Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

Our Boston sex discrimination lawyers represent employees who have been subjected to gender discrimination or sexual harassment in their workplaces. While most gender claims are brought on behalf of women who face discrimination or sexual harassment, state and federal laws related to gender discrimination may also apply to protect men facing discrimination based on sex and to protect lesbian, gay, or transgender employees.

An employer engages in unlawful discrimination when it treats employees adversely in the terms and conditions of their employment – including hiring decisions, work responsibilities, promotional opportunities, and pay and benefits – because of their gender. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment permeate many professions. Gender discrimination claims are routinely brought by women working in the service industry, state and municipal government, and traditionally male-dominated fields such as aviation, construction, and engineering. Even those workplaces that involve highly-educated professionals and are managed by sophisticated human resources departments, such as employers in technology, finance and banking, healthcare, and higher education are not immune to gender discrimination, particularly as women advance up the corporate ladder.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is prohibited under both state and federal law. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when it is either directly connected to a grant or denial of an employment benefit (quid pro quo) or where such conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s work environment (hostile environment). To establish a sexually hostile work environment claim, the employee must show that the unwelcome conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive that it altered the conditions of his or her employment. That said, a single act of harassment, if it is egregious, may be sufficient to establish a hostile work environment. Moreover, not all harassing conduct needs to be overtly sexual or gender-based in nature to establish pervasive harassment. The employee must also show a basis for employer liability for the conduct either because the offender was a supervisor or, in the context of co-worker harassment, that the employer knew or should have known about the offending conduct and failed to take action to remedy it.

Although severe forms of sexual harassment, including rape, sexual assault, and improper sexual touching make the news headlines, it is important to recognize that gender-based discrimination, on its own, without any sexual component to it, is no less pernicious. Gender-based harassment in the form of actions and comments that denigrate individuals on the basis of their sex creates a hostile climate that impedes workers’ abilities to progress in their careers, and where managers and co-workers may feel free to take advantage of female subordinates or co-workers.

To prevail on a discrimination claim, an employee does not need smoking gun evidence in the form of a document or witness testimony that shows that an employer refuses to hire or promote employees due to their gender. Instead, an employee can show that an employer relied on gendered stereotypes about the skills or capabilities of applicants or employees. For example, an employer is not permitted to assume that a female employee is not be committed to her job or is not able to handle new responsibilities or a promotion because she is married, pregnant, or has childcare responsibilities. Likewise, an employer is not permitted to make adverse employment decisions based on gendered assumptions about a woman’s capabilities and management style, i.e., assigning leadership responsibilities to male employees while assigning secretarial work to female employees. Other cases will rely on more circumstantial evidence of discrimination, including comparator evidence of how similarly situated male employees are treated and statistical evidence related to hiring and promotions by gender of employee.

Some of our sex discrimination lawyers’ most hard-fought cases involve claims of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Employers often minimize or attempt to conceal the perceived misconduct to protect the offenders or their own reputations, and they tend to fight these types of claims because they do not want to admit that they have somehow allowed a discriminatory environment to persist. Public accusations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment deeply impact companies’ abilities to recruit and retain talent and may result in public backlash by their client or customer base. Employers may also retaliate against accusers in an attempt to discourage them from filing complaints, which may give the employee further legal claims under state or federal law.

Our Boston sex discrimination lawyers have settled or litigated many cases involving serious claims of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexually hostile work environments. We have won substantial jury verdicts involving gender discrimination, including a $7.6 million jury verdict involving race and gender discrimination and retaliation claims against the MBTA and a $2.2 million jury verdict on behalf of a female police officer in a gender discrimination and retaliation case against a police union. We have also settled many cases for six- and seven-figure amounts involving claims of sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and gender discrimination in a variety of sectors, including banking and finance, higher education, municipal and state government, and healthcare.

If you believe you have been sexually harassed or discriminated against due to your gender, please contact our Boston sex discrimination lawyers as soon as possible at (617) 742-6020 or by filling out the online contact form.

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