Harassment: How to handle unsolicited sexual advances

By Ashley Mackin

The sexual harassment allegations against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner have men and women across the county discussing a very uncomfortable subject.

Though details are still emerging, former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye announced on July 11 that she “received credible evidence of more than one woman being sexually harassed by (Filner).”



La Jolla Light

took questions about sexual harassment to a La Jolla law firm specializing in workplace regulations to learn the best course of action if an employee is confronted with the situation.

Sexual Harassment defined

Fair Employment and Housing Commission regulations (listed online at


) define sexual harassment as “unwanted sexual advances, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior, regardless of the gender of either party.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing will go to bat for accusers, though an actionable complaint must be filed within a year of the alleged harassment.

Types of harassment

La Jolla attorney David Monks with Fisher & Phillips LLP (a firm that conducts sexual harassment training and specializes in employment law and harassment in the workplace) said there are two types of sexual harassment: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment.

Quid Pro Quo, which is Latin for “this for that,” is the type of harassment in which somebody, usually a supervisor or manager, uses sexual advances to affect the conditions of that worker’s employment. They might say or imply “if you have sex with me, then good things will happen to you and your employment” or “if you don’t’ have sex with me, bad things will happen.”

In a Hostile Work Environment, the harasser engages in “conduct of a sexual nature that is so severe or frequent, that it effectively alters the conditions of employment and creates a hostile working environment for the victim.”

Examples of such behavior include physical contact; verbal harassment, including jokes or comments; and leering or staring.

If you’re harassed or witness harassment

1) If someone suspects they are being harassed or that the behavior they’re subjected to qualifies as such, Monks recommends first going directly to the harasser and telling them to stop.

“It’s not easy for many people to do that, and that’s understandable,” Monks said. “It’s not a requirement, but if the person has the fortitude to stand up and speak up and tell a person ‘I don’t like what you are doing, please stop it,’ that is one way to get the conduct to end.”

2) If that doesn’t work or if the person does not feel comfortable doing that, Monks said the next person to talk to would be the human resources director. That director would then work with the employer to try and stop the harassing behavior.

“The employer wants to have an opportunity — before there is legal activity — to know what’s going on and to investigate,” Monks said. “Assuming they corroborate that some or all of the claimed conduct has occurred, they want to take steps to ensure that harassment stops.



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