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New California Law Protects Victims and Witnesses in Sexual Harassment Cases

July 23, 2018

While it might appear from media reports that the floodgates have opened and workers subjected to sexual harassment are coming forward in drives to file complaints, the reality is that what you hear and read about is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports three-quarters of sexual harassment incidents in the workplace are not reported. Defamation lawsuits filed against their accusers by individuals who are the targets of harassment complaints have a chilling effect on workers coming forward with complaints. A new law in California seeks to protect victims with legitimate claims of sexual harassment.

Making Complaints of Sexual Harassment Privileged Communications

California law permits the filing of a defamation lawsuit seeking damages by someone whose reputation is injured by false and unprivileged written or oral statements. The law protects certain types of communications from becoming the subject of a defamation lawsuit by designating them as privileged.

New amendments to existing law add to language making allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace privileged communications when they are made to the person’s employer. The person complaining to an employer about sexual harassment is protected against a defamation lawsuit as long as the complaint is based on credible evidence and is made without malice.

Protecting Other Employees Who Cooperate in Harassment Investigations

The legislation signed into law by the governor includes protection of witnesses who come forward to support employee’s complaint of sexual harassment. Prior to the legislation, a witness cooperating with an employer’s inquiry into the complaint could become the target of a defamation lawsuit based upon the statements made by the witness. Statements by witnesses and other interested persons to an employer are now privileged and cannot be the basis for a defamation claim.

Allowing Employers to Share Information

The amendments to California Civil Code §47(c) make it possible for an employer to disclose information about sexual harassment complaints against former employees. When contacted by new or prospective employers about a former employee, the law now permits a former employer of the applicant to respond to inquiries about whether the applicant would be rehired and if the decision to rehire is related to a determination of the person engaging in sexual harassment.

The communication with another employer is protected by being privileged. The response given by the former employer must be accurate and without malice to benefit from protection against a defamation lawsuit.

Contact Us for Advice

If you have been subjected to sexual harassment at your workplace, the law is on your side. You no longer have to remain silent for fear of retaliation. The skilled attorneys at The Cifarelli Law Firm, LLP, have been aggressively fighting for justice and fair compensation for the victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual harassment for more than 25 years. Our unsurpassed knowledge of the law and our experience give us the ability to develop winning strategies to obtain maximum compensation for sexual harassment victims. Contact us today by calling (949) 502-8600 or use the form on our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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