What is sexual harassment that creates an unlawful hostile environment in the workplace? That question comes up a lot for individuals that contact our office. The short answer provided by the courts and not particularly helpful is as follows: that the workplace was permeated by discriminatory intimidation that was sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to alter the working conditions in an unreasonable and harmful way. 

A textbook example is provided in a complaint filed in federal court against a restaurant regarding the owner's conduct directed at one of the restaurant's chefs and at other female employees:
  • Since at least November of 2014, Craig [the owner of the restaurant] has routinely made sexual comments to Werthen [the chef]. Such comments from Craig include but are not limited to telling Werthen that he thought about having sex with her “while jacking off a million times,” telling her that he thought about her in the shower, telling her that she “looked like a professional woman,” referring to her as “baby,” telling her, “I love your mouth” while openly and blatantly staring at her, telling her, “I’d like to lick your butt,” and asking her if she wanted him to “suck on your bottom lip.” Craig also told Werthen (who is above average in height) that she was his “only chance to have tall children.”
  • While working in the kitchen with Werthen, Craig would loudly and with coarse language identify female guests he would like to have sex with.
  • Werthen made clear to Craig that these comments were  unwelcome, but he persisted.
  • Craig routinely made inappropriate sexual comments to other female employees. These include, but are not limited to telling them repeatedly that he wanted to have sex with them, talking about their physical features and which ones he found desirable, and ordering them to approach restaurant guests he found sexually desirable and obtain their phone numbers for him.
  • Craig had inappropriate physical contact with female employees. This includes touching them on the buttocks, legs, hips, chest, and/or crotch areas, forcing them to sit on his lap, and kissing and/or hugging them without consent.
  • When Werthen complained about Craig’s conduct either to Craig, other managers, or other employees, Georgina’s unlawfully retaliated against her by subjecting her to different conditions of employment and subsequently terminating her employment. This unlawful retaliation included, but was not limited to, the following: a. Werthen verbally complained about Craig’s sexual commentary to Craig and another manager in early January 2016. Immediately following this verbal complaint, Craig began treating Werthen differently and less favorably. Specifically, he stripped her of authority in the kitchen, gave her less favorable shifts, cut her hours, and was openly hostile and verbally abusive towards her;  

All of the textbook elements are present: (1) outrageous and "routine" sexual comments; (2) a general environment of sexual degradation with commentary directed at guests and at other employees; (3) offensive physical touching, grabbing and groping; (4) an attempt by the employee, Werthen to get the problem solved that was met with retaliation and, ultimately, termination. This resulted in a $200,000 settlement

Here are some more examples and information:

What is a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment?
64% Recognize Sexual Harassment Is a Serious Problem

Lexington, Kentucky sexual harassment lawyer Robert Abell represents victims of sexual harassment and retaliation in state and federal courts throughout Kentucky; contact him at 859-254-7076
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