Can a Woman Sexually Harass Another Woman? And Harassment Complaints in Pennsylvania

Many people think of sexual harassment as something that a man does to a female employee or coworker. However, sexual harassment comes from both sexes. The harassment could be sexual in nature or simply targeting the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Most sexual harassment complaints and claims are against men who target female workers and co-workers. But studies show that women do sexually harass other women. They also sexually harass men, but women generally are the primary targets of sexual harassment from either sex.

The question of whether a woman could sexually harass another woman has a very clear answer. Yes, women can sexually harass other women. The following provides more detailed information on how.

Survey Says Women Sexually Harass Other Women a Significant Amount

Sexual harassment that involves one woman targeting another woman occurs less often than harassment between a man and a woman. However, a significant percentage of
sexual harassment claims do involve women targeting other women.

Cosmopolitan magazine recently surveyed 2,235 working women to learn how many have experienced sexual harassment while working at some point during their lives. A third of respondents said they had endured workplace sexual harassment. Among those who affirmed they experienced sexual harassment, one in 10 said another woman sexually harassed them.

Federal and State Laws Against Sexual Harassment

It is illegal for anyone to sexually harass another person at work. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says it is unlawful to engage in workplace sexual harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that mild teasing, isolated incidents, and an occasional offhand remark does not amount to sexual harassment.

Under such conditions, sexual harassment does not occur until a hostile work environment exists. When the comments, teasing, or other conduct becomes offensive, a hostile work environment has been created. The source could be a supervisor, a manager, or a co-worker. It also could be someone who is not an employee, such as a vendor or contractor. Even a client could sexually harass someone else’s employee.

Two Types of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment occurs in two general ways. One way is overt and refers to the traditional quid pro quo in which a woman in a position of power over a female employee demands sexual favors in exchange for something tangible. It also could refer to a co-worker seeking sexual favors from another worker.

Quid pro quo is a Latin term that translates into this for that. When a woman in a position of power or authority over another woman requires sexual favors from the other in exchange for better pay, improved work conditions, or even to be hired, that is a clear case of overt sexual harassment.

Pervasive sexual harassment is another way that women could sexually harass other women. Off-color jokes or comments about a woman’s body, her love life, or her sexual orientation all count as sexual harassment. That is the case even if the person doing the harassing is not seeking sexual favors.

Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Could Trigger Sexual Harassment

The EEOC says that sexual harassment occurs whenever an employee is targeted because of her sexual orientation. A gay woman who endures harassment by another woman or a man because of her sexual orientation is a victim of sexual harassment. So is a woman who is harassed as a result of her gender identity.

Sexual harassment that is due to a person’s sexual orientation or gender identify could occur in many ways. Offhand comments or jokes that are derisive and offensive, whereas targeting a worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity would qualify as sexual harassment.

If such behavior occurred often, it could become pervasive sexual harassment. It also could create a hostile work environment for the targeted worker as well as anyone who witnesses it.

Many Women Are Harassed Because of Pregnancy

Pregnancy is another issue that could cause workplace sexual harassment from a woman or a man. If you become pregnant, there are many ways in which a woman manager or female co-workers could sexually harass you, including making comments about your condition.

If you sought a reasonable work accommodation because of your pregnancy and a female boss denied it, that could be sexual harassment from another woman. Sexual discrimination due to pregnancy could include refusing to allow you to take time off to go to doctor appointments. It could include refusing leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or giving you time to recover from delivery while on maternity leave.

When you attempt to return to work, a change in work assignments or pay rate could be an example of sexual harassment. So would firing you because you became pregnant and sought time off to deliver the baby and begin raising it while healing up from the delivery.

Virtual Sexual Harassment Exists and Affects Women

Sexual harassment does not have to happen in person. The online world and mobile technology are making it possible for workplace sexual harassment to happen online as well as at work.

The Pew Center recently studied sexual harassment that occurs online and concluded that it is pervasive and significant. The Pew Center study says women are more likely to experience and report online sexual harassment than men.

The study shows 16 percent of women respondents said they suffered sexual harassment online. Only five percent of men reported they were sexually harassed online. Another 13 percent of women also said they were stalked online, whereas only nine percent of men reported online stalking occurred.

What to Do if You Are Sexually Harassed

If you are subjected to sexual harassment at work, you can file a complaint with the EEOC. The federal agency will investigate sexual harassment complaints and could levy a financial penalty against an employer who does not take sexual harassment complaints seriously.

If the EEOC affirms sexual harassment occurred, you could file a federal lawsuit against the offending employer. However, you must file a federal complaint with the EEOC before initiating a federal lawsuit.

Filing the complaint with the EEOC accomplishes two things for victims of sexual harassment. The first is that it provides a record of the accusations while raising awareness of an apparent problem. Increased awareness and a federal investigation should help to put an end to the problem.

The second accomplishment is that it helps to provide evidence based on a third-party review of the matter. Once the EEOC completes an investigation of a sexual harassment claim, the victim can pursue a federal case against the offending parties.

State Protections against Workplace Sexual Harassment

Pennsylvania, for example, also offers state-level oversight of sexual harassment claims. If you are targeted with sexual harassment by another woman or a man while working, you could file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission as well as the EEOC.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission enforces the provisions of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits sex-based discrimination and workplace sexual harassment. The commission also enforces the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act, which also prohibits sexual harassment.

If you are subject to sexual harassment from a female or a male manager, co-worker, or employer, you can report the matter to the commission. You would have to file the complaint within 180 days of the most recent incident. The commission will assign someone to investigate it and meet with you to discuss what you could do to end the problem and hold the responsible parties liable.

Mr. Gold is the principal shareholder of the Pennsylvania & New Jersey employment law firm of Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, which has been recognized by the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register as a preeminent law firm in the field of employment law and civil rights litigation. His practice, as well as that of the law firm, is concentrated in the representation of both employees and employers in all aspects of employment related litigation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including claims under federal and state anti-discrimination laws and federal civil rights laws.

Copyright Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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