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Workplace Issues


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and the case law interpreting it is the basis for federal employment discrimination actions of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. States and localities have their own discrimination laws, as well, and these laws may provide coverage when federal laws do not.

Guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission require employers to take certain actions to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

Options for Handling Discrimination in the Workplace

Most people have several options of how to handle workplace discrimination. You are the only person who can decide which option is the right one for you.

1. Confront the person who is discriminating against you. Sometimes this works in cases of sexual harassment. Confronting the harasser and clearly telling him/her that the behavior is unwanted will sometimes stop the harassment. For example, "I do not want to hear any more of your dirty jokes. That is harassment." Or, "I have told you that I am not interested in dating you. If you ask me again, I will report you for harassment."

You probably know the person well enough to know if this will work. Sometimes, you may feel that it will only make things worse. You have to decide if you want to take this step. The law does not require you to confront your harasser.

2. File a grievance with your union. Sometimes this type of behavior is covered by union contract. Check with your union to determine if they will file a grievance on your behalf.

However, you should also consider how the union has reacted to these issues in the past. Did they support the person, most likely a woman, filing the grievance? Or, did they support the accused person. All too often, women officers find that the union takes the side of the harasser, most likely a man.

3. Read the Sexual Harassment Policy in your manual. What options does it list? Usually, there is a person designated to receive complaints of sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

4. Report the behavior to your supervisor. If it is your supervisor who is harassing or discriminating against you, go to the next level in the chain of command to report it.

5. Report the behavior to the personnel or human resources person within your agency. They may be more equipped to deal with these situations.

6. Report the behavior to Internal Affairs. Unfortunately, sometimes the Internal Affairs investigators are not trained in how to investigate these types of offenses.

7. Go to your city, county or state human resources or personnel office and report the misconduct.

8. Contact a higher-ranking woman in your organization and tell her about the situation.

9. File a complaint with the State Department of Labor and with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Filing a complaint in either of these places begins a formal process. First, your agency will be notified and asked to respond to the complaint. Then, depending upon the response, an investigation will be conducted by the state or federal investigators. If your allegations are substantiated by the investigation, your agency will be given an opportunity to mediate the issues. If mediation fails, the state or federal agency may sue them. You also may obtain a Right to Sue letter from the state or federal agency and file a lawsuit on your own.

10. Contact an attorney who specializes in Employment Discrimination. You can find attorneys by checking:

a. The yellow pages of your telephone directory
b. Your state or county Bar Association
c. The National Employment Lawyer's Association at www.nela.org

Most attorneys will talk to you about your case at no charge or a very small charge to determine if they want to represent you. Many attorneys will agree to a contingent fee arrangement on employment cases. This means that they will receive a percentage of the final award you obtain. This is unusually about 35% if the case is settled before court and 40% if the case is won in court. If they lose, you are not required to pay them anything. Sometimes you are required to pay the costs up front, such as deposition transcription fees and court filing fees. Costs can be extensive, so be sure to get an estimate.

Title VII prohibits retaliation against an employee for filing a complaint of sexual harassment or gender discrimination or for complaining of sexual harassment or gender discrimination. However, you should realize you may be subjected to retaliation if you speak up. We are not trying to discourage you from complaining about discrimination; in fact, we wish more women would complain. However, we want you to be fully aware of the repercussions you may face. In law enforcement, the retaliation often takes one of the following forms:

    • Shunning/ostracizing - no one will talk to her; or she is prevented from receiving information important to the performance of her job or important to her personal safety.
    • Stalking/harassing incidents - obscene telephone calls, telephone calls where the caller says nothing, hang-up calls at all hours of the day and night, threatening or harassing letters or notes, damage to her automobile, articles left on her desk or in her work area that are intended to intimidate or harass.
    • Becoming the subject of rumors of sexual activity or other demeaning information.
    • Being held to a higher standard of performance - her evaluation reports become more critical and she is held to a different standard than others.
    • Harassing internal affairs complaints are filed against her by members of the organization or by citizens who have been enlisted to help the harasser.
    • Denial of training opportunities.
    • Denial of transfer to specialty jobs.
    • Denial of promotion
    • Failure to provide back-up in emergency situations. This is the ultimate form of retaliation. When it becomes apparent that she will not receive backup in a timely manner, the woman often leaves the organization because she is in fear for her life.

Other Advice

  1. Whether you decide to immediately file a complaint or not, be sure to keep a log or diary about what is happening to you. List dates, times, names of persons present, what happened and how you felt. This will become an important document when you do decide to file a complaint.
  2. Talk to someone about what is happening to you. Sometimes, we tend to think we can handle it by ourselves, but that is not true. Talk to a friend, family member, counselor, or another trusted person.
  3. Take care of yourself. When you are in a stressful situation, you need to make sure to get enough rest, exercise, and nutrition. Stress saps your energy and lowers your immune system.
  4. Remember, you are not doing anything wrong! Being targeted for discrimination or harassment is not your fault! You have a right to work in an environment that is not hostile or demeaning.

Further Online Resources >>

Workplace Issues | Recognizing Harrassment | What You Can Do


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