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Stop Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, and Retaliation in Central Texas

Sexual Assault, workplace sexual harassment, and workplace retaliation are against the law in Texas.  If you are dealing with these issues, you need to know you are not alone and that help is available.  If you are in immediate harm, call the police.  You can also call the SAFE Alliance, which has a 24 hour hotline:  512-267-SAFE.

Once you are out of harm’s way, you should think about whether it is appropriate to consider taking remedial action and what action to take.  Here is a run-down of some potential civil claims relating to these issues, and how they might apply:

Sexual Assault

Any unwanted physical sexual contact is a likely violation of the Texas common law against civil sexual assault.  This includes any conduct that forces you to join in unwanted sexual intercourse or other sexual contact.   If you are a victim of sexual assault, seek help immediately.  Get away, call the police, and visit a medical professional.  If you can, preserve any proof of the incident (texts, calls, audio, video, etc.)

Sexual assault is equally illegal on the street, at home, or at work.  It is equally illegal if done by someone you know or someone you don’t.  There does not need to be a tie to the workplace to bring a claim for sexual assault.  But, if you are sexually assaulted by someone at work, you have options.  You can sue the individual for the assault.  If the assaulter is a coworker, you may be able to sue your employer for sexual harassment.

If the assaulter is a supervisor, your employer may be directly liable for the assault under a vice-principal negligence theory, according to recent 2017 guidance from the Texas Supreme Court.  This long-overdue update to Texas harassment law provides that employers must be responsible the acts of their agents if their agents cause sexual harm to employees.

Sexual Harassment

Workplace sexual harassment is a silent career assassin.  You do not need to be quiet about harassment if you are experiencing it, you need to blow the whistle.  Harassment is not your fault, and it is your company’s responsibility to keep your workplace safe from harassment.

Sexual Harassment is prohibited in most Texas workplaces with 15 or more employees by both federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and state law (Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code).  There are important deadlines for sexual harassment claims.  In Texas, you must file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC (or TWC, or if in Austin, the City of Austin Equal Employment & Fair Housing Office) within 180 days of the latest instance of sexual harassment in order to preserve all of your potential claims.  In other words, you need to act fast.  A different legal standard applies depending on whether the harasser is a supervisor (generally, someone with the power to hire and fire) or a non-supervisor.  If a supervisor harasses you, your company may be directly liable.  If a non-supervisor harasses you, your company can defend the case in some circumstances by saying you failed to properly report the issue, or that the company took all necessary steps to fix the harassment problem.

To be sure you meet the requirements of the different standards, it is a best practice to report every instance of harassment internally at your company.  You can report it to either your supervisor, your supervisor’s supervisor, or human resources (HR).  If the company has a reporting process in the handbook, you should try to follow it.  It is a best practice to keep a copy of your reports in writing.  If you make a report or complaint verbally, send a follow-up email or text so you have a record of opposing harassment when you did.

The laws prohibiting Sexual Harassment in Texas are unfortunately limited to the workplace — in other words, there is no general prohibition against sexual harassment on the street that has nothing do with your job.  In that event, there are prohibitions against sexual assault and defamation that may apply, depending on the situation.

Retaliation

If you are brave enough to blow the whistle and report harassment at work, you may be wondering what protection you have.   State and federal law prohibits retaliation in most Texas jobs.  In other words, at most employers with 15 or more employees, you are protected by law in reporting harassment at work.  And, if your employer fires you because you reported harassment, the company may have broken the law against retaliation.  Retaliation is one of the most frequently filed EEOC charges.  The EEOC processed more than 41,000 retaliation charges in 2017.  4,740 of those were in Texas.

If you are brave enough to consider standing up to sexual assault, sexual harassment, or retaliation,  know that you are not alone, you have a right to get help, and that you may also have legal rights that may protect you.