We Are Here To Fight For Your Rights!

Jan 16, 2018
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Back when I was a young woman in my early twenties, I worked for a local company in San Diego. I was proud of myself for working my way from a waitress to the business world, and was taking full time classes to earn my degree while working as a receptionist at a respected business. I eventually worked my way up to assisting high ranking individuals, and that is where I had my first encounter with blatant differential treatment because I was a woman.

I remember being asked by the CEO to assist him for a week while his executive assistant was out. I was thrilled at the opportunity and the faith that he must have had in me to ask me to fill in. From the start, I received comments from him about my looks, my diet, and my outside life. Things that were subtle. “Your hair looks so much better. Did you straighten it?” “Nice. I see that you are eating healthier. Makes for a better figure.” At the time, my naivety and numbness to the daily sexist comments women endure caused me to not realize these were inappropriate comments for a supervisor to be making in the workplace. No, he wasn’t groping me or saying lewd things. But actions do not have to rise to that level to make you feel just a bit uncomfortable, undervalued, and less impactful and powerful.  They also do not have to rise to that level to be considered sexual harassment and discrimination under the law.

On the last day of the week, the CEO called me into his office. He motioned with his hand for me to stand before him while he finished his phone call. After several minutes he hung up and pointed out something I did that he did not agree with. I began to tell him that he had asked me to do that very thing, thinking he genuinely wanted to solve the discrepancy, but he cut me off. He looked me square in the eyes, and slowly and deliberately said, ‘yes, but what I say now is the truth isn’t it? And it is your job to tell me I’m right.”  My face burned red with embarrassment. He used his position of power to shut me down and belittle me, and is something I truly believe he would not have said to a man. What I didn’t know at the time was that under the law, sexual harassment is the creation of a hostile work environment for the employee because of that employee’s sex or gender.

Sexual harassment need not have anything to do with sexual advances. It shows itself in the form of intimidation and hostility for the purpose of interfering with an individual’s work performance. (Chamberlin v. 101 Realty, Inc.) It is only necessary to show that gender is a substantial factor in the discrimination, and that if the plaintiff had been a man she would not have been treated in the same manner.” (Tomkins v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co.) I watched this CEO continue to do what society might call “borderline” inappropriate things, like take an attractive temp employee out to lunch who had been hired as the front desk receptionist, but he wanted to see if she “had what it took” to be his assistant.

Women face a unique set of challenges every day, and the workplace is no exception. We face varying levels of discrimination and harassment constantly, which we have simply grown used to. There is an almost constant undercurrent in our society that keeps women from attaining equal respect and treatment to their male counterparts in the workplace. Our bodies and appearance are often judged as more important than our intelligence and contributions. How well we are accepted and liked at our jobs can often depend on how well we conform to male expectations of the female gender (e.g. don’t be argumentative, loud or a troublemaker). It is sad to say that many of our cases are even women discriminating against and harassing other women. It’s not easy out there.

However, the law is on our side. Multiple law makers – good men and women – recognize and call out what has been happening to women in the workplace for decades. You do not have to be uncomfortable at work. You do not have to put up with being treated differently than men – whether it is pay, promotion, treatment, acknowledgments etc. You do not have to accept less respect than your male counterparts. In addition, if you have a disability, a medical condition, become pregnant, need an accommodation, report something that you believe is wrong at your job, and receive negative treatment or are fired afterwards, you are likely being retaliated against, harassed and discriminated against, all of which are illegal.  California is an “at will” state. You can be fired for any reason, so long as that reason is not one deemed discriminatory by the law. Your gender is just one of the classes the constitution protects in the workplace. There are also laws that require you be paid accurately, on time, for overtime, offered proper breaks, and properly classified as exempt or non-exempt, to name a few.

If you would like to learn more about your rights in the workplace, or have questions about something that has occurred in the workplace for yourself or someone you know (yes, we represent many men too!) call us to discuss. You have rights which were created to empower you and our goal at Potter Handy is to provide the tools for that empowerment.

Call for a free consultation. We never charge our clients – we take a contingency fee at the successful close of your case.

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