How to Sue for Workplace Harassment in Nashville
Every person is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect at work. Unfortunately, some Tennesseans are subjected to harassment in a hostile work environment. Experiencing harassment not only prevents employees from doing their jobs, but it is also incredibly stressful and unhealthy.
If you believe that you’re the victim of workplace harassment, you need an employment lawyer in Nashville who will stand up for your rights. An experienced attorney at the Employment and Consumer Law Group can determine whether you have grounds for a harassment lawsuit and what your next steps should be.
Our law firm believes all employers should be held accountable if a worker is being victimized. Call or contact us today to meet with a trusted Nashville workplace harassment attorney. The consultation is free.
What Qualifies as Workplace Harassment?
Workplace harassment is a form of discrimination that violates both federal and Tennessee civil rights and disability laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Tennessee Human Rights Act.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 and older), disability, or genetic information…[that] becomes unlawful where enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or the conduct is severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
Small disputes, irritations, off-hand remarks, or isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) do not usually rise to the level of unlawful workplace harassment. Instead, prohibited conduct must create a hostile work environment.
A hostile work environment exists when someone’s behavior is inappropriate to the point that it makes it difficult for another person to work. Such conduct can include:
- Offensive jokes
- Epithets or name-calling
- Physical assault, or the threat of assault
- Ridicule or mockery
- Insults or put-downs
- Offensive imagery or writings
The harasser can be any individual, including the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor from another department in the company, a fellow co-worker, an agent of the employer, or even a non-employee.
It’s important to note that the victim does not need to be the target of the offensive conduct. He or she only needs to be offended by such conduct to the extent that the offense becomes a condition of employment or creates a hostile work environment. Harassment can also occur without any financial loss suffered by the victim or termination of their employment.
How to Prove Harassment at Work
Proving workplace harassment can be a difficult task. Small slights or remarks, although potentially offensive or intimidating to one person, may not meet the criteria for harassment.
To qualify as harassment, the conduct must be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. The victim must also feel that acceptance of the harassment is a condition in order to stay employed.
Examples of conduct that rises to the level of harassment may include:
- Relying on a worker’s status in a protected class, or assumptions or stereotypes about that protected class, to make decision about that worker
- Unwelcome touching or near-touching
- Sexual conversations, including jokes, innuendos, personal inquiries, persistent courting, or sex/gender-related put-downs
- Displaying explicit, suggestive, or offensive materials, such as posters, pictures, drawings, or cartoons
- Making disparaging remarks, slurs, or jokes about a worker’s protected class
Proving that someone’s conduct meets the definition of workplace harassment often requires careful documentation of the offensive incidents. Here are ways to help support your case if you’re being harassed:
- Document (in writing) each incident as soon as possible after it occurs. Take special care to note exactly what your harasser said and/or did.
- Report the harassment to your supervisor or the human resources (HR) department. When you notify your supervisors or your employer’s HR representatives about such incidents, be sure to get confirmation that your notice was sent and received.
- Get witness statements. You can also help bolster your claim if others witnessed the harassment. Where possible, try to have co-workers or other witnesses prepare a statement detailing their recollection of the incident(s). You can avoid a potential “he said, she said” stalemate if you have others who can corroborate your allegations.
Keep in mind that the law prohibits an employer from retaliating against a worker who files a harassment complaint. If you are subjected to adverse action after initiating a harassment claim, seek the help of a skilled employment lawyer right away.
Should I Report Harassment to HR or Go to a Lawyer First?
A valid workplace harassment lawsuit requires proving that your employer knew about your harassment and had an opportunity to remedy the situation, but didn’t. If your employer can credibly claim that it had no knowledge of your harassment, it can argue that it shouldn’t be held liable for the unauthorized conduct of one or several individuals.
You can avoid that pitfall by reporting the problem to your employer’s HR department or representative. An attorney is not required for you to initiate the notification process. However, a lawyer can help you prepare your report by organizing the evidence and testimony about the incidents into a cohesive, persuasive narrative.
How to Get Started on Your Harassment Claim
A harassment claim typically begins with filing an internal complaint with your employer. Your employer may have complaint forms that you must fill out to begin the process, although in many cases providing written notice to your supervisor or your HR representative can be enough to give legal notice of your harassment claim.
If your supervisor is the harasser, you would not be required to file notice with him/her. You could just file notice with the HR department or his/her supervisor.
Most employers take claims of harassment seriously. They will investigate and take appropriate action, such as disciplining, retraining, or even terminating the harasser(s), or by rescheduling you and/or your harasser(s) so that you no longer need to come into contact with one another.
If your employer fails to take internal action in response to your claim, the next step involves filing an official administrative charge with the EEOC or (if you have claims under state law) with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.
Filing an administrative charge is required before you can file a lawsuit against your employer for harassment. If you don’t, the court can dismiss your case for failing to exhaust your administrative remedies.
Will My Claim Turn into a Lawsuit?
In most cases, a harassment claim will be resolved before a lawsuit needs to be filed. If your employer cannot resolve the matter to your satisfaction or if your employer takes no action in response to your claim, you would next file an administrative charge with the EEOC or with the state.
The EEOC or Tennessee Human Rights Commission will notify your employer of your claim and review your administrative charge. Then it will decide whether to dismiss the charge, conduct further investigation, or take action against your employer, including filing a lawsuit (although a government lawsuit rarely occurs).
In most cases, an administrative charge will result in the EEOC or state commission issuing you a “right to sue” letter, which you must obtain before you can file a harassment lawsuit. However, the agencies will also often try to encourage you and your employer to try to resolve your claim through negotiation or mediation.
Even when you receive your right to sue letter, you may still resolve your claim with your employer through a negotiated or mediated settlement before you end up filing a lawsuit. The threat of a harassment lawsuit after the issuance of a right to sue letter may be enough motivation for your employer to settle rather than risk the time and expense of trial.
When to Contact a Nashville Workplace Harassment Lawyer
If you believe you are being harassed at work, contact a Nashville workplace harassment lawyer as soon as possible.
At the Employment and Consumer Law Group, we can advise you about whether the conduct you’ve experienced constitutes unlawful harassment. We can also help you document and notify your employer through an internal harassment complaint and, if needed, to file an administrative charge with the EEOC.
If a lawsuit becomes necessary, our lawyers can also identify what sources of financial compensation may be available to you.
The Employer and Consumer Law Group Is Here to Protect You
Harassment has no place at work. You have every right to assert your rights if you are stuck in a hostile work environment. Let a Tennessee workplace harassment attorney at the Employer and Consumer Law Group tackle the problem for you.
Protecting the interests of workers and consumers is all we do. Our no-nonsense approach tells employers that we mean business.
Ready to get on the path to justice? Call or contact us for a free consultation.