Intersectionality and Workplace Sexual Harassment

Employment Law News | June 22, 2021

Workplace harassment is often handled using a one-size-fits-all approach, especially when it comes to sexual misconduct. However, the most vulnerable members of a workforce often face additional layers of discrimination while dealing with sexual harassment—and traditional approaches can fall short in resolving these issues. In these situations, an intersectional approach is necessary to handle harassment cases.

 What Is Intersectionality?

First conceptualized by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is a framework for analyzing discrimination. People hold many different social and political identities that affect how they interact with the world and how others treat them. Intersectionality involves many factors, including the following.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Class
  • Religion
  • Physical appearance
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • National identity
  • Immigration status

By examining how a person’s intersecting identities impact his or her experiences, others can better understand how various systems of power impact marginalized groups. Additionally, intersectionality helps employers and employees better understand the complex impact of discrimination.

Intersectional Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment can take a number of forms in the workplace. An employee may be subject to inappropriate jokes, messages, comments, or gestures of a sexual nature. In other cases, a colleague, manager, or employer may make unwanted sexual advances toward an employee, touch him or her inappropriately, or commit an act of sexual assault. While we often think of sexual harassment as being based on sex alone, these acts can also be based on gender identity, race, country of origin, disability, age, religion, and many other protected classes.

Intersectional harassment occurs when an employee experiences harassment based on more than one class protected under anti-discrimination laws. For example, a Black woman in the workplace may face harassment that is both racist and sexist. A manager may make inappropriate comments to this employee about her body and physical appearance, degrading and harassing her based on both her skin color and gender identity.

When a person faces harassment based on multiple identities, he or she can feel unsafe and be unable to complete his or her daily tasks. Intersectional harassment creates a violent and hostile work environment, and in some cases, an employee can face negative consequences and retaliation while experiencing this discrimination. Demotions, wrongful termination, a reduction in work hours, reassigned duties, and lost wages and benefits may occur. In many cases, the employee may experience psychological pain and suffering, undue stress, and anxiety.

What to Do If You Experience Intersectional Harassment

If you are facing intersectional sexual harassment in the workplace or faced retaliation after reporting this treatment to your employee, you are not alone. Unfortunately, many employees face discrimination on the basis of their gender, race, religion, and many other protected classes on a daily basis. However, this type of harassment is illegal under state and federal law, and you have the right to hold your employer accountable for the hostile work environment.

You can file a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the New York Division of Human Rights (DHR). You may also file a workplace discrimination against your employer. In these situations, it is best to consult with a New York employment attorney before filing a claim.

An attorney can help you navigate these processes and determine which option is best for you. Your lawyer can also help you collect evidence and build a case against your employer, holding him or her accountable for the discrimination you faced. A New York workplace discrimination lawyer will also be knowledgeable of the laws and complexities surrounding intersectional harassment, providing you with the support you deserve. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your path forward.