Unfortunately, sexual harassment is still common, even in the 21st century; and while it’s true that this type of harassment happens most often to women, it can and does happen to men in Missouri, as well. Anyone can be a victim under the wrong circumstances, and it’s important to have someone on your side who can help you get the justice you deserve and prove your case.
Admittedly, it can sometimes be tricky to prove this type of harassment at times, but with the right legal experts on your side and a bit of attention and care, it can be done.
Proving Sexual Harassment
Missouri Law: Does It Apply?
Missouri’s Human Rights Act addresses harassment as part of a number of considerations about discrimination based on sex. The laws apply to all state and local government agencies, all employment and temp services, all labor organizations, and any business with six or more employees. These rules also apply to people like realtors, landlords, property managers, etc.
Under the Human Rights Act, sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination. It happens when anyone uses sexually explicit behaviors, either verbal or physical, usually in an attempt to get sex in exchange for some kind of favor. The most obvious sorts of harassment occur when a boss or supervisor demands sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or when a landlord asks for sex in lieu of rent or to avoid eviction.
However, the law also covers sexually explicit behavior that occurs for other reasons. For example, a supervisor or employer may not want sexual favors but may use sexual harassment to create such a hostile environment that an employee will quit instead of having to be fired.
Steps to Take
To prove your case, do as many of the following as possible. The more evidence you have, the stronger your case will be.
1. Document, Document, Document
If, for example, your employer offers you a job promotion or threatens you with a demotion if you don’t give a sexual favor, write down everything about the incident as soon as you can. Include every detail, including the date it happened, exactly where it happened, and the words used (to the best of your recollection). Be sure you include the date of writing, and, if possible, keep these notes electronically, where their date of composition can be verified.
You might wonder why this helps. After all, if it comes down to a “he said/she said” situation, can’t you just say what happened without having to write it down? No: written records made right after the event are always preferable to verbal recollections later. The law is well aware of the limitations of human memory. It’s just a fact of human life that we tend to forget details and even change memories. We don’t do this on purpose: it just happens. Every time you revisit a memory, there’s a chance a detail could be forgotten or inadvertently changed.
A written record of what happened, composed at the time it happened, is more reliable than a memory. Consider also that your harasser will almost certainly not be keeping a record like this, so he or she will be relying on shaky, changing memories that they are also internally incentivized to change in order to make themselves look better. Your written records will be a strong witness in your favor.
2. Move Records Out of the Harasser’s Reach
If you’re being harassed by someone at work, make sure that all documents you make recording these events are moved outside your workplace. If your harasser finds your records, they will almost certainly destroy them.
3. Follow Internal Policies to the Letter
Businesses often have internal policies in place for dealing with this type of harassment. If that’s the case, find out exactly what the process is and then follow it exactly. Don’t just make verbal reports: make sure you make your reports in writing. Most companies will want to help you by addressing the harassment and protecting you, but, unfortunately, there are some bad apples out there who are more concerned with company reputation than with the safety of employees.
It’s not unheard of for a company to fire an employee for “making waves,” particularly if they perceive your harasser to be more valuable to their bottom line than you are. You want a strong paper trail showing that you did everything right.
4. Keep All Communications From the Harasser
If anyone is sending you unwanted and sexually charged emails, texts, photos, or notes, be sure to keep them all. It might be tempting to erase these as soon as they arrive, especially if they contain unsolicited photos, but your case will be stronger when you can show a trail of harassment.
5. Approach Possible Witnesses
If you’ve been harassed by the property manager at your apartment complex, for example, and neighbors were present, ask them if they would be willing to write down what they saw and heard. As with your own records of the incident, the sooner they are able to do this, the more reliable their memories will be and the stronger your case will be. You may also discover that you are not the harasser’s only victim!
If you have any reason to be concerned about your safety, do not approach unknown neighbors. If you are experiencing harassment at work, be sure not to violate any internal policies or any aspect of your contract as you talk to witnesses. If someone at work was not a witness to the event, do not discuss the matter with them. This behavior could come back to bite you later.
6. File a Complaint of Discrimination
The Missouri Department of Labor will look into your situation if you file a complaint. You can do this by filling in the Complaint Intake Questionaire and emailing it to [email protected] or by calling at (573) 751-3325. This should be done within 180 days of the date you experienced the harassment. You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
However, filing a complaint should be done carefully. If you aren’t sure of all the legal details surrounding your situation, be sure to talk with your attorney to get the help you need and make sure everything is filed the right way the first time.
7. Hire a Capable Sexual Harassment Attorney
It’s never wise to attempt to navigate the legal world without professional help. An attorney can help you file and stand by you during the entire process. Your attorney will also know exactly what facts and evidence you need to succeed in your complaint. A legal expert will also be able to negotiate on your behalf and help you put everything in the best possible light for the right outcome. And, if the EEOC or the Missouri Department of Labor decline to find in your favor, your lawyer can help you to sue independently.
If you’ve been the victim of harassment, you don’t have to go it alone. At Holman Schiavone, we specialize in employment law, and we know how to get the evidence you need to prove your case. Don’t go another day without addressing the problem. Contact Holman Schiavone immediately and let us help you get started on getting the justice you deserve.