West Virginia Human Rights Act prohibits workplace sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a type of illegal discrimination based on sex or gender.

West Virginia civil rights laws prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace and provide administrative and court remedies for employer violations. The Human Rights Act or HRA establishes the legal right under state law for employees to work "free from discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, or insult," according to HRA regulations.

Sexual harassment, a type of sex discrimination, can be inflicted by people of either gender against those of the opposite or same gender. Two different kinds of illegal sexual harassment - defined as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" - can occur:

  • Quid pro quo: when employment or a term or condition of employment is conditioned on submission to an explicit or implied request for a sexual favor
  • Hostile work environment: when serious or frequent conduct of a sexual nature unreasonably interferes with work performance or creates an environment that is intimidating, hostile or offensive

Examples of the types of behavior that may cause a hostile work environment include:

  • Sexual advances or requests for dates
  • Stalking
  • Unwanted touching or intimidating physical positioning
  • Leering and crude gesturing
  • Inappropriate comments, innuendo, banter or humor or a sexual nature
  • Suggestive written or electronic messages
  • Pornography and other sexual images on paper or electronic
  • Aggressive behavior or threats based on gender
  • And more

A covered employer is liable for sexual harassment it or its officers, agents or supervisors perpetrate, unless it happened outside the scope of employment. The employer is liable for sexual harassment by a co-worker if it knew or reasonably should have known of the harassment, again except if outside the scope of employment, it was authorized or "timely and appropriate corrective action" was taken.

In certain cases, employers may also be responsible when nonemployees like customers, service providers or contractors who are legitimately in the workplace sexually harass workers.

Federal law also provides similar protections against workplace sexual harassment as a kind of sex discrimination. Filing a claim for sexual harassment is complicated because it may involve both state and federal agencies and courts and involve specific procedural requirements and deadlines. It is therefore extremely important to contact an attorney as early as possible to discuss potential courses of action available to lodge a sexual harassment claim and for guidance in how to deal with the employer. Legal counsel can also launch an investigation of the matter on the worker's behalf.

The lawyers of McQueen Davis PLLC in Huntington represent victims of sexual harassment and other kinds of illegal discrimination throughout the state of West Virginia, including discrimination based on age, disability, workers' compensation participation, race, religion, and other rights protected by the Constitution.