Seattle Sexual Harassment Attorney
Disclaimer: The information on this website does not, and is not intended to constitute legal advice. All information on this site is for general information purposes. No reader of this site should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information provided on this site without seeking legal advice from counsel.
Ed Hones is an employment lawyer in Seattle, Washington, who represents victims of sexual harassment. The purpose of this page is to provide workers with an easy-to-digest legal framework for sexual harassment at work, and to also provide answers to common questions that workers have about sexual harassment lawsuits. If you believe you were a victim of sexual harassment, contact Hones Law for a free consultation.
Overview of Sexual harassment law in Washington
Washington’s law against discrimination makes it an illegal practice to sexually harass a worker.
While sexual harassment can take many forms, each form of sexual harassment falls into one of two categories:
- Hostile Work Environment,
- Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment,
In what follows, I will discuss both categories of sexual harassment and provide examples of each. Also note, however, that sexual harassment is a subset of harassment. For more information on Washington’s harassment laws generally, see my harassment guide.
Hostile Work Environment
Hostile work environment is the most common form of sexual harassment in Washington. When unwelcome conduct is so severe or so persistent that it interferes with a worker’s ability to do their job, then the conduct has created a hostile work environment.
To prove hostile work environment, a worker must show that she was:
- subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct, comments, or advances,
- that the conduct was so severe or pervasive that it altered her conditions of employment, and
- that the employer knew or should have known, and failed to take prompt corrective action.
First, the worker must show that the conduct was unwelcome, and that she did not incite the behavior. I know that sounds absurd, but that’s our law.
There are numerous ways of showing that language or conduct was unwelcome, but the best way is to simply write a formal complaint when it happens. Your company likely has procedures for such complaints, which you should follow.
Severe or pervasive
Next, the worker must show that the conduct was either severe or pervasive. Severe means the conduct was something extreme, like threatening or touching. Pervasive means it happened persistently over a period of time.
Knew or should have known
Finally, the worker must show why the employer is responsible.
If the harasser is a manager, the employer is automatically liable. Managers are those people that have the authority to change employees’ hours, wages, or working conditions.
However, if the harasser is a low level employee, like a co-worker, the employer is only liable if it knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take corrective action.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is the other category of sexual harassment. Although not as common as hostile work environment, quid pro quo sexual harassment still happens. And if it happens to you, contact a harassment attorney at once.
“Quid pro quo” is a latin term meaning “something for something.” Quid pro quo sexual harassment exists when a supervisor seeks sexual favors from a worker in exchange for a job benefit (or absence of a job detriment).1
For example, a supervisor that requests a sexual favor from a worker in order for the worker to receive a favorable performance review would be committing quid pro quo sexual harassment. Alternatively, a supervisor that requests a sexual favor in exchange for not firing or demoting a worker would also be committing quid pro quo sexual harassment.
To establish a case of quid pro quo sexual harassment, the worker must show the following two elements:
- Supervisor subjected the worker to unwelcome sexual conduct or advances, and
- Supervisor expressly or implicitly promised or threatened a change in the worker’s status or working conditions in exchange for submitting to the sexual conduct or advance.
Table of Contents
How do you prove sexual harassment?
Make a written complaint to HR
If you are still employed, make sure to make a written (and respectful) complaint to HR. And follow whatever procedures your employer has for such complaints.
A respectful complaint will do some very powerful things for you. First, it will create a record of the harassment and put your employer on notice. This record and notice will help you prove your case if you choose to file a claim. Second, it will probably stop the sexual harassment from continuing any further. Finally, it will show your employer that you are willing to stand up for your rights.
Proof in a sexual harassment case comes in many forms. And some methods of proving your case involve tools that are only accessible to lawyers, like depositions and written discovery. However, victims can help prove that they were sexually harassed by taking the following steps:
- Establish the timeline,
- Gather evidence,
- Find witnesses.
First, you can establish the timeline by making a record of every instance of harassment. Write down exactly what happened and when it happened. Use dates and times. The sooner you write it down after it happens, the better.
Second, you will want to gather as much evidence as you can. This evidence can include:
- written notes,
Finally, talk to other workers. Did anyone witness the harassing conduct? If you can confirm the harassment through your co-workers’ testimony, your case becomes much stronger.
*HOWEVER*, do not voice record or video record anyone without their consent. Washington law makes it illegal to record another person without their consent.2 Furthermore, do not steal any company documents. Your employer may use that against you to limit your recovery later.
How much do sexual harassment lawyers charge?
