Harassment Attorney in Houston

Available Relief for Victims of Harassment

The Clifford Law Firm is committed to helping victims of sexual harassment, racial harassment, and age-based harassment in the workplace.

Victims of unlawful harassment are eligible to recover a variety of damages, including:

  • Past and future lost wages
  • Lost benefits, including medical insurance
  • Damages for mental anguish
  • Punitive damages

How to Prove Your Harassment Case

The terms “hostile work environment” and “harassment” are often thrown around to describe annoying situations at work. Under the law, however, the term “harassment” has a specific legal meaning.

Harassment is conduct that is:

  • Unwelcome,
  • Offensive,
  • Based on a protected characteristic (e.g., race, sex, age, etc.), and
  • Either a) severe or b) pervasive enough to alter the terms or conditions of employment.

Unwelcome Conduct

Harassment is only actionable if the conduct is unwelcome. In most harassment cases, this element is easily satisfied. However, in rare cases, the employer may successfully argue the conduct was encouraged or condoned by the victim. This defense rarely works, and it often backfires, because it smacks of “victim blaming.”

Offensive Conduct

To establish a claim, the conduct must also be offensive to a reasonable person. The central question is whether a reasonable person, in the victim’s shoes, would find the conduct offensive. Here are two examples of conduct that a reasonable person would likely find offensive:

  • A male supervisor only assigns cleaning duties to female employees because, as he put it, “women are better at cleaning.”
  • The new IT manager jokes, “I’m not sure what we need to replace first; our outdated technology or our outdated Henry” (Henry is 61 years old)

Protected Characteristic

The conduct in question must also be based on the victim’s protected characteristic. This means there must be some evidence tying the offensive conduct to the victim’s sex, race, age, or other characteristic. If a manager does something really awful to his employee, but there is no evidence to suggest the manager engaged in the conduct because of the employee’s protected characteristic, then the harassment claim may not be actionable.

Oftentimes, employees can prove that the conduct is based on a protected characteristic because the manager has said something that makes the connection (e.g., “women are better at cleaning”) or the manager has singled out a specific protected group (e.g., by only assigning cleaning duties to women). Certain sexual acts, such as inappropriate touching, are automatically deemed to be “because of sex” and will therefore easily satisfy the standard.

Severe or Pervasive

To establish harassment, the offensive conduct must also be either severe or pervasive. Generally, courts will look at the “totality of the circumstances” to make this determination.

Severe conduct typically involves highly inflammatory acts, such as the displaying of a noose or swastika, or severe forms of sexual assault. A single act of this nature may be sufficient to establish a claim of harassment.

By contrast, the pervasiveness standard can be satisfied by inappropriate conduct over an extended period of time. Common evidence includes the repeated use of racial epithets and derogatory remarks, or repeated instances of sexually inappropriate conduct.

The “we were just joking” defense does not work in harassment cases. Jokes, however well intended, can still be the basis for harassment claims, so long as the comments were unwelcome, offensive, based on a protected characteristic, and either severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive working environment.

Reporting & Resolving Harassment

Victims of harassment generally have a duty to report the conduct to the company’s HR department (or to another designated agent, as noted in the company’s harassment policy).

If the company fails to properly investigate the matter and/or fails to take prompt remedial action, then the company can be held responsible for the harassing conduct. However, if the victim fails to report the conduct, then the employer may not be liable because it was never made aware of the issue.

Employers also have an affirmative duty to prevent harassment. If a supervisor or manager knows (or should know) about harassing conduct in the workplace, then the company must attempt to end the harassment and prevent it from happening again. If the company fails to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment, then the company can be held responsible for any resulting damages.

*Accepting Mediation & Arbitration Matters Only
Not Accepting New Clients

Why Choose The Clifford Law Firm, PLLC?

  • Board-Certified

    Dennis Clifford is Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

  • High-Level

    Mr. Clifford has represented seven of the Fortune 25 companies.

  • “Super Lawyer”
    Designation by his Peers

    Mr. Clifford has an excellent reputation among his peers in the legal community.

  • Confidential Consultations

    Call us today if you need advice on how to handle an employment matter.