As an employee in the service industry, you are more likely to suffer from sexual abuse than workers in other sections for various reasons. Because you rely on tips, customers significantly affect how much you earn. It is also an industry where "the customer is always right," and the threat of retaliation can be overwhelming for you, discouraging you from complaining about the conduct. Whether you work in a hotel, restaurant, retail, bar, or supermarket, there are no reasons to tolerate sexual harassment from your colleagues, employer, or customers. The legal team at Sex Crime Attorney can take time to listen to you, explain your legal rights, and explore your legal options. We take pride in assisting thousands of employees in Los Angeles to receive compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, medical expenses, and lost wages suffered.
Sexual Harassment in Service Industry Prevalence
According to the United States Employment Opportunity Commission, at least 7,5000 plaintiffs filed sexual harassment charges and claims in the financial year 2018. It is a 14% increase from the previous year.
The Guardian reports that entertainment is not the only industry where sexual abuse is prevalent. 89% of hospitality industry employees claimed to have experienced at least sexual harassment on the job, with 50% being abused by customers and a quarter by the management.
Sexual abuse is common in the hospitality industry since hotels, restaurants, retail, and supermarkets are low-paying, tip-based, and shift jobs. Employers rely on the management for shift assignments and customers for tips to make a living. It puts the employees in compromising positions, resulting in disproportionate harassment from superiors and customers.
Generally, the service industry requires a specific dress code, serves liquor, and keeps usual hours. The environment is festive, noisy, and loud, and where employees are more vulnerable to suggestive comments and advances from managers and customers.
Sexual abuse in many hospitality venues occurs in plain sight. Sadly, managers and fellow employees normalize it and do not come to the rescue. It is probably because they are not trained in the matter.
Most workplace sexual abuse incidents go unreported out of fear of retaliation. The fear is well-founded and valid. A study conducted in 2003 discovered that 75% of workers who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation, including:
- Public humiliation
- Financial loss
Also, most employees experiencing sexual harassment from their employees believe their shift will worsen, cannot be promoted, or receive an increase.
What Women Experience in Service Industry
Shelly Ortiz worked in restaurants for ten years before changing her career five (5) months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Her final straw was when a male client requested her to pull down her face mask so that he could tip her because of how attractive her smile was. When she refused, the male customer said that he would decide after eyeballing her chest.
These incidents are not uncommon in restaurants. At least 70% of female employees who serve as bartenders and servers in different service industry businesses claim they have been sexually abused by their colleagues, customers, and employers. The survey by One Fair Wage in partnership with Social Science Research Solutions indicates that the pandemic worsened things.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that the rate of sexual abuse among female restaurant employees is the most prevalent in all industries. Before the pandemic, female workers in restaurants brought sexual harassment claims with the EEOC twice compared to the general labor force. Across the United States, approximately 7% of women working in restaurants are harassed, accounting for 14% of all sexual abuse reports to the EEOC.
Typical forms of women sexual harassment by management include:
- Being required to "look sexy" on the job
- Being pinched, cornered, leaned over, and touched in unwanted and deliberate ways
- Receiving pressure to go on dates with the superiors
What is Sexual Harassment?
It is illegal to harass an individual based on their sex. Please note that harassment does not have to be sexual in nature. It can also include offensive comments about an individual's sex.
Both the perpetrator and the victim can be either a man or a woman. The harasser and the alleged victim can be of the same sex. Also, the harasser can have any relationship with the victim.
While the law does not ban simple teasing, isolated occurrences that are not serious, offhand comments, it can be unlawful when it is so severe or frequent that it:
- lead to adverse employment decisions like being demoted or fired, or
- create a hostile workplace environment.
Sexual harassment can happen in different forms, including:
- Making employment advancement or conditions dependent on sexual favors either implicitly or explicitly
- Sexual favor requests
- Physical acts of sexual assault
- Verbal harassment of sexual nature, such as jokes referring to sexual orientation or sexual acts
- Uninvited physical contact or touching
- Unwanted sexually explicit text messages, emails, or photos
Effects of Workplace Sexual Harassment
Workplace sexual abuse devalues human dignity and worth and reduces productivity. Also, the uninvited advances can ruin careers and devastate lives when service industry employees leave a job they are passionate about and love.
You should not feel unwelcomed, demeaned, or neglected in your work environment because of sexual harassment. You have a right to receive compensation for sexual harassment. A skilled lawyer can assist you in navigating the complicated law to ensure you receive justice.
What to Do After Experiencing Sexual Harassment at Work
Below are steps a person needs to take if they believe they are a victim of workplace sexual abuse:
Document Quid Pro Quo
Quid pro quo sexual harassment happens when the harasser offers you employment, favors, or promotion if you take them or face retaliation if you fail to comply. If the harasser made any threat or offer, note down the place, time, date, and witness.
Do not worry if you have no witnesses. Typically, harassers make their moves in the presence of others.
