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Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

In Tennessee, as in other parts of the country, sexual or gender discrimination is a hotly contested issue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) keeps statistics on filed claims and resolutions within their system. In 2008, there were over 28,000 claims filed alleging gender discrimination. For the claims that were successfully resolved, over $109 million was paid out to aggrieved employees. While it is arguable that the country has made progress on gender issues, these statistics show that there is still significant gender and sexual discrimination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin, and religion. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state and local governments. In Tennessee, the law is further strengthened to protect employees who take action to enforce their rights. Under Tennessee’s law, it is unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee who asserts her rights. If they do, the employee has a further claim for unlawful retaliation.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that men and women receive equal pay for equal work as long as the jobs are “substantially equal.” Title VII takes it one step further and does not require a substantially equal job at the same employer, but can analyze pay on a more industry-wide standard.

In Tennessee, the damages recoverable can be considerable. For a first violation of the Equal Pay provision under the law, the employee can recover their unpaid wages, attorneys’ fees and court costs. If the violation is knowingly done by the employer, the employee can also recover further damages, called liquidated damages, in an amount equal to the unpaid wages awarded. If the employer does it a second time, the employee can recover their damages again, plus two times the amount of wages as liquidated damages. For a third knowing violation, the employee can recover up to an additional three times their wages in liquidated damages.
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The statistics released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) show that sexual harassment continues to be a significant problem in the workplace. According to the EEOC, they resolved over 11,000 sexual harassment charges in 2008 and recovered $47,400,000.00 in monetary benefits for aggrieved employees throughout the country. This number only includes cases that were actually settled within the confines of the EEOC administrative system and does not include cases that were not resolved and worked their way into the Court system.

In Tennessee, like other states, sexual harassment claims are governed primarily by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is a corresponding Tennessee law enforcing the rights of parties in the workplace in Tennessee, but it is largely patterned after the Civil Rights Act. Sexual harassment claims are not simply confined to instances where there are direct sexual requests or demands or even physical contact (although these claims certainly give rise to actions). More commonly, the sexually suggestive or forced atmosphere in the workplace creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment that negatively affects performance. In Tennessee, the sexual harassment law is somewhat broadened to include any unequal treatment of an employee based solely upon their gender, if that treatment would make a reasonable person uncomfortable.

Sexual harassment laws are not gender specific and limited to females. The statistics show that although females continue to suffer the lion’s share, nearly 16% of all the claims filed were filed by males. The problems with sexual harassment in the workplace continue to cost companies and individuals substantial time, money and resources.
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