Myths Regarding Sexual Harassment

By Leeds Brown Law | January 8, 2019

Demystifying Common Falsehoods Regarding Sexual Harassment

As sexual harassment becomes a larger hot button topic, due to the #MeToo Movement and other high-profile cases, there are more and more falsehoods spread about the matter. These common falsehoods or myths are perpetrated through several avenues, including the news, media, and word of mouth. These myths tend to shape the minds of people on the topic, to the detriment of those who are victims of sexual harassment. So, it’s high time to demystify.

MYTH: “The harasser was just joking, so it is not sexual harassment.”

REALITY: There is no exception under federal, state, or local laws that a harasser’s actions or comments are acceptable if they are merely joking. Instead, what matters is whether the conduct was “severe or pervasive” and that the conduct was “unwelcome.” Whether the conduct was severe or pervasive may be determined by numerous factors, such as the degree of harassment, the nature of the harassment, the context, and so forth. If the harasser “intended” to sexually harass the person only matters in terms of whether it influences one or more of the factors discussed above.

MYTH: “It only happened once, so it is not sexual harassment.”

REALITY: A victim of sexual harassment may have a valid legal claim against his or her employer even if there was only a single act of sexual harassment. As discussed above, a claim of sexual harassment may exist when one’s conduct is severe or pervasive. For instance, a federal court found that a single incident is enough to satisfy this severe or pervasive standard in a case including a vile and sexually explicit abusive comment made in front of one’s subordinates. However, even if a single act does not reach that level, it is important to make your employer aware of the harassing conduct that took place, which will allow your employer to investigate and hopefully remedy the situation. If you do not report such conduct to human resources, a superior, or someone else with authority to take action, your employer can say it wasn’t aware of the incident(s). If your employer retaliates against you because you’ve lodged a complaint, you may have an additional claim against the employer.

MYTH: “The person harassing me is not an employee, so I do not have a claim against my employer.”

REALITY: You may have a valid legal claim of sexual harassment against your employer even if the harassment was performed by a non-employee. This includes conduct by an independent contractor, agent, vendor, or even a customer. As described by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) you may have a legal claim against your employer even if your harasser is a non-employee. First, an employer must have control over the non-employee, such as the ability to remove the person from the premises. Further, the employer may be held liable “if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.”

MYTH: “I no longer work at the place I was harassed, so I have no claim.”

REALITY: Depending on when you last worked for the employer where the sexual harassment took place, this myth may be untrue. You don’t have to currently work for an employer to file a claim; however, there are time limits under federal, state, and city/local laws by which you should bring a sexual harassment case. In most situations, the sooner you file, the better.

Myth: “Sexual harassment only happens to women.”

Reality: While the majority of claims of sexual harassment are made by women in the United States, sexually harassment occurs to men as well. In fact, as reported by the Washington Post last year, approximately 17% of complaints of sexual harassment made to the EEOC in 2017 were filed by men. According to the EEOC, this rate has remained fairly consistent since 2010, reaching a decade high of 17.8% in 2012.

Leeds Brown Law, P.C., has represented victims of sexual harassment for over 20 years. We’re sensitive to the needs of our clients should they require confidential settlement negotiations, mediation or arbitration, or a jury trial. To learn more about sexual harassment laws and how to protect yourself, visit our website at

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