Sexual harassment lawyers usually represent clients on a contingency basis. That means that the lawyer won’t charge any fees up front, and instead only receives a percentage of what the employer pays in damages.
However, contingency fee arrangements aren’t always the best option. Sexual harassment claims require a lot of time and energy from an attorney to properly litigate. Therefore, the value of the sexual harassment claim has to justify the lawyer’s own investment.
If the case’s damages aren’t significant enough to justify a contingency fee arrangement, most sexual harassment attorneys will still represent a victim on an hourly basis. However, that can get pretty expensive. The average hourly rate for a sexual harassment attorney is between $200 and $400 depending on experience.
How much are sexual harassment claims worth?
The monetary damages in sexual harassment claims include lost wages, mental anguish, and emotional distress.3
However, sexual harassment cases are highly variant, and the level of damages changes dramatically based on the circumstances of the case. For example, some harassment cases have settled for millions of dollars, while others settle for a few thousand dollars.
So, what factors determine the value of a harassment case? Here are just a few:
- The severity of the harasser’s conduct,
- whether you were fired,
- the amount and quality of evidence,
- the possible publicity of the case (employers don’t like that),
- whether you reported the sexual harassment,
- whether your life has changed since the harassing conduct,
- whether the employer’s conduct was particularly egregious,
Is it worth it to sue your employer for sexual harassment?
The short answer is “it depends.” Sexual harassment litigation can be a very difficult process. You will need to relive painful experiences and tell details about your life to strangers who have no business knowing about your life.
However, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience too. If you were the victim of sexual harassment, and you choose to tell your story, you can force your employer to change its unfair practices and prevent it from harming other workers like you.
Although, if your goal is to get rich, litigation is probably not your best option. The civil justice system is not meant to help people get rich, no matter what you may have heard about the “hot coffee case.” Many sexual harassment claims do not succeed. And when they do, the payment of monetary damages is meant to make the victim whole again, not to make them wealthy.
When should you call a sexual harassment lawyer?
You are still employed
Hiring a lawyer while you are still employed is probably not your best option. Nobody likes dealing with lawyers. Your employer especially won’t like it. Furthermore, a lawyer’s tools are far more effective after the fact.
So, if you are still employed and want to keep your job, your best bet is to write a respectful complaint to HR. And make sure to follow whatever procedures your employer has for such complaints.
By writing a complaint, you create a record of the sexual harassment and you put your employer on notice. After you submit the complaint, your employer can no longer claim it “had no idea.” Furthermore, your employer will likely understand the implications of your complaint, and should take action to stop the sexual harassment from continuing.
However, if you submit your (respectful) complaint and your employer fails to take any action, then contact a sexual harassment attorney.
You were fired
If you were fired after being sexually harassed, you should contact a sexual harassment attorney at once. The best time to contact a sexual harassment attorney is after you were fired but before you sign a severance agreement.
Severance agreements are agreements that limit a worker’s ability to bring a claim in exchange for money. While it may seem tempting to take the money, and your employer will likely pressure you to do so, you should contact a lawyer first.
You have a valuable right to file a claim, and you should talk to a lawyer before signing away such a right.
What is the statute of limitations for a sexual harassment claim?
The statute of limitations is the deadline to file your claim. If you fail to meet the statute of limitations deadline, your claim expires.
The statute of limitations varies depending on what kind of claim you file and where you file it.
Washington’s statute of limitations
The statute of limitations for actions involving sexual harassment under Washington’s Laws Against Discrimination is THREE YEARS.4
However, if you choose to pursue your claim with Washington’s Human Rights Commission, you must file your claim with the commission within SIX MONTHS.
Federal statute of limitations
Sexual harassment is also illegal under federal laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. If you file a claim under Title VII, you must file your complaint with the EEOC within 300 DAYS of the act (if it happened in Washington). If it happened outside of Washington, you may only have 180 days.
Employment Law is my Singular focus
If you were the victim of sexual harassment at work, you need a sexual harassment attorney who knows the practice area well and can get you compensation.
I am a sexual harassment lawyer in Seattle, Washington, who focuses on one area of law so that you can rest assured that your case is in the right hands.
Contact Hones Law today for a free consultation.
- Schonauer v. Entertainment, Inc., 79 Wash.App. 808, 823, 905 P.2d 392, 401, 67 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P 43821 (Div. 2 1995).
- RCW 9.73.030
- Clipse v. Commercial Driver Services Inc., 189 Wash. App. 776, 358 P.3d 464 (Div. 2 2015)
- Crownover v. State ex rel. Dept. of Transp., 165 Wash.App. 131, 265 P.3d 971 (Div. 3 2011).