Editor of Oxford American magazine fired for sexual harassment

New York readers are probably aware that situations can arise in the workplace that could be misinterpreted as sexual harassment. However, the law requires that any behavior must be pervasive and ongoing in order to constitute harassment. This eliminates the potential that a misinterpreted comment snowballs into a lawsuit.

Still, there are actions that clearly constitute harassment and it’s important to speak with an employment law attorney if you feel threatened by a co-worker or supervisor. Recent drama that unfolded at a quarterly literary magazine speaks to the fact that some people either don’t know, or don’t care, how their behavior comes across.

According to a report, the founder and editor of the Oxford American and his girlfriend were fired after an investigation by the board of directors. The investigation resulted in detailed accounts of unwanted sexual overtures and lewd comments made toward female interns. Apparently, the 49-year-old editor was fond of calling women “baby” and was overzealous with physical touching that he described as “paternalistic and nonsexual”.

“I understand that I walk a fine line with my joking, my banter,” he said, comparing himself to the inappropriate boss on “The Office.” “I have made bad jokes. My intent with regards to that humor is just as important.” As it turns out, his intent isn’t just as important. If behavior is sexually suggestive and offensive to others, it doesn’t matter the intent. The former editor at the Oxford Americanmust have missed the memo detailing sexual harassment laws. But he’s got plenty of time to get up to speed, now that he’s out of a job.

Source: New York Magazine, “The Bizarre Sexual-Harassment Scandal Shaking the Oxford American,” Joe Coscarelli, August 9, 2012

Sexual harassment in the workplace is never the victim’s fault

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a pervasive issue not only in New York City, but across the country. Unfortunately, not only is such discriminatory action illegal, but sexual harassment impedes productivity and gives way to a hostile work environment as well. There is a blame-the-victim mentality that is too often associated with instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. According to a report recently published in the journal Organizational Science, coworkers can be critical of a victim that fails to report sexual harassment enacted against the victim.

It appears that women that have never suffered sexual harassment often think that victims should be more aggressive in reporting harassment. However, according to one expert on the matter, “A victim may minimize what’s happening to them, they may have very legitimate concerns about losing their job, perhaps they feel what’s the use of reporting it because every other woman here is having the same experience.”

Many women suffering at the hands of a harasser in the workplace may be unaware of the legal remedies available to victims. An employer is obligated to investigate and address claims of sexual harassment. Further, a victim is protected from retaliation for issuing such a claim.

A Washington Post-ABC news poll estimates that about 60 percent of women responded saying that they had at some point been victimized by sexual harassment. Of the woman that reported being victimized, almost a third didn’t think the harassment warranted reporting. There is never a situation in which sexual harassment should have to be tolerated.

It would appear that several patterns of thinking need to be dispelled among women in the work place. First of all, sexual harassment is illegal, and it is never the victim’s fault. Further, sexual harassment in any manner should not have to be tolerated. Anything from a harasser repeatedly making lewd jokes to requests for sexual favors is unwarranted, and can be met with redress.

Source: Everyday Health, “Why Women Tend to Let Sexual Harassment Pass,” Jessica Firger, Nov. 7, 2012

  • Our firm has experience aiding employees in situations of sexual harassment. For more information, please visit our New York sexual harassment page.

Holiday parties can open the door for sexual harassment

With Christmas next week and New Year’s the following week, many employees are eagerly looking forward to spending time with family and friends. Employers often like to reward employees for a hard years work by having some sort of holiday party. While these are meant to be good natured and fun, they can get out of hand.

In a setting in which alcohol is typically served and everyone is outside of the office, coworkers can feel more inclined to relax, and at times can cross the line. Sometimes that line means that a coworker ventures into the territory of sexual harassment. Similarly, a holiday party can aggravate an already tense situation in which an employee may have previously felt uncomfortable by a coworker’s behavior.

How much of a risk is sexual harassment at company functions?