Document Different Treatment and All Comments You Have Received
Another form of workplace sexual harassment is a hostile environment, and the victim is harassed based on their gender. It can be comments about your gender being inferior, treating individuals of your gender differently than the opposite sex, or sexual comments.
If your harasser is treating you differently or making comments, they could be targeting other employees as well. Watch keenly and take note of all comments directed to you and others. Remember to include place, witness, time, and date.
Also, keep a journal about harassment incidents. Include what occurred, when and where it happened, and who was involved. If any person heard or saw the abuse, note that down as well. Ensure you are specific about what was done and said and its impact on you, your health, and your job performance. Remember to keep the notes and journal at home or in a safe space outside of work.
Keep Your Notes Safely
Do not save your notes in your work devices or where your boss can find them, like your office drawer. Instead, save them on your personal computer. If terminated, your employer can prevent you from accessing your notes and have them conveniently "lost."
If your harasser is emailing, texting, or sending you cards, do not delete them. Instead, keep copies. Ensure you take screenshots of all Snapchats or texts and print them. It helps you have the required evidence if the device crashes, is lost, or you purchase another one.
Ask Your Harasser to Stop
It would help if you started with asking the perpetrator to stop. While the confrontation can be challenging, it is the most practical method to deal with the service industry sexual abuse. You are likely to succeed if the sexual harassment has not gone beyond things like inappropriate comments about your body (body shaming).
It is essential to indicate that you want this offensive conduct to stop because it informs your harasser that their actions are uninvited. Should the perpetrator ignore your request or you are uncomfortable confronting your harasser, write a letter indicating that the conduct upsets you and should stop. Remember to keep a copy.
Report the Harassment to Your Supervisor
If confronting your harasser does not end the sexual abuse, report the matter to your supervisor.
Check whether your company has an employee handbook, manual, personnel policies, sexual complaint policy, or harassment policy. If it has, ensure you comply with it. If not, inquire from the human resource personnel or your supervisor about making your complaint.
While making a service industry sexual abuse compliant can be challenging, do not skip the step. Plaintiffs who do not follow the employer's internal complaint procedures to inform their boss of the sexual abuse and allow their boss to handle the matter are not permitted to hold their firm accountable in court.
If the employer does not have a formal complaint procedure, notify the company of the sexual abuse. You can do this by filing a complaint with the human resources personnel or informing the supervisor or company executive.
If you have already reported your harassment and the company has not taken action, bringing your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing should be your next step.
Filing a Complaint With the California DFEH
You should file your complaint with the DFEH before filing your lawsuit against your boss. However, you can request the California DFEH to issue a "right to sue" letter straightway instead of waiting for the authority to conduct its investigation.
The agency has an online intake form that initiates your complaint process. You should detail your sexual harassment on the form. You can submit details on your form either online, by mail, or by contacting the agency at 800-884-1684.
Victims of service industry sexual abuse have three years from when the conduct happened to bring the intake form. Although it seems like an extended statute of limitation, the timeframe can quickly elapse on you, especially if:
- You are waiting for your boss to settle the matter
- The sexual abuse recurs
- It is not clear when the uninvited workplace behavior became harassment
Depending on the information you provide on your form, the agency will determine whether to investigate the matter further or not. It can only investigate abuse claims that fall under California's civil law that it enforces. Generally, the EEOC enforces the federal employment law.
If the agency cannot enforce the law, it will not take your claim. However, it can issue a "right to sue" letter.
If the agency accepts your case, it will send you a complaint. After signing and returning the complaint to the California DFEH, it will be issued to your employer or the sexual abuse perpetrator (the respondent). Once the respondent answers your complaint, the agency will initiate investigations.
If the investigations find reasonable cause to think that the accused sexually harassed the plaintiff, the involved parties can be required to settle the matter through mediation. If your case is not resolved, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing can bring a lawsuit against the defendant for you.
If the investigation finds no reasonable cause to think the abuse took place, the agency can issue a "right to sue" letter and allow you to proceed with the lawsuit.
Please note that you have a year to bring your lawsuit after receiving the letter. However, the deadline can be prolonged if you also brought your service industry sexual abuse charges with the EEOC.
How a Sex Offense Attorney Can Help You with Service Industry Sexual Abuse
Probably you have many questions and concerns before deciding on what to do after experiencing service industry sexual abuse. Some of these concerns can be:
- Was the conduct even workplace sexual harassment?
- How to respond to your sexual harasser
- Steps to take to safeguard yourself from future sexual abuse
- What to do to stop your boss from retaliating against you for reporting your harassment
These are concerns and questions your experienced sex offense attorney can address.
Consulting with Your Lawyer Before Reporting the Service Industry Sexual Abuse
Even if you were sexually harassed, you should take specific steps to safeguard your legal rights. For instance, under the law and your company's policy, you should first report the matter to the supervisor or management to hold your employer accountable for sexual conduct.
