Sexual Harassment Attorneys in Madison & Milwaukee

You Have the Right to Be Free of Unwanted Sexual Conduct and Advances in Your Workplace

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates federal law – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act and the City of Madison Equal Opportunities Ordinance. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace when it fits into one of two categories: “Quid Pro Quo” and “Hostile Environment” sexual harassment.

“Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment

This type of sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when sex-related harassment is explicitly or implicitly made a term or condition of an individual’s employment. For example, a supervisor tells an employee he will select her for promotion if she goes out with him. When an employee’s agreement to such propositions would lead to a positive employment action from the supervisor, such as promotion, or if rejection would lead to an adverse employment action, such as termination or demotion, then the proposition is “quid pro quo” harassment. 

Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment 

Hostile environment harassment occurs when the behavior directed at the employee unreasonably interferes with that employee’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. In order to prove hostile environment harassment, the conduct generally must either be unwelcome and repeated, or so severe that anyone would be appalled. The following examples illustrate cases where the court found hostile environment discrimination present:

  • On a number of occasions, the company president asked the complainant and other female employees to retrieve coins from his front pants pocket, to retrieve objects he had thrown on the ground in front of them and commented, using sexual innuendo, about female employees’ attire. On other occasions, he remarked to complainant in the presence of other employees, “You’re a woman, what do you know,” “You’re a dumb ass woman,” and “We need a man as the rental manager.” In addition, he once remarked in the presence of other employees, as well as a client, that he and complainant should “go to the Holiday Inn to negotiate [her] raise.” Harris v. Forklift System, 510 U.S. 17 (1993)
  • A supervisor engaged in virtually daily horseplay of a sexual nature with female subordinates other than the complainant, including sitting on their laps, touching them in an intimate manner, and making lewd comments. The subordinates joined in and generally found the horseplay funny and inoffensive. The supervisor additionally engaged in consensual relations with at least two of his subordinates. Although none of the horseplay was directed at the plaintiff, the court found that supervisor’s conduct violated the law as it would have interfered with the work performance and would have seriously affected the psychological well-being of a reasonable employee. Spencer v. General Electric, 697 F. Supp. 204 (E.D. Va. 1988).

Sexual harassment can also occur between individuals of the same sex. For example, a court found a hostile work environment in the following case:

  • One of eight men on an offshore oil rig was forcibly subjected to sex-related humiliating actions against him by his male co-workers. Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., et al, 118 S.Ct. 998 (1998).

Are Employers Responsible for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Employers are directly responsible for the actions of supervisors — or other managers who act as their agents — if the harassment results in tangible employment action (e.g. termination, denial of promotion). They are also responsible for harassment by supervisors and co-workers if they have knowledge of the harassment, and fail to take prompt corrective action.

Employers should clearly communicate that sexual harassment will not be tolerated by engaging in training, and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance procedure. Employees experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace should be encouraged to come forward, and should not be required to complain first to the offending supervisor.

Are Workers Protected Against Employer Retaliation? 

It is unlawful under both federal and state law to retaliate against an employee for opposing sexual harassment or filing a discrimination charge, testifying or participating in any way in an investigation, or proceeding regarding such discrimination. These anti-retaliation laws extend to employees who may not be subject to the harassment, but witness it or reasonably expect it. 

Action Steps for Employees Experiencing Workplace Sexual Harassment

  1. It is helpful for an employee experiencing harassment to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop.
  2. Employees can also use any employer complaint or grievance procedure to report the problem and seek resolution.
  3. An employee can also file a formal complaint with the state or federal anti-discrimination agencies:

The Wisconsin Equal Rights Division of the Department of Workforce Development can be reached in Madison or Milwaukee:

Madison Office
201 East Washington Avenue
Room A100
P.O. Box 8928
Madison, WI 53708
(608) 266-6860

Milwaukee Office
819 North 6th Street
Room 723
Milwaukee, WI 53203
(414) 227-4384

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can be reached at

310 West Wisconsin Avenue
Suite 500
Milwaukee, WI 53203
(414) 662-3680

The City of Madison Department of Civil Rights can be reached at

210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Room 523
Milwaukee, WI 53703
(608) 266-4910

Contact Us