  • 30 percent of individuals report flirting at a holiday party
  • 26 percent report a supervisor disclosed too much personal information at a holiday part
  • 9 report having knowledge of a supervisor or another employee engaging in sexual activity during or following a company holiday party

It is important for employees to know that the same policies and rules of the office apply even on company outings. This means that sexual harassment should still not be tolerated. If an employee is sexually harassed or propositioned at a company holiday party, the employer is still obligated to act to address the claims. Failing to do so could result in serious consequences that leave the employer vulnerable to a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Source: HR.BLR.com, “Preventing sexual harassment at holiday parties,” Dec. 3, 2012

How long does it take for a hostile environment to emerge?

When an employer permits or fails to act when faced with claims of behavior in the workplace that could feel menacing to some employees, this could be classified as a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is not conducive to productivity, and often results in employees feeling that they are left with no option but to leave their position. In some circumstances of this nature, employees can seek legal recourse.

An employee at a medical clinic is suing her employer based on the hostile work environment she was made to work within. Reportedly, the employee’s supervisor was sexually harassing the employee by making unwanted sexual comments and massaging the employee’s neck in an unwelcomed manner. When the employee issued complaint with management, she was terminated. Accordingly, she sought legal advice and filed a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, this case is not a unique happening in New York or anywhere else across the country. While sexual harassment is illegal, many individuals and employers fail to grasp the gravity of permitting such harassment, and the damage that can result from allowing such misbehavior in the workplace. No employee should ever be subjected to such treatment.

The interesting aspect of the case is that this employee was able to demonstrate that this suit should go to trial based on evidence from just three days reporting to this harasser. In most instances, a court will look for a longer length of time to determine a work environment as hostile — anywhere from several weeks to years. However, this case shows that no employee should be subjected to sexual harassment for any length of time. If an employee feels that they have been harassed, retaliated against or subjected to a hostile work environment in New York, speaking with an experienced attorney can greatly increase the individual’s chances of recourse.

Source: Business Management Daily, “Court: Just 3 days of harassment can indeed create a hostile environment,” March 4, 2013

New York Employment Law Attorneys

At Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP, our practice is focused on employment and labor law, and we handle every aspect of these claims in state and federal courts, as well as before government agencies such as the NLRB. Our work includes sexual harassment litigation, drafting and review of employment contracts, wrongful termination, employment discrimination, and issues of wage and hour law, as well as other matters.

Our clients are diverse. They come from virtually every type of business and industry, including financial services, health care, restaurant and hospitality, professional services partnerships such as medicine, law, accounting and architecture, photography, design and marketing, manufacturing, education and nonprofit organizations.

To learn more about specific areas of our practice, please follow the links below:

New York Lawyers for Professional Practice Representation

When it comes to seeking legal representation for your professional practice, corporation or association, sooner is better than later. It is best to obtain a lawyer’s guidance before decisions are made and documents are finalized. Otherwise, potential problems may be overlooked, exposing your business to the possibility of litigation.

At Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP, in Midtown Manhattan, we represent clients throughout the New York metropolitan area. Many of these clients are lawyers and doctors who collaborate with other similar professionals to open and participate in the daily operations of various professional practices. We also assist accountants, architects and engineers with their business needs.

Legal Counsel for the Matters Affecting Your Professional Practice

Collaborating with the attorneys at Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP helps you make the best possible decisions regarding a broad range of legal matters. We regularly provide custom counsel on the matters that affect you, including:

  • Negotiating, drafting and reviewing partnership agreements and related documents
  • Choosing the best possible business entity for you, such as a limited liability company (LLC) or a professional limited liability partnership (PLLP)
  • Resolving potential disputes that arise among professional members of the practice or between an employee and the practice
  • Developing and implementing employment practices to avoid or reduce the impact of employment litigation
  • Negotiating termination/severance agreements
  • Negotiating, reviewing and drafting employment agreements involving restrictive covenants such as non-compete agreements, non-disclosure agreements and nonsolicitation agreements
  • Limiting liability for professional malpractice/obtaining and maintaining proper insurance

Attorneys at our firm would like nothing more than to see your practice succeed, and we realize that success does not come without a great deal of hard work. We work diligently for our clients, providing clear and comprehensive legal advice from the moment you retain us until matters are resolved.

