Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment at Work

When you walk into work, you have the expectation of a safe, productive environment that enables you to perform your job well and climb the career ladder fairly.

Unfortunately that is not always the case and this can be especially true for women. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a very common occurrence. Some statistics say 80% of women have faced harassment in the workplace. This number has only dropped by about 10% in the last 30 years.

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Sexual harassment can include unwanted touching, inappropriate jokes, sexual assault, gender harassment, verbal advances or propositions, or unwanted attention. See below for a more descriptive definition of what constitutes sexual harassment.

You have a right to a safe place of employment. If you are the victim of harassment by someone at your workplace, you can exercise your legal rights and seek the help of an experienced employment attorney.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual conduct towards another person in the workplace. It can be physical, which includes unwanted touching, patting or gesturing, but sexual harassment can also be verbal only.

Verbal sexual harassment is through unwanted sexual advances, propositions, insinuations and/or derogatory remarks. In more recent years, harassment also takes place in an electronic form through sexually explicit emails, text messages or even videos.

Many victims of sexual harassment never say anything about their mistreatment – they endure it, find a different job, a different position within the company or simply stop working. Many people are afraid their coworkers and colleagues will tell them they are blowing the situation out of proportion.

But there are state and federal laws in place to protect people who are sexually harassed on the job and you have the right to hold people accountable for their illegal actions.

Some specific examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include:

  • Inappropriate touching;
  • Unwelcome sexual advances or suggestions;
  • Sexually explicit language or jokes;
  • Sexually explicit videos or pornographic material;
  • Conditioning employment or promotions in exchange for sexual favors;
  • Taking away pay, promotions or other job perquisites, as well as employment
  • Termination for not complying to sexual advances or not accepting sexual propositions;
  • Making inappropriate inquiries into your personal life;
  • Giving lewd gifts;
  • Sending inappropriate sexual text messages or photos;
  • Making disparaging comments about your gender.

Quid Pro Quo vs. Hostile Work Environment

There are generally two types of sexual harassment claims: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment.


Quid pro quo occurs between a person in a superior or supervisory position and their subordinate. These situations generally offer something for something sexual in return. For example, your boss offers you the promotion you have been wanting in exchange for oral sex.

A key component in a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim is that the person doing the harassing has some sort of authority or superior role to you.

Quid pro quo can also mean your boss demoting you or firing you or taking something away from you for not agreeing to a sexual proposition.


This claim includes harassment by anyone in the workplace including co-workers and perhaps even non-employees. These cases can range from one extremely outrageous situation to numerous incidents over a long period of time.
Typically, a pattern of misbehavior must be proven in order for the case to move forward. The key to hostile work environment cases is that the average, reasonable person would find the conduct severe or pervasive, thus affecting the employee’s ability to do their job.

Regardless of who the harasser is, or what form of harassment is taking place, no person should have to deal with this type of treatment while at work, trying to make a living to support themselves or their family.

Where To File a Sexual Harassment Claim in Pennsylvania


If you are the victim of sexual harassment you have options in pursuing a claim. It is important that you have the incidents well documented. In addition, you should document any and all times you alerted a boss or supervisor of the harassment and what, if anything, was done about the situation.

There are two ways you can move forward with a sexual harassment claim. One way is through the federal protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Title VII includes not only discrimination in hiring but also promotions, pay, benefits, layoffs, firing, etc. Federal sexual harassment claims are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sexual harassment claims filed with the EEOC are limited to those companies who have fifteen or more employees.

Your rights are also protected at the state level. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, through the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), also seeks to prevent the same discriminations and offers guidelines similar to the EEOC.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) oversees sexual harassment claims at the state level and claims are available to employees of companies with four or more employees.

Both the EEOC and/or the PHRC will investigate your claim and determine if harassment has, in fact, taken place. They will also investigate what, if anything, your employer did to help discourage and prevent the further occurrence of harassment. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and take into account a totality of the circumstances.

One major difference between the two is the statute of limitations, or the amount of time in which you have to file your claim. If you are filing a claim with the EEOC, you have 300 days from the date of the incident to file your claim. However, a claim filed with the PHRC has a much shorter statute of limitations and must be filed within 180 days of the incident.

You Have Rights

At SMT Legal, our experienced and compassionate Pittsburgh employment attorneys offer free case evaluations to people who have been sexually harassed at work. We do not collect any fees unless we win money for you. We will do everything possible to get you the money you deserve for the sexual harassment you have withstood. Contact us today.

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