disability due to mental and emotional strain of the harassment and retaliation. The judge in the case found that Seabury's superiors ignored her frequent complaints about the harassment, essentially allowing the harassment to continue unchecked. The award included $183,859 in lost wages, $300,000 to compensate for pain and suffering, $90,000 in penalties, and four years of future salary and pension credits.
There are numerous state and federal laws that serve to protect an employee from facing discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin ("protected classifications"). Discrimination can include such actions as being assigned less favorable work based on a protected classification or any actions that disproportionately burden employees belonging to a protected class. Harassment occurs when an individual's actions motivated by race, gender, or any other protect classification create a hostile work environment or interfere with an employee's ability to do their job. This can include inappropriate sexual or derogatory remarks, unwelcome physical contact, or negative comments about a co-workers religion, race, gender, etc.
Other federal laws that protect employees from discrimination and harassment include the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") prohibiting discrimination based on disability, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") prohibiting discrimination based on age, and the Lily Ledbetter Act and Equal Pay Act, both of which prohibit wage discrimination based on gender.
Individuals who believe they have been subject to discrimination or harassment in the workplace may file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate the claim and then notify you of your right to bring a private legal action. You will then have 90 days in which to bring a lawsuit. It is critical that you obtain an experienced attorney early in this process to ensure your rights are protected.
Victims of workplace harassment can potentially collect monetary damages for the physical, mental, or emotional pain they have endured. Additionally, the court may award compensation for any lost past and future salary they would have earned but for the harassment. Every person has the right to feel safe at work and to be treated with respect. To learn more about Dreyer Boyajian's employment discrimination practice, visit our website. If you believe you have been the victim of workplace harassment or discrimination, contact our office to speak with an experienced employment discrimination attorney.