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How Prevalent is Sexual Harassment of Women Police Officers?

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Women Police Officers

Despite increased work opportunities for women, local and statewide police forces across New Jersey and the United States continue to have men outnumber women by about nine to one. With such a wide disparity between male and female police officers, sexual harassment of women is an especially serious problem in local, statewide, and national police forces and law enforcement agencies. When local policewomen are subject to unlawful sexual harassment, an experienced employment lawyer can help build an effective case.

Female police officers essentially volunteer to protect and serve the local community. Many endure ongoing sexual harassment because of a variety of reasons. The problem does not exist in every police department, but it is pervasive throughout the nation’s collective law enforcement community. Sexual harassment always is illegal wherever it happens, including police departments.

New Jersey Division on Civil Rights Defines Workplace Sexual Harassment

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights says sexual harassment occurs whenever the victim is subjected to sexual advances that are unwelcome. Asking the victim to engage in sexual relations or engaging in other physical or verbal conduct that is sexual in nature is a form or sexual harassment.

If a manager or other agent of an employer implies or outright demands sex in exchange for employment or favorable work assignments, that is a clear example of unlawful sexual harassment. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights calls that quid pro quo harassment. Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase that translates into this for that in English.

Whenever one or more workers are subject to sexual harassment in New Jersey, the Civil Rights Division says a hostile work environment exists that has many potential victims. A worker does not have to be the direct target of workplace sexual harassment, especially when it is based on gender. When the offensive conduct continually happens or is severe and causes a reasonable person to conclude the environment in the workplace has changed, then a hostile work environment exists that has many victims.

The Civil Rights Division says any worker victimized by sexual harassment or who was subject to a hostile work environment cannot be forced to remain silent. Nondisclosure agreements are unenforceable when the subject is sexual harassment in its many potential forms. That means victims’ silence cannot be forced by the offenders, even in a state or municipal police force.

Title VII Expands Sexual Harassment Scope

Although most people understand the more overt examples of sexual harassment, many do not realize sex-based discrimination also qualifies as sexual harassment. The U.S. Supreme Court in the late 1980s ruled Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes any sex-based discrimination a form of sexual harassment. The offender does not have to seek sexual favors or make unwelcome sexual advances to break federal law against sexual harassment.

If a co-worker accuses a female police officer of being incapable of doing her job because of her sex, that would be a form of sexual harassment. So would assigning a female officer duties deemed to be so-called woman’s work and that male police officers are not required to do.

Title VII also says a hostile work environment occurs when someone witnesses sexual harassment and is not necessarily the target.

Federal laws such as Title VII apply to all employers who have at least 15 employees. That clearly is the case with the vast majority of law enforcement agencies in New Jersey.

Female Officers Cite Many Sexual Harassment Complaints

Various published studies over the past three decades all affirm policewomen generally experience a disproportionate amount of sexual harassment while on the job. For many, the problem is gender related and not overtly sexual conduct by offenders. Instead, they are ridiculed for being a woman and treated as though they do not belong.

When more than one female police officer witnesses such behavior and especially if she is treated in the same manner, then a pervasive problem exists with many potential victims. A hostile work environment qualifies as sexual harassment, especially when gender is the underlying cause of the harassment.

Individual versus Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment generally happens on two potential levels. The initial harassment occurs on a personal level when one individual sexually harasses another. The harassment might come from more than one individual, but it still is on a personal level. In such instances, one or more individuals committing sexual harassment could be liable for their actions.

Employer liability for sexual harassment occurs when the employer either knew or should have known about the sexual harassment and did nothing or otherwise did not act in a reasonable manner to stop it. The employer or its agents must be aware of the problem, and filing a complaint is the most effective way to make an employer aware and document that knowledge.

Unfortunately, many employers or their agents choose to ignore complaints of workplace sexual harassment or do not effectively address the problem. That greatly could discourage policewomen and other victims of workplace sexual harassment from filing formal complaints.

Proving Claims of Sexual Harassment

Whenever sexual harassment occurs and especially when it occurs within a law enforcement agency, the potential sexual harassment claims could apply in federal as well as state courts. Title VII makes workplace sexual harassment a federal offense, especially when workplace discrimination could be proved.

Proving sexual harassment requires more than making an accusation. Victims must take steps that help to build an effective argument within the workplace that can translate into an effective case in state and federal courts.

If it is possible to gather evidence via audio, video, text message, and emails that clearly affirm sexual harassment is occurring, that will help to build a very strong case. If anyone witnesses the harassment and is willing to come forward on behalf of the victim, that can help to affirm that others in the workplace recognize sexual harassment occurs.

Given the wide disparity between men and women on virtually all police forces, the first obstacle to building a strong case is for the victim to emphasize the behavior is unwelcome and she is not a willful participant. It starts by confronting the offender directly and telling him or her to stop. If that does not work, the employer needs to be notified and given the opportunity to address the matter. If the employer does little to nothing to correct the problem, legal claims could arise.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates complaints of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. Filing a complaint against the employer is a perfect way to document the issue and affirm the victim is not a willful participant in the harassment.

Federal cases for discrimination can proceed after filing a complaint with the EEOC. New Jersey likewise enables state-level discrimination cases to proceed after the victim files a complaint regarding a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD).

When a worker notifies an employer of sexual harassment, that worker protects his or her legal rights. If the matter is not resolved, a policewoman has a very strong and well-documented case that could be pressed at the federal level against the offender and employer as well as at the state level.

Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Victims of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Many of the women serving in our nation’s various police forces often experience sexual harassment but feel powerless to stop it. If you or someone you know is the victim of workplace sexual harassment, effective legal help is available. The experienced Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. build strong cases for victims of sexual harassment in New Jersey. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, we serve clients in Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, South Jersey, and across New Jersey.

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