Workplace banter is common. But office rumors and damaging gossip can cross the line into sexual harassment. If you have been the target of salacious rumors on the job, you may have concerns about damage to your reputation and your future employment prospects. By working with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer, you can protect your good name and your right to earn a living.
At Castronovo & McKinney, LLC, our practice is dedicated to helping employees throughout New Jersey fight back against discrimination and harassment. We know that gossip and rumors are often innocuous, but toxic gossip and speculation about sexual relationships, in particular, may form the basis for a sexual harassment claim.
Whether rumors have been spread about you on-site, in the office, online via email, chat message or social media post, we will leverage our skills and resources to protect your rights.
Contact our Morristown or Manhattan office today so we can start working on your sexual harassment claim.
Defining Office Rumors
The first thing you need to understand is that employees have a legal right to share personal news and discuss workplace issues with each other at work. This type of communication is protected under the National Labor Relations Act, which can make policies that inadvertently limit such communications problematic for your employer from a legal standpoint.
What sets gossip apart from these forms of communication is that gossip makes the victim feel unwelcome, alienated, targeted — or aims to damage her or his reputation. If this has happened to you, it takes a knowledgeable employment lawyer to protect your rights.
When do office rumors rise to the level of sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is considered an unlawful form of sexual discrimination under federal and state law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some courts have held that gossip and rumors do not give rise to employer liability. In 2019, however, a federal appeals court held that employers may be liable under Title VII for failing to address and stop gossip and rumors about the sexual activity of an employee.
The case involved a woman who was employed at a company’s warehouse. Shortly after being promoted to operations manager, male coworkers began spreading rumors that she obtained the promotion by sleeping with her manager. At one point, a senior manager held a meeting to discuss the rumor and blamed the victim for bringing the gossip into the workplace.
About a month after complaining to human resources about the rumors, the woman was terminated. She filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. Her claim was dismissed by a district court, holding that the rumor and its circulation did not constitute sexual harassment because it was based on the woman’s alleged conduct, not her gender.
After she appealed, The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its decision, holding that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged a hostile work environment based on sex. In short, the court held that the rumors were a form of sex stereotyping, based on the assumption that women use sex to get ahead. The court noted that the rumor was allegedly started by a man, only spread by men and that such stereotyping is an unlawful form of sex-based harassment.
What To Do About Gossip in the Workplace
While putting a stop to gossip may not be possible, employers do have a responsibility to establish policies and procedures that prevent sexual harassment. When gossip and rumors about the sexual activity of an employee cause damage to their reputation or result in an adverse employment action (termination, demotion), employers can be held liable.
Given the conflicting court decisions, however, pursuing a claim when you have been the target of toxic gossip and rumors in the workplace can be an uphill battle. This is where having the legal team at Castronovo & McKinney on your side can make a difference.
When you consult with us, we will take the time to determine whether you have a viable claim and choose the best course of action. Our attorneys will conduct an extensive investigation by interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence (e.g. personnel records, emails, chat messages) that supports your claim.
While sexual harassment claims can often be resolved through alternative forms of dispute resolution, we prepare each case for trial to achieve the best possible outcome. Above all, we will fight to win you just compensation, which may include:
- Lost wages (e.g. back pay, front pay)
- Lost benefits
- Compensatory damages (e.g. emotional distress)
- Liquidated damages
- Attorneys’ fees and costs
Whether have been the target of rumors in the workplace based on your sex, sexual orientation, race, or another protected characteristic under applicable law, we will work to protect your rights and your reputation.
Contact Our Experienced New Jersey Sexual Harassment Attorneys
Don’t let rumors and gossip derail your career. The best way to fight back against sexual harassment is to have the powerful representation our firm provides. Contact our office today to learn how we can help.
Castronovo & McKinney, LLC helps clients with their sexual harassment claims throughout New Jersey including Bergen County, Essex County, Middlesex County, and Morris County as well as the cities Hackensack, Newark, New Brunswick, and Morristown.