Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. It is illegal under federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and under California state law, known as the Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Sexual harassment is usually not about sex, but about power. Such behavior may be designed to humiliate and control a subordinate employee. Some harassers actually believe it is acceptable to use their power to coerce employees into sexual relationships or force employees to work in a hostile environment. Sexual harassers usually think they will never be held accountable and will never be reported. They may believe the subordinate employee will remain quiet, in order to avoid embarrassment to protect their job.
Sexual harassment can include verbal, physical or visual conduct and generally occurs in two forms. The first type is called “quid pro quo”, where obtaining, keeping, or advancing in a job is conditioned on submission to sexual advances, or where the harassment results in some other adverse employment action. The second type of harassment is a “hostile work environment”,where unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature unreasonably interferes with work and creates intimidating, hostile and offensive work conditions.
If the harasser is the employee’s manager or supervisor, then the employer will usually be held liable. If the harassment is by a co-worker or customer and the employer fails to take action to stop the harassment, the employer can be held liable. The harasser can also be held liable.