Category: Sexual Harassment

How Social Media and Technology Changed the Landscape of Sexual Harassment

There is a fine line between co-worker and personal friend. Although it was not uncommon for work buddies to turn into friends outside the office before, the rise of technology and social media has often made it increasingly difficult to establish boundaries with co-workers.

In an age of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and social media related dating applications—Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, OKCupid, casual relationships initiated at the office but facilitated by social media is on the rise. It is now easier than ever to know what your co-worker is doing on the weekend without talking to them than before. It almost makes you feel as if you’re closer with that person, knowing what they are doing when you are apart.

San Francisco employment attorney, David Lowe, commented that “social media…creates more opportunity for people to cross the line between professional and unprofessional conduct.” The instantaneousness of social media and technology allows information, both good and bad, to be accessible at our fingertips.

1 in 4 women in a study conducted by Cosmopolitan Magazine, indicated they have been sexually harassed from lewd texts or emails in the workplace. Others have claim they were confronted with sexually explicit materials on office computers, co-workers’ phones, or find comprising images of themselves leaked to the workplace.

Technology has made sexual harassment more complicated than an inappropriate grab at your body or a drunken wink and smile. In this day, sexual harassment can be a winky emoticon following a comment about your clothing, or a person of the same gender’s email to you, asking for sexual advice when you’re not comfortable speaking about things like that.

Does sexual harassment via social media and technology sound familiar to you? You might not have realized it was harassment, but if you felt uncomfortable, then it could be the case. It’s always a good idea to memorialize any existing messages, photos, emails, etc. that showcase a pattern of uncomfortableness. Be careful of your response too. If you get a winky emoticon and it actually makes you uncomfortable, you are in no way obligated to send a winky back.

Concerned that these circumstances apply to you? Give an Aegis attorney a call.

Source: Forbes & Cosmopolitan Magazine

All the Days of our West Hollywood Lives

This is a tale of soap operatic proportions. Let’s meet the characters of this story, in fair West Hollywood where we set our scene.

First, there is Ian Owens, a deputy to a city council man of West Hollywood. He is accused of bugging a co-worker’s office to prove her of wrongdoing.

Enter the co-worker, Fran Soloman, who is the deputy to another councilman that works with Owens’s boss. She is accused of soliciting unethical campaign contributions for her boss from wealthy developers.

Now comes the two bosses at the heart of the matter. Owens’s boss was Councilman John Duran. He is accused of having a sexual encounter with Owens and then hiring him after they met on Grindr, a dating app for homosexual men. Afterwards, Duran purportedly continued his attempts at a sexual relationship with Owens, despite Owens’s consistent rebuffs.

Soloman’s boss was Councilman John Heilman. Heilman isn’t directly accused of everything but is swept up in this dramatic tale.

So here’s how the story unfolds. Owens, suspecting Soloman was up to no good, reported it to his boss, Duran. Duran refused to entertain the idea because he was upset at Owens for not engaging in a relationship with him. So Owens took matters into his own hands and became what he calls the “whistle blower.” He placed surveillance bugs in Soloman’s office, though Owens’s is now claiming he just heard her through the thin walls. Regardless, after listening to these conversations one way or another, Owens created a spreadsheet of quotes from Soloman’s phone conversations in her office. That spreadsheet was then emailed to city residents and the city’s resident bloggers.

Owens had emailed out the spreadsheet under an alias, but metadata from the document revealed Owens was the creator. He has since been suspended, on paid administrative leave while the city investigates the allegations from all sources. His attorney is claiming that he is being wrongly punished because he was blowing the whistle on Soloman’s wrongdoings.

Owens’s attorney is demanding that his client be restored to his position, outlining the whistleblowing status of his client as well as the sexual encounters between Owens and Duran.

We’ll keep you updated on the every growing drama that is the West Hollywood City Council.

Source: Los Angeles Times

You Don’t Have to Say Yes to Cupid’s Arrow

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, so today, be prepared for heart shaped chocolates in the break room and flowers being delivered in the lobby. But just because today is Valentine’s Day Eve and tomorrow is the day to celebrate love, does not mean supervisors or fellow employees have an excuse to act inappropriately in the office.

