Workplace Sexual Assault: Know Your Rights

by Frank E. Lamothe, III

We spend a significant portion of our lives at work, and for many of us, our jobs are not only sources of income but important parts of our identities. If you have been sexually assaulted at work, you may be struggling to figure out how to respond and recover without jeopardizing your livelihood or professional reputation.

Workplace Assault Is Criminal Assault

Louisiana has multiple criminal statutes prohibiting a variety of different behaviors that fall into the general category of “sexual assault,” including laws against stalking and cyberstalking, sexual battery (non-consensual sexual touching), and rape. Behavior that constitutes criminal sexual assault that takes place in the workplace—whether the perpetrator is a coworker, supervisor, client, or random stranger—can and should be reported to the criminal authorities.

Employers have a legal obligation to provide their employees with safe working environments, which includes protecting their employees from all forms of workplace harassment. Supervisors are considered to be representative agents of their employer when they are in the workplace or performing work-related duties, so any improper conduct from supervisors is the direct responsibility of the company.

Company Responsibility for Coworkers and Third Parties

Under certain circumstances, an employer might also be held liable for the actions of non-supervisory co-workers, clients, or other individuals if a court rules that it actively contributed to the creation of an unsafe working environment or failed to take appropriate steps to protect its employees. If a victim proves the elements of a hostile work environment claim against an employer and proves that the sexual assault was a result of the hostile work environment, he or she may be able to recover damages from the employer. An experienced sexual assault attorney can help you evaluate what claims you may be entitled to pursue and advise you on your options.

Recovering Damages and Compensation for Workplace Sexual Assault

Victims of workplace sexual assault may file a civil suit against an employer in the Louisiana parish district court where the violation occurred seeking compensatory damages, back pay, benefits, reinstatement, or if appropriate, front pay, reasonable attorney fees, and court costs. While state law does not allow for punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer), it also does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages for discrimination. Lawsuits brought under federal law entitle a plaintiff to also pursue punitive damages on top of other general and specific damages but set limits on the amount of compensatory damages that can be awarded.

If you have been sexually assaulted or harassed in the workplace, don’t be intimidated or afraid to contact an attorney. An experienced attorney can help you decide what options are available to you and pursue the course of action that is right for your situation.

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