Sexual harassment is a common experience in many workplaces across Maine. Both state and federal legislation prohibits any form of workplace sexual harassment and treats it as a form of sex discrimination which is illegal.
If you have experienced sexual harassment in a Maine workplace you have the right to make a complaint to either a state or federal anti discrimination agency. The complaint will be investigated and an attempt at resolution will be made. If there is no satisfactory result, you may then decide to file a lawsuit against your employer with the help of an employment law attorney.
What Maine and Federal Laws Protect Against Sexual Harassment?
The Maine Human Rights Act is the primary legislation which makes it illegal to discriminate against employees because of their gender. Sexual harassment is regarded as a form of sex discrimination so is covered by the Act.
The federal equivalent is the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) but this is aimed at workplaces with 15 or more employees, while the Maine Human Rights Act also covers smaller workplaces from 1 to 14 employees.
What is Considered Sexual Harassment?
The EEOC has a definition of workplace sexual harassment which is the criterion used in determining whether sexual harassment has occurred.
Minor jokes, comments and taunts are not generally considered sexual harassment as long as they are not serious and occasional, but any form of behavior that is of a sexual nature or directed at a whole gender that creates a “hostile or offensive” work environment or leads to a negative employment decision may be considered sexual harassment.
Some examples of what could be considered sexual harassment are as follows:
- quid pro quo harassment which means that sexual favors are demanded for favorable treatment such as promotion, keeping a job, etc.;
- verbal harassment in the form of constant taunts, innuendo, sexual comments;
- harassment by letter, notes, emails, social media comments, text messages;
- unsolicited physical contact, touching, groping, all the way through to assault and rape.
Sexual harassment may be thought to be on females by males but could be female to female and male to male as well as one gender against another. Co-workers, manager, supervisors and employers may all be accused of harassment.
How is Sexual Harassment Covered by Law in Maine?
Maine’s Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is in charge of overseeing the main anti discrimination legislation, the Maine Human Rights Act. Like the federal equivalent, the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Act prohibits any form of workplace sexual harassment as defined above.
The main difference between the state legislation and the federal legislation is that it covers all sizes of workplaces from one employee upwards while the EEOC oversees complaints of harassment in larger workplaces.
The other advantage of going to the MHRC rather than the EEOC, even if your workplace is larger, is that the nearest EEOC office is in Boston, Massachusetts. There is no state based EEOC office in Maine.
Where Should a Workplace Sexual Harassment Claim be Filed in Maine?
In Maine, a discrimination claim can be filed either with the state, the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) or federally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies cooperate with each other to process claims.
Filing a claim with both agencies is not necessary, as long as you state to one of the agencies that you want it to "cross-file" the claim with the other agency.
How Long Do I Have to File a Sexual Harassment Claim in Maine?
You must file a complaint with the MHRC within 6 months of a discriminatory act or cross-file it with the EEOC. The federal agency allows 300 days from an act of discrimination.
You have one and a half years to file a lawsuit if you have gone through the MHRC or EEOC first. Normally, the state or federal agency will try and resolve the complaint first through an investigation and possibly mediation, but will allow you to take the complaint to the civil court if no resolution can be achieved.
Getting Help Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim in Maine
You are more likely to achieve a positive resolution of your claim if you use an employment law attorney to help you with legal advice. If you do eventually find you have to file a lawsuit, you will almost certainly be better off with an attorney