Addressing Workplace Harassment

By: Natalie K. Mitchell

Know Your Rights

Federal and state laws recognize that individuals have the right to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. In Louisiana, employers are legally prohibited from intentionally discriminating against any individual with respect to their compensation, or terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of the individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This includes the right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace.

Hostile Work Environment

The courts of Louisiana hold that employers violate the anti-discrimination statute when they create or allow a hostile work environment for an employee. A “hostile work environment” is created when harassment consisting of verbal or physical conduct is so pervasive that it has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

To determine if the harassment is sufficiently pervasive to amount to a hostile work environment, the court will consider factors like the frequency of the conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it reasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.

To prevail in a hostile environment harassment claim, the plaintiff must assert and prove five essential elements:

  1. they belonged to a protected group;
  2. they were subject to unwelcome sexual harassment;
  3. the harassment was based on sex;
  4. the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment;
  5. the employer knew or should have known of the sexual harassment and failed to take proper remedial action.

Prescription of Claims

Workplace harassment claims are subject to a prescriptive period of three hundred days. A suit must be filed, or a complaint filed with the EEOC, within three hundred days of the discriminatory conduct, or the Plaintiff can lose their ability to sue.

In determining whether the period has passed for certain claims, courts examine each of the alleged incidents of harassment to determine whether it constitutes a separate cause of action, with prescription running from the date of each separate incident; or whether, as is often the case in a hostile work environment claim, the entire course of harassment constitutes a single cause of action, with prescription running from the date of the last incident or abatement of the course of conduct.

Also, state law requires that before a claim for hostile work
environment is made, the potential Plaintiff must provide notice in writing thirty days prior to filing suit, and is required to make a good faith effort to resolve the dispute prior to initiating court action.

These issues are extremely fact-specific. If you need to discuss sexual
harassment, a hostile work environment, or best practices for ensuring a respectful and legal work environment, contact a PELA lawyer today.

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