What to Do When Your California Employer Does Not Respond to a Harassment Complaint

You’ve endured countless days, weeks, or maybe even months of harassment at work. Finally, you decide to make a sexual harassment complaint at work to your human resources department or manager. The sense of relief fades quickly, as you realize that your official complaint has fallen upon deaf ears. No action has been taken against your harasser, and maybe your situation is even worse now. 

If you were the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, made an official complaint, and no action was taken by your employer, you still have the right to legal recourse. Sexual harassment in the workplace in California is illegal. Your workplace must create an environment free from sexual hostility, offensive behaviors, intimidating actions, harassment, hostility, and assault. Contact V. James DeSimone Law at 310-693-5561 and our experienced employment lawyers will help you with your sexual harassment complaint. 

Harassment 101

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) established legally binding guidelines that specifically define sexual harassment.  Harassment can appear in different ways in the workplace, including the following:

Sexual or derogatory comments

Unsolicited touching (i.e. back rubs, hand on a leg, uninvited hugs, “accidental” brushes against your body, etc.)

Unsolicited sexual propositions or discussions

Any “Quid Pro Quo” offer consisting of the implication of receipt of any kind of benefits for sexual favors

Warning or threats to decrease your pay, work hours, or benefits if there is non-compliance with a sexual request

Abrasive, rude, intimidating, bothersome, intimidating, leering, or other gestures or behaviors that seek to impose any kind of sexual overtone to another employee

Discussion of sexual acts or activities either with an employee or around an employee

Retaliatory actions after a harassment complaint is filed, including but not limited to loss of employment or other benefits

Posting or distributing sexually suggestive objects, pictures, etc.

Any intimidating actions such as prohibiting or blocking an employee’s movements

California Harassment Laws

California has a long history of establishing very strict rules regarding discrimination.  These three sets of laws make workplace sexual harassment illegal and are the most widely recognized.

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This federal law established over half a century ago, is the foundation for the prohibition of all types of discrimination in the United States, which includes sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • The Fair Employment and Housing Act (called “FEHA”): The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 is mirrored and reinforced by this California state law which also prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, including same sex and third party harassment.
  • The California Constitution: The Constitution of California itself proactively prohibits any type of discrimination or harassment based on sex. Although most sexual harassment claims are not brought under the California Constitution, it is important that the state of California takes sexual harassment so seriously that it directly addressed the issue in their Constitution. 

Your Sexual Harassment Complaint Action Plan

If you have already submitted a harassment complaint to your employer, and have received no resolution to your complaint, make sure you have followed these steps. If you feel you can resubmit your harassment complaint with additional evidence or through a different avenue within your company (i.e. human resources department vs. your manager) these steps will help you if you plan to re-file a grievance with your company regarding a sexual harassment complaint in the workplace.   Check your employee handbook and make sure you are following the procedures established by your employer to address complaints of sex harassment.  It is usually helpful to submit a complaint in writing and always be polite, direct, honest, and professional.

  1. Documentation. If you did not submit complete documentation with your first harassment complaint, attempt to document all parts of the sexual harassment conduct if possible. Additionally, if you have filed a grievance and the sexual harassment or actions have worsened, make detailed notes and document as much as you can. If it is possible to obtain witness statements regarding your harassment, include that in your grievance as well.  Make sure you give thought to what you are texting, posting or writing, even to coworkers or friends.  These writings may become discoverable in a lawsuit.  Think about how you or someone else would feel if your text, email, or social media posting is read aloud or viewed in a court room or you were asked about it in a deposition. 
  2. Report the Sexual Harassment to your Employer. If you have already submitted a harassment complaint to your employer, perhaps submitting it to a different department can change the resolution. Make sure you make an official report according to the appropriate policies and procedures of your office. 
  3. Escalate Your Sexual Harassment Claim.  If your employer does have a policy regarding sexual harassment claims, attempt to go through that process if possible. If it is possible to escalate your sexual harassment claim after no actions have been taken, make sure to attempt to follow the proper protocol.
  4. Contact an Attorney.  You have the right at any time to always contact an attorney, to either help you with the sexual harassment claim at work, or to help you file a lawsuit.  Keep all communications with your Attorney confidential because you have the right to confidential Attorney-Client communications.  Never use a work email to communicate with your Attorney.
  5. Filing a Formal Complaint

Where should you turn if your sexual harassment claim filed with your employer remains unresolved, or you have received retaliation from your employer for filing a grievance? Your next step after filing an official grievance in your place of employment is to file a complaint with the EEOC or DFEH. Contact an EEOC counselor for free if you are interested in finding out if this option is right for you, or any other resources they may have available to you regarding your workplace sexual harassment claim.

It is very important to note that if you decide to file a claim with the EEOC, you only have 180 calendar days from the date of the sexual harassment to file a claim.  Under California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act, you have more time but it is often a good idea to contact a lawyer to get a timely Right to Sue Letter.

California has established the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and also additional legislation under California’s AB 1825 law that makes certain employer responses mandatory regarding sexual harassment claims. Under these laws, an employer is required to respond and answer your sexual harassment complaint at work if you request an investigation.   Under California law, employees have the obligation to avoid sexual harassment by making timely complaints and employers have the obligation to take prompt, corrective action to prevent sexual harassment.

If you find that your employer has not responded to your grievance, you may attempt to seek recourse under these laws.  Additionally, if you choose to file a charge with the FEHA, it may be automatically “dual-filed” with the EEOC as well. 

Contact an Experience California Employment Attorney

If you feel ignored or have been the victim of additional retaliation after you filed a sexual harassment complaint with your employer, you still have the right to recourse and possible compensation for your damages.

Ultimately, your employer has a legal obligation to investigate your valid sexual harassment complaint seriously and thoroughly and take necessary action. Contact V. James DeSimone Law at 310-693-5561 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced and knowledgeable employment lawyers, if your case qualifies after speaking with a member of our intake team and/or filling out an intake form.

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