YOU HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT. NOW WHAT?
It can happen to anyone in the workplace. You can be blindsided by allegations against you, lodged by a co-worker or subordinate that you sexually harassed them.
You might find out about the allegations during a meeting that you’re called into by Human Resources.
You might receive a call before you leave home for work, that you should stay home until further notice, because allegations of sexual harassment lodged against you are being investigated.
You might not even find out until you are suspended and/or terminated abruptly, and the reason being given for such an action is that an investigation was conducted (without even speaking with you) and the company found some merit to the allegations of sexual harassment, of an employee at the company.
Though the first reaction upon learning of the allegations lodged against you, may be to curse, slam the table, or to start verbally attacking the alleged victim, it’s best to stay calm and collected and LISTEN to what is being said. If you’re in a position to take notes, take careful notes and make sure you do not misplace them. Do not use the employer’s handheld device or computer to take notes.
Do not talk to anyone at the company or outside the company, about what you just learned. Keep everything confidential and to yourself, until you have received legal advice concerning your predicament, what information may be disclosed, and at what juncture it may be disclosed.
Next, promptly take steps to secure legal representation promptly from an experienced employment lawyer. You can find suitable lawyers through your local bar association’s referral service, or by searching the lawyers’ directory at www.nela.org/ Even if your schedule does not permit you to visit the lawyer’s office in person, it’s imperative that you at least seek counsel over the phone, to protect your rights and interests.
Before your first appointment with the employment lawyer (whether it’s in person or over the phone), do your best to create a thorough day by day account of the time frame in question of the alleged sexual harassment, such as where you were, who was with you, what happened, and whether you were even present at work. Also create a separate dossier concerning all the information you have concerning the alleged victim, and the nature of your interactions with him or her, to the best of your recollection.
It’s likely that an outside investigator or the company’s Human Resources department will conduct a meeting or a series of meetings with you, during the course of investigating the alleged victim’s allegations. It’s in your best interests to fully cooperate in the company’s investigation.
You should, after consulting with your employment lawyer, also put forward your position as to why the allegations are untrue (if they are untrue), and provide names of witnesses that are privy to what actually occurred.
It’s possible the company’s lawyer will want to speak with you, after the alleged victim brings his or her allegations to the company’s attention.
You should not mistakenly assume that the company’s lawyer represents your interests. It is best that you retain your own counsel, before speaking with the company’s lawyer, and have said counsel be present with you, during your conversation with the company’s lawyer.
What rights does an individual accused of sexual harassment have? In New York City, you may have a claim under the New York City Human Rights Law, depending on how you are treated after allegations are made by the alleged victim.
For example, in a lower court case, in New York State Supreme Court, a female employee accused a male employee of sexually harassing her in the workplace. The Human Resources department of the company investigated the female employee’s allegations, but failed to investigate the male employee’s defense that the conduct was initiated by the female employee.
The Human Resources department interviewed the female employee’s witnesses, but refused to interview the male employee’s witnesses. The male employee was fired. The female employee was not. The male employee filed a lawsuit against the company for gender discrimination, because the company credited a female employee’s account over a male employee’s account, and failed to conduct a fair investigation of the female employee’s sexual harassment complaint. The case survived dismissal.
You may also be able to bring other types of discrimination claims under the NYC Human Rights Law, as well. For example, if the accuser is treated more favorably than the accused on the basis of being of a different race, or any other category, and as a result, receives preferential treatment, then the accused may assert a claim of differential treatment.
If you oppose gender discrimination (or any other type of discrimination) after you after you learn of the accusations of sexual harassment, that is a protected activity under the New York City Human Rights Law, for which you should not be subjected to any employment actions that disadvantage you, i.e. retaliation. Of course, you must show a causal connection between the protected activity (opposing discrimination) and the employment actions (such as termination), that disadvantaged you.