A touch on the small of the back, an offer to stand under an umbrella in the rain or an admission that a crush developed years ago can be some romantic gestures in one situation and harassment in another. When it comes to sexually charged statements or actions, context can be everything -- like when the recipient doesn't want the attention.
In a workplace setting, these actions can be considered sexual harassment, and they all were included in a recent complaint filed in New Jersey under the state's Law Against Discrimination.
The complaint was filed by a Passaic School District administrative secretary who had been employed in the district for over a decade. According to the complaint, it wasn't until a city councilman stepped in as acting principal at her school that things changed for the worse.
Both parties in this instance were married, but it didn't stop the councilman from directing sexual comments towards her, touching her inappropriately and creating a hostile work environment.
It started with a small comment that the woman's presence would make it hard for him to work. It escalated into an invitation to go to a hotel room, suggestions about intercourse and even references to what "women with strong legs" were capable of.
Eventually, the man even played out a scene from a movie in which he gripped her hair and pulled her head back, despite an affirmative request that he not touch her at all.
The defense attorney for the councilman referenced the councilman's years of dedication to children in a statement on Thursday, Aug. 22, and that the claims were unfounded.
It is important for New Jersey workers to remember that sexual harassment is sexual harassment. A supervisor's hard work, high productivity or even philanthropy can't erase an illegal employment action.
Source: NorthJersey.com, "School secretary accuses Passaic councilman of sexual harassment in lawsuit," John Petrick, Aug. 22, 2013