A female Tesla employee in Nevada has filed a federal lawsuit against her employer alleging that she was subjected to loud “obscene and misogynistic rap music” in the workplace as well as comments and inappropriate touching by a co-worker.
According to a report in Bloomberg Law, the sexual harassment reportedly occurred at the company’s industrial facility 20 miles east of Reno. The plaintiff said she suffered due to a hostile work environment.
Employee Shauna Israel said she complained repeatedly, but that Tesla failed to investigate and take prompt remedial action required under federal law to stop the sexual harassment. The offensive music was filled with references to women as “bitches,” graphic references to sex, and other vulgar terms, the lawsuit states.
Lawsuit Alleges Sexually Hostile Work Environment
Israel said one of her male colleagues often made statements and engaged in actions in response to the music such as sexual remarks directly asking her if she was married. He also stalked her, put his arms around her, rubbed her arms, and shoved her toward his body, restraining her when she tried to walk away, she said.
Israel said she complained to human resources about the music, but that no measures were taken to curb the harassment. Instead, she was told to arrange her job duties in a way that avoided him and to make sure she had a colleague with her when she interacted with that particular co-worker. She said the sexually hostile work environment was so severe that she saw no other option than to quit.
The issue of whether “sexually graphic” workplace music amounts to sexual harassment under federal anti-bias law is still pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Among other injunctive relief, this lawsuit also asks the court to compel Tesla to enforce a reasonable policy against sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment
Discrimination based on sex or gender, which includes sexual harassment, is prohibited under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. There are two categories of sexual harassment:
Quid pro quo: This occurs when a supervisor or senior manager demands that you perform sexual favors in exchange for a promotion, getting a job, or some other workplace benefit.
Hostile work environment: This type of sexual harassment is more common. It occurs when a supervisor or other employee makes sexually suggestive comments or sends out offensive pictures, emails or texts. Inappropriate jokes and touching that interferes with your work performance also fall under this category.
California passed a law in 2019 making allegations of sexual harassment much easier to prove. For instance, one incident of sexual harassment may be enough to hold an employer accountable in a hostile environment case as opposed to a series of incidents or a pattern of misconduct. If the harassing behavior unreasonably interfered with your job performance or created a hostile work environment, the employer can be held accountable as well.
Your employer can also be held liable if they fail to curb or prevent this type of harassing behavior even when it is perpetrated by a customer, client, or independent contractor. In addition, it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment or a hostile work environment to a manager, human resources, or a governmental entity such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you have been fired for filing a complaint about sexually harassing behavior, you may have an additional claim for wrongful termination.
What to Do If You Are Being Harassed at Work
If you are facing sexual harassment at work, here are some of the steps you can take to protect yourself and your rights:
Communicate: If you are able to directly communicate with the person harassing you to stop that behavior and it is safe to do so, you can tell them you find their actions inappropriate, intimidating, hostile, or abusive, and tell them to stop.
Record: Whether you experience a single incident or recurring harassment, it is important to write it down every time it occurs. Include the date and time, the name of the person who harassed you, their title, and who if anyone witnessed it. Keep a copy of all this information outside of your workplace so you have ready access to it at any time.
Reporting: Become familiar with your employer’s policy on harassment and follow the protocols to report an incident. If a policy is not in place, you can report to a trusted supervisor or human resources specialist. If you get no response internally, contact the EEOC to obtain more information about your rights and file a complaint.
Contacting a lawyer: In most cases, it may be in your best interest to contact an experienced California sexual harassment lawyer who will fight hard to protect your rights and help you seek fair compensation for your damages and losses.