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What is Sexual Harassment?

According the U.S. Equal Employment Commission, the prohibition of sexual harassment is clearly defined: It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Sexual harassment is a common form of gender discrimination, punishable by law. A 2012 survey by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) showed that 54% of women surveyed reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

There are two categories of sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo is defined as a person in a position of power requiring a sexual act of a person in an inferior position as a condition of future or continued employment. Such conditions might include promotion, maintaining employment, a raise in salary or preferential treatment. The sex of the perpetrator or the victim is irrelevant to this definition.


  • Hostile environment is when an individual creates an uncomfortable work environment through unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexual innuendo and banter, general comments or slurs directly related to gender.

Sexual harassment through creation of a hostile work environment is more commonly reported but harder to identify than the quid pro quo variety. Ultimately a case for harassment is somewhat subjective, as it is based on how the victim feels. Workers have a right to feel at ease in the workplace. It is not illegal to make an off-color joke at work. It is illegal to make a co-worker uncomfortable with that joke by drawing attention to his or her gender. According to the law, a victim’s participation in office banter is not an invitation for harassment, and will not stand as a defense to the victim’s claim of harassment.

If you are experiencing any form of sexual harassment in your workplace, contact Los Angeles County Super Lawyers The Ruttenberg Law Firm, P.C. by calling 310.207.4022 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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