In the case of Johnson v. West, 218 F. 3d 725 (7th Cir. 2000), a supervisor had continually harassed the plaintiff by engaging in appropriate activities and comments. On Valentine’s Day, the supervisor sent the plaintiff a greeting card and said, “I can’t imagine loving you more than I do…but tomorrow I will. Happy Valentine’s Day Sweetheart.” Though originally the court found in favor of the employer, the decision was reversed since the action constituted as a hostile work environment.

This case is not uncommon—employees, both male and female, receive greeting cards or love notes on Valentine’s Day. It is easy to dismiss these actions with a casual, “well it’s Valentine’s Day,” and shrug it off. In the state of California, employees have the right to work in an environment free from harassment. Sexual advances are the most obvious form of sexual harassment, but a plaintiff need only show that a hostile working environment existed to prevail on a claim.

Source: Mackey v. Dep’t of Corrections, 105 Cal.App.4th 945 (2003); Johnson v. West, 218 F. 3d 725 (7th Cir. 2000); HRlegalist.com

No One Is Immune From Harassment – Not Even Lawyers

Often when you are dealing with employment issues, you’re looking at companies with all the bargaining power taking advantage of or punishing underpaid workers who don’t have many options.  That’s not always the case, though: even highly paid, sophisticated professionals can find themselves victims of an unscrupulous company or boss.

Even lawyers, who many people might assume are immune to bad corporate behavior, can end up in the same boat as other employees as victims of sexual harassment, retaliation, and other illegal conduct.

For example, the top U.S. lawyer for a large IT outsourcing company just revealed through a lawsuit that she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor, the company’s global head of its legal department.  Despite having a successful twenty years in the legal profession, a prestigious position, and even a seat on the company’s anti-harassment committee, the female attorney was “treated as a piece of meat,” according to her attorney.

The lawsuit explains that the lawyer’s boss asked her to take him to a strip club, insisted that the lawyer come back to his hotel with him, and proposed they have an affair.  He didn’t stop there – he forced a kiss and other unwanted sexual contact on her.  To top it off, her supervisor suggested that a promotion the lawyer had been promised was contingent on her coming to his hotel room and, impliedly, consenting to his sexual demands.

Like many employees, the lawyer had no real way to deal with the harassment.  Her boss was good buddies with the CEO, and the lawyer knew that other harassment claims had been swept under the rug.

After her supervisor began retaliating against her, first by denying her the promised promotion and then by taking projects away from her and undermining and reversing her decisions, the lawyer realized the only option she had was to resign – and, now, file a lawsuit.

The unfortunate lesson from this lawyer’s situation is that sexual harassment is still far too common in the workplace and that employees, no matter their level or experience, too often have no real recourse within their companies.  That is where attorneys like Aegis Law Firm come in.  If you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, we may be able to help.

Sometimes Law Firms Do It Too

Chicago based national law firm, Arnstein & Lehr, is on the receiving end of a lawsuit. A terminated legal secretary filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the one of the firm’s managing partners alleging bizarre sexual behavior.

The former legal secretary, Dasschinka Storani, was fired after the firm accused her for wrongfully claiming compensation for unworked hours. She responded saying that the firm did not compensate her for being “on call” to the partner all day, every day. The partner, Alan Kipnis, and Storani worked for the Ft. Lauderdale office of the firm. Kipnis would constantly text and email Storani all hours of the day and night and if she did not respond, Kipnis would react hostilely in the office the next day.

Kipnis would also enlist Storani to do odd things for him in the office, including injecting a shot of B-12 in his buttocks. He would often say sexually pervasive comments about oral sex and would speak about sex with her. Storani was often reminded when she was hiring new employees that Kipnis preferred “young and attractive” staffers. Though she endured everything Kipnis did to her, she was terminated for the alleged time card fraud.

Arstein & Lehr are denying the claims, saying that they previously had conducted an investigation into the issue. “We found there was no basis for any liability, said the firm’s chairman.

Source: ABA Journal