Sexual harassment is actionable at both the state and federal level under Title VII at the federal level and under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) at the state level. The laws are practically the same as the WFEA is modeled after Title VII with the main difference being a plaintiff may recover punitive and compensatory damages under Title VII but cannot under the WFEA.
Under the WFEA, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and comes in two different forms: quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment sexual harassment.
Quid Pro Quo (‘this for that’): When employment decisions or expectations (e.g. hiring, promotions, salary increases, shift or work assignments, and performance standards) are based on an employee’s willingness to grant or deny sexual favors. Examples of quid pro quo harassment include:
- Demanding sexual favors for a promotion or raise.
- Disciplining or firing a subordinate who ends a romance.
- Changing work standards after a subordinate refuses repeated requests for a date.
Hostile Environment: A work environment is “hostile” when unwelcome verbal, non-verbal or physical behavior focusing on sexuality is severe and pervasive enough to interfere with the victim’s work performance or be intimidating or offensive to a reasonable person.
Examples of behaviors that can create a hostile environment:
- Sexual jokes or insults
- Comments about a person’s body or sex life
- Sexually demeaning comments
- Making gestures or staring
- Display of sexually suggestive or degrading materials
- Giving sexually suggestive “gifts”.
- Touching, hugging, kissing or patting
- Brushing against a person’s body
- Blocking a person’s movement