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The history of workplace sexual harassment claims

Today, female employees in New York and around the country are legally protected from sexual harassment in the workplace. Past court cases have confirmed that women can file sexual harassment claims against their employers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although it is widely known that it is illegal for supervisors to sexually harass their female employees, this was not always the case.

Until the 1970s, the idea that a woman could sue her boss for sexual harassment was unheard of. The term 'sexual harassment" was first coined in 1975, and women began bringing some of the first workplace sexual harassment cases forward in the 1970s and 1980s. Although courts upheld a woman's right to sue for sexual harassment, the idea remained somewhat controversial at first. At a Senate committee hearing on federal harassment guidelines, prominent lawyer Phyllis Schlafly testified that virtuous women are rarely harassed.

In 1998, the Supreme Court decided that employees could sue for same-sex harassment. It is now widely accepted that males and females and people of different sexual orientations can all be found guilty of sexual harassment. Despite the legal victories of the past, the behavior remains a problem that many workers deal with.

When workplace sexual harassment was still a new concept, a prominent attorney distinguished between two different categories. Today, plaintiffs in sexual harassment claims still use the terms 'hostile work environment" and 'quid pro quo" to explain how they were victimized. Employment law attorneys will advise their clients to first follow the procedures outlined in their company manual when making a complaint. Should this prove fruitless, the next step could be filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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