However, if your harasser is your superior, the law does not require you to report the matter. Your attorney can assist you in determining the appropriate human resources personnel or another worker to whom you should report.
Additionally, the legal counsel can work together with you to describe the incident. That way, if you are nervous when reporting the matter to the management, you will be confident to offer the required information calmly and clearly.
Help You Protect Your Rights
On top of assisting you in preparing your sexual abuse report, your attorney will guide you on other ways to protect your legal rights, including:
- Documenting the incident and all discussions on the abuse with the boss
- Preparing you how to handle the perpetrator if the abuse persists
- Advising you on how to report future abuse to your boss
- Monitoring your boss' response to the complaint to ensure the company does not retaliate against you
When dealing with service industry sexual abuse, you can be too confused or emotional to have a perspective on the circumstances required to articulate a robust response. That is where a lawyer comes in handy.
Offer Assistance During the Investigations
A worker reporting sexual harassment can feel alone in the challenging and overwhelming process. Your lawyer can help you, the victim, convince your boss to conduct thorough and fair investigations of the allegations. That is what the law requires, and your attorney can hold your employer to that responsibility.
The legal advocate can analyze the investigation report to ensure that:
- Your company hired an objective person to conduct the investigation
- The investigator analyzed all the evidence
- The investigation's conclusion was justified by the information discovered in the investigation
- Suppose your lawyer believes that the case facts do not support the sexual abuse investigation results or the investigation has flaws. In that case, your qualified lawyer can advise you on the next course of action.
Prevent and Address Retaliation
The law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who report sexual abuse. Retaliation takes several forms; it is unlimited to termination or a disciplinary write-up.
For instance, if the boss excludes you from a desirable project, events, meeting, or social outing following reporting the abuse, the attorney can review the conduct to determine if they are retaliatory.
Discuss Bringing Charges
Moreover, your lawyer will advise you of the measures to challenge your abuse. It can be bringing a discrimination charge against your company with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or with EEOC.
The attorney can tell you the benefits and disadvantages of different legal options.
Your Knowledgeable Lawyer Can Also Negotiate Your Favorable Settlement Amount
As a sexual harassment victim, you are entitled to compensation from the defendant for the losses and damages incurred. Your sex offense attorney can help you establish that the service industry sexual abuse took place and identify where to assign financial accountability.
A settlement is a permanent case resolution. Therefore, understanding your case's value is paramount. Please consult with your lawyer about the compensation value and have them review the settlement offer before taking it. If a settlement is not reached, the lawyer will take the claim to court to pursue your deserved compensation and justice.
Damages Awarded in Service Industry Sexual Abuse Claims
Generally, there is no exact average settlement amount in these lawsuits. Every case is unique, and the settlement amount depends on the case facts and the severity of the damages suffered. To have an accurate estimate of the case worth, be sure to call an attorney immediately.
When calculating the losses, the lawyer will consider the following damages:
- Mental anguish
- Medical costs
- Lost income
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Reputation damage
- Punitive damages (sometimes)
Back pay comprises the income you would have made when facing retaliation after reporting the sexual abuse until your claim is resolved. Back pay includes losses such as:
- Pension or retirement
- Stock options
- Bonuses and commissions
- Insurance benefits
Front pay is tailored to compensate you for the lost income you incur from the settlement award date into the future. When the front pay ends is determined by:
- the duration you would have stayed at that job had you not been sexually abused, and
- how long it will take to secure another job.
Your Work Productivity Does Not Have to Suffer Because of the Sexual Abuse
The Fair Employment and Housing Act requires acts to reasonably affect your job performance to be harassing conduct. The 2018 amendments to the law included numerous statements of intent. One of them was that you do not have to demonstrate your work productivity has gone down due to sexual harassment. Instead, you should prove the abuse has altered your working conditions, making your job more challenging.
What Happens If You Waive Your Rights in the Employment Contract?
Only employees who signed an agreement that waived their entitlement to legal action against their company can bring sexual harassment complaints.
You cannot release your employer of the accountability for a sexual harassing act in return for a bonus, continued employment, raise, or employment. Any contract that does so breaks public policy and cannot be enforced.
However, this does not apply in negotiated settlement agreements to settle claims against the company.
Find an Experienced Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawyer Near Me
Sexual harassment is by no means new to the service industry. Many servers report being inappropriately touched by customers, sometimes with accompanying sexual remarks, while remaining calm and police to keep their employment. Sexual harassment can also include offensive, sexist comments and sexual jokes from employers and fellow employees or abuse complaints that go ignored. There are no excuses for workplace sexual harassment, irrespective of the source. It can result in significant reputation damage, psychological damage, and lost income if your boss retaliates against you.
If you believe you have been a workplace sexual harassment victim, the legal team at Sex Crime Attorney encourages you to contact us at 424-835-9799 for a free case review. During the consultation, we can advise you on recovering financial compensation and receiving justice. We handle sex crime civil cases in Los Angeles.