If you’ve been following the news you must have heard about the scandal rocking the US brewing industry, and it all started with one brave Massachusetts woman, Brienne Allan, deciding that she’s had enough of the sexual harassment that is rampant in the industry. Hundreds of women across several states answered her call, sharing their own stories of abuse.
Massachusetts sexual harassment lawyers will probably have their hands full over the next few months as more and more women stand up to their tormentors. In this state, employees are protected against discrimination under the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA), which specifically mentions criteria such as sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.This act covers all people working in public or private companies with six or more employees.
However, before you decide to file a complaint you should talk to a good lawyer to see if what you’ve experienced in the workplace constitutes sexual harassment or not. Some of the women writing to Allan recounted incidents when they were grabbed, felt up, or kissed without permission, by fellow workers or supervisors. This type of conduct amounts to sexual harassment, but you’ll still have to prove that it was a persistent behavior. When you file a complaint for sexual harassment you need to provide a list of incidents of a sexual nature to prove that you were faced with a hostile work environment.
On the other hand, some women complained about isolated comments on their looks or clothes. Seasoned employment lawyers will tell you it’s much trickier to make a sexual harassment cases out of remarks that might or might not have an offensive nature. Even if it’s a guy complimenting your dress or your lipstick, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was intended in a sexual way. If you go to trial with this type of comments on your file, the defense can always claim there was no sexual overtone and the plaintiff made too much of an innocent remark.
Obviously, most women do not want that kind of attention, but you need to make that clear to your harasser. If you object and tell them squarely you do not appreciate this type of behavior and they do not stop, then you do have a clear case of a hostile environment.
Under Massachusetts law, any business should have a strong policy on sexual harassment, as well as a procedure to file an internal complaint. Both the company’s policy and the complaint procedure should be known to all employees.
Experienced sexual harassment lawyers advise their clients to file such a complaint before they start thinking about a lawsuit. The employer needs to be made aware of your situation and he must be given the opportunity to take action. In some cases, the managers are well-aware of and condone the sexual harassment going on in their company,in which case filing an internal complaint is pointless. On the other hand, if you do not file such an internal complaint and the case goes to court, they can easily claim they were unaware of your problems. This might not be enough for them to be acquitted, but you might get less in punitive damages.