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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: An Overview

Sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual conduct that creates a hostile work environment or negatively affects working conditions. Among other things, sexual harassment may include written or verbal comments, unwanted physical contact or derogatory gestures. Nonsexual conduct may also be sexual harassment if it is directed at a person because of his or her gender.

In order to constitute harassment, the offensive conduct must be either severe or pervasive. This means that while a single incident might not be sexual harassment unless it is extremely offensive, an ongoing pattern of relatively minor incidents can add up to harassment if they have a cumulative effect on the working environment.

State and Federal Laws Prohibit Sexual Harassment at Work

The Delaware Discrimination in Employment Act, or DDEA, prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. The DDEA applies to any Delaware employer with four or more employees, including employment agencies, labor organizations and state and local government entities. In addition, federal law prohibits workplace sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

State and federal laws also make it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for complaining about sexual harassment or participating in sexual harassment investigations. In fact, employers have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to stop any harassment that they know of or have reason to know of.

What to Do If You Are Facing Sexual Harassment

Because conduct can only be sexual harassment if it is unwelcome, your first step when dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace should be to state firmly and clearly that the behavior is offensive and that you want it stop. Keep a detailed log of the harassment and your efforts to stop it, noting the date and a brief description of each incident.

In order for your employer to be legally responsible for stopping the harassment, he or she must know about it. Therefore, it is very important that you notify your supervisor if you experience sexual harassment at work. If the behavior continues, consult with an experienced employment law attorney to learn more about your rights and legal options.

View Cases

  • Sheridan v. E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 100 F.3d 1061 (3rd Cir. 1996) (en banc) (Plaintiff's jury verdict and the "pretext only" paradigm for proof of intentional discrimination established).
  • Hawkins v. Division of State Police, et al., C.A. No. 99-297-SLR (Religious discrimination case which successfully obtained an offer of judgment and caused the State to stop using the MMPI-1.
  • Miller v. Daimler Chrysler Corp., C. A. No. 01-827-JJF (D.Del. 2003) (Race Discrimination claim survived Motion for Summary Judgment).
  • Panaro v. J.C. Penny, Inc., C.A. 01C-02-010 JOH, 2002 WL 130692 (Del. Super. 2002)(In a personal injury case, admission into evidence of direct examination of deceased deponent/plaintiff does not.
  • Price, et al. v. L. Aaron Chaffinch, et al., C.A. No. 04-956-GMS, 2006 WL 1313178 (D.Del. 2006) (First Amendment Retaliation, Petitions Clause and Defamation Claims survived Motion for Summary Judgment).
  • Reyes v. Freebery, 141 Fed. Appx. 49 (3d Cir. 2005) (per curiam) remanding to District Court to explain its restrictions on the public's right to access to judicial records and counsel's First Amendment.
  • Underwood v. Sear Roebuck and Co., 343 F.Supp.2d 259 (D.Del. 2004) (Gender discrimination claim survived Motion for Summary Judgment).
  • Shotzberger v. State of Delaware Dept. Of Correction, 2004 WL 758354 (D.Del. Jan. 30, 2004) (Gender discrimination claim survived Motion for Summary Judgement).
  • Stull v. Thomas S. Neuberger, P.A., 2003 WL 21481016 (Del. Super. Febr. 28, 2003) (Effect of Delaware accord and satisfaction law on a contract for legal services).
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