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When Sex Toys are Tools of Sexual Harassment

When Sex Toys are Tools of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace has come under renewed scrutiny due to a growing number of scandals involving high-profile business, entertainment, and political leaders. As we have learned from the seemingly daily news reports, sexual harassment covers a wide variety of conduct. Indeed, behavior that you might dismiss as harmless fun may in fact be illegal. That is why all New York employers, especially those subject to New York City's Human Rights Law, need to enforce appropriate boundaries for workplace conduct.

NY Court Rules Ex-City Worker May Sue Over Coworker's Display of Sex Toys

One recent sexual harassment scandal that provoked international headlines involved a member of the British parliament who admitted to forcing his female secretary to buy him “sex toys” from a London shop while he watched, a practice that he defended as “harmless hijinks,” according to news reports.

Introducing sex toys into a workplace environment is never a good idea. In a case closer to home, a state appeals court in Brooklyn reinstated a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by a former New York City official who said she suffered “unlawful retaliation” after complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace. Among the plaintiff's allegations, she said a “co-worker repeatedly demonstrated a sex toy” to her at work. A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge previously dismissed this complaint along with the rest of the plaintiff's claims.

The Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed and returned the case for trial. With respect to the sex toy claim, the Second Department said that if true, the plaintiff's allegation could support a finding of sexual harassment in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law. The city is free to argue the alleged behavior does not rise to the level of illegal harassment, the appeals court said, but it was premature for the trial court to dismiss the claim outright.

Critically, the NYCHRL encompasses a wider spectrum of misconduct than either federal or state anti-discrimination laws. As the Second Department explained in a previous case, while federal law requires evidence of “severe or pervasive” harassment before a plaintiff can seek damages, the NYCHRL does not require as high a standard. That said, a plaintiff must still prove the alleged conduct “constituted more than petty slights and trivial inconveniences.”

It should be noted the plaintiff in the present case has alleged more than simply improper workplace exposure to sex toys. She has also alleged retaliation based on her complaints regarding sexual harassment. According to her lawsuit, she was assigned “double the normal workload” of her co-workers and later demoted by her superiors. The Second Department said these allegations further supported a lawsuit under the NYCHRL and should not have been summarily dismissed by the trial court.

Get Help From a New York Sex Discrimination Attorney Today

Every New Yorker has the right to work in an environment free of harassment based on sex or any other legally protected characteristic. If you are currently suffering due to on-the-job harassment, you need to speak with a qualified New York employment attorney right away. Call the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar in New York City and Long Island at 800.496.3076 to speak with someone today.

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