Sexual assault has no place in New York workplaces. All employers have a legal and moral duty to maintain environments that are free of both sexual violence and harassment. If a private employer fails to take appropriate action to remedy known acts of employee-on-employee sexual violence, the victims may have grounds to file an employment discrimination claim.
Military Exempt From Normal Laws Governing Educational, Workplace Discrimination
Although federal and New York State equal opportunity laws also extend to many government agencies, there are some notable exceptions, such as the U.S. armed forces. Indeed, a recent decision by a federal appeals court in New York City emphasizes the difficulties faced by members of the military who are victims of sexual assault and harassment in their workplace.
The unidentified plaintiff in this lawsuit was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. During her second year at the Academy, the plaintiff said another cadet raped her. She said she “feared reputational harm or even retaliation from other cadets” if she filed a formal complaint with the Academy naming her assailant. She said there was a pervasive “misogynistic” culture at West Point, and that it was “common knowledge among the cadets that successful women in the military did not report incidents of sexual assault.”
Eventually, the plaintiff resigned her West Point appointment and received an “honorable” discharge from the Army. She subsequently sued the former superintendent and commandant of cadets at West Point for violating her constitutional right to “equal protection” under the law. The officers moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but the judge presiding over the case said the plaintiff could proceed.
A divided three-judge panel of the Second Circuit, however, said the courts were barred from hearing the case at all. Even assuming that all of the plaintiff's allegations were true, the majority said that she could not “hold her superior officers personally liable for money damages in connection with their decisions regarding the training, supervision, education, and command of service personnel at West Point.” Under binding U.S. Supreme Court precedent, it is “inappropriate” for the courts to create such remedies absent express authorization from Congress.
The dissenting judge noted that if West Point were any other private or public college, there would be no question that the plaintiff could seek redress for the “pervasive and serious sexual harassment, including rape,” that she suffered. Even in this case, the dissent argued that the plaintiff's injuries did not arise out of her “military service,” i.e. while she was in combat or performing some other official Army duties. Indeed, she was “taking a walk on a college campus with another student, someone she thought was a friend.”
Have You Been a Victim of Sexual Assault or Harassment at Work?
Again, it is important to emphasize the exceptional nature of this case. If you are sexually assaulted by a co-worker on company property, you should not hesitate to stand up for yourself and report such criminal misconduct. Your employer cannot maintain a hostile work environment and you cannot be threatened with retaliation if you complain about it.
Of course, you should also seek out qualified legal advice from an experienced New York employment law attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar in New York City or Long Island today if you have been the victim of sexual assault or harassment in your workplace.