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Increase in sexual harassment cases and recoveries in 2018

It was a little over a year ago that many people began sharing their sexual harassment stories in response to several high-profile individuals being accused of sexual harassment. People may be wondering whether this heightened profile has also resulted in more complaints to the government about illegal sexual harassment. Some figures recently released by the federal government show that this may indeed have happened.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 12 percent more sexual harassment complaints were received in 2018 than in 2017. Not only were more complaints received, but the commission experienced more success in litigation against allegedly abusive employers. The commission filed over 40 lawsuits against employers in 2018, a twofold increase over the prior year. These suits, as well as administrative enforcement actions, yielded about $70 million in damages for victims, well more than double that recovered the previous year.

Actionable sexual harassment can include prolonged exposure to harassing behavior or creating a hostile work environment. It can also include quid pro quo harassment, where someone endures harassment to avoid consequences or to receive a benefit.

In order for harassment to be actionable, it must be motivated by a protected characteristic, such as gender. If a person is equally unpleasant to everyone in the office, it very likely isn't sexual harassment. It may violate some other term of employment, however.

Harassment can be motivated by many protected characteristics, such as race, sex and gender identity. Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by people of the same sex as the victim as well as the opposite sex. Employees have rights under employment law to be employed in a workplace free of illegal sexual harassment.

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