Government agencies have been dealing with issues related to sexual discrimination and harassment for decades, and it seems that many cities, municipalities, and counties are still way behind the private sector when it comes to handling these matters. Widespread media attention and public awareness are only now slowly beginning to change the behavior of those in positions of leadership in the public sector.
A number of incidents involving sexual harassment in the Denver area have prompted new regulations within government agencies where the illegal behavior has previously occurred. Prior to the enactment of these new rules, a lawsuit against the government entity responsible was one of the only ways for a victim to get help. Proponents of the new regulations and mandatory training requirements hope that these changes will start to make gradual and noticeable differences in the conduct of all government employees.
New regulations prompted by scandals
Lakewood Colorado has taken a large step in combating sexual harassment by adopting a resolution that outlines how claims will be handled against government officials. This was partially a response prompted by the removal of Steve Lebsock from the Colorado House of Representatives months earlier. There was no formal way for the City to handle complaints of harassment against elected officials prior to the passage of the new resolution. Complaints can now be handled by an independent body, as they are received, to determine how the situation can be investigated and hopefully resolved.
Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock, also faced allegations of sexual harassment related to his treatment of a female police officer on his security team around the same time. The Mayor had made numerous inappropriate comments to the female employee who was assigned to his security team. Several text messages between the two revealed the nature of his comments and his persistence throughout the course of her employment. He eventually issued a formal apology stating the he was too casual with the female security officer and did not take their professional relationship seriously enough. The victim also stated that she fears retaliation within the Denver police, as she is still employed with the department even after the details of the Mayor’s harassment made local news. As a response, the City’s human resources department will start requiring all employees to receive sexual harassment prevention training. At the time of the incident, the city council had no rules in place or legal authority to discipline the Mayor.
Remedies for harassment and gender based discrimination
When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, victims need to be aware that they should take the incident seriously and that they have remedies provided by the law for their protection. An employee alleging sexual harassment in the workplace needs to show certain specific actions or patterns of behavior in order to prevail in any harassment claim against an employer. The victim does not necessarily need to lose their job or experience any kind of financial hardship to make a claim against the employer responsible for such wrongful conduct.
Legally protected groups
Most claims require some kind of discrimination, negative treatment, adverse employment action, or retaliation against the employee based on, or because of, the victim’s legally protected trait such as race, gender, sex, religion, or national origin. Civil rights laws prevent any government office or employer from mistreating employees based on these characteristics, otherwise they can face sanctions and other actions from a state or federal employment commission.
While these laws exists, the stories above show that many workplaces are still in the process of implementing policies that will help prevent potentially illegal workplace behaviors. A human resources department or another similar department should have a procedure in place for investigating claims and preventing inappropriate conduct. Without these kinds of control mechanisms within an office’s administration, employers will be exposed to much greater liability from civil lawsuits and face the possibility of paying out significant amounts of money for fines or judgments.
Claims for sexual or gender based harassment
Harassment must be pervasive in nature and affect the ability of the employee to work normally or maintain a proper work environment. The severity of the incident or incidents in question will also affect whether the inappropriate behavior rises to the level of harassment necessary to maintain a claim. Because this is a factual determination and each situation is unique, consult with an attorney to determine the best way to proceed and the steps you need to take in order to bring a claim.
Lawyers who routinely deal with workplace issues can give advice during a consultation regarding how you should handle the situation. They will also be able to give more specific information about the potential value of your claim and how likely you will succeed.
Contact an attorney in your area about any issues in the workplace
If you have experienced any kind of discrimination or harassment in the workplace in Denver or the surrounding metropolitan areas, local lawyers are available to speak with you. Anderson Barkley, LLC specializes in all aspects of employment law and can help you with your claims against your employer.