Representation You Can Turn to Again and Again

Many of our clients continue to return to Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP for services throughout the duration of their practices. They realize the benefit of returning again and again to a team of experienced lawyers that knows them, their needs and their business goals.

Of course, we hope that by putting the proper protections in place, we will help your professional practice avoid litigation. However, we live in a litigious society, and this is not always possible. If you believe that your professional practice may become involved in litigation, you can contact us to help resolve the matter quickly and effectively.

New York Nonsolicitation Agreement Lawyers

Frequently, a business’s most valuable assets are its established relationships with existing customers. Business leaders spend years carefully cultivating these relationships and building goodwill — but they are delicate. A customer relationship can be destroyed by just one careless statement made by an angry employee or just one phone call made by a former employee who is moving to a new company.

At Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP, we recognize the value of customer relationships. We recognize this value when it comes to our own clients, so we provide extensive personal attention and high-quality work. We also recognize this value when it comes to our clients’ customers. That’s why we negotiate, draft, review and litigate nonsolicitation agreements for employers and employees throughout the New York City metropolitan area.

Nonsolicitation agreements prohibit employees from contacting or working for a business’s clients after the employee ceases to work for that business. They prohibit doctors, accountants, real estate brokers, salespeople and other professionals from leaving professional practices with client lists and other confidential materials. They can also provide valuable benefits — such as higher pay, an employment agreement or a severance package — for employees who sign nonsolicitation agreements.

New York Sexual Harassment Litigation Attorneys

Inappropriate sexual conversations and events occur in a broad spectrum of workplaces. From the service industry to professional practices, from low-wage workers to highly compensated executives, there are diverse scenarios that violate state and federal employment laws.

At Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP, in New York City, our lawyers represent employees in plaintiff’s sexual harassment litigation. We are highly experienced trial attorneys who serve as zealous advocates for the victims of inappropriate and illegal sexual harassment.

We have experience handling a broad range of sexual harassment claims, including cases involving:

  • Lewd comments
  • Sexual jokes
  • Quid pro quo
  • Requested sexual favors
  • Sexist behaviors
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Workplace bullying

Our clients are not only women. While sexual harassment is often thought of as an offense against women, men are just as likely to be victims. Many men feel embarrassed to come forward regarding sexual harassment claims. However, sexual harassment is nothing to be ashamed of. Our firm offers confidential and nonjudgmental representation to both men and women.

Through a comprehensive intake process, we may identify a spectrum of legal options for you in addition to sexual harassment litigation. We know that victims of sexual harassment who speak out are sometimes fired. In cases like these, we may be able to bring wrongful termination lawsuits.

New York Sexual Harassment Defense Lawyers

Lawyers at the New York City law firm of Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP have defended numerous high-profile individuals and companies that have been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace. As experienced advocates, we have the knowledge and skill necessary to take effective action on our clients’ behalf, even in serious situations such as alleged rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination. We also conduct investigations and represent individual defendants as well.

Each case is unique. We have negotiated confidential settlements on behalf of employers, taking actions for the benefit of both parties while keeping our clients’ situations private and out of the media.

While most cases settle before trial, we also have engaged in forceful litigation in state and federal courts. Forceful trial advocacy can send a chilling message to prospective future plaintiffs and helps employers avoid future litigation.

Our attorneys also consult with clients on how to avoid potential sexual harassment claims. We draft policies and assist employers in employment policy implementation. By consulting with a New York City sexual harassment training attorney as part of your business strategy, you may be able to prevent future litigation.

New York Non-Disclosure Agreements Lawyers

Wrongful termination occurs in a broad spectrum of situations. At Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP, we often speak with potential clients who believe that they were wrongfully terminated when they were fired without review or without warning. We tell them that, in New York City, most employment is “at will,” meaning that an employer or an employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for nearly any reason — or no reason at all.

However, there are several reasons for which it is illegal to terminate the employment relationship. These include discrimination based on ethnic or national origin, color, race, age, pregnancy, religion or sex.

Lawyers at our firm also represent employers who face allegations that they engaged in wrongful termination when they terminated employees, often for very legitimate reasons. We help these employers protect their interests. We also focus on preventing future litigation by counseling employers on the creation of employment policies that comply with state and federal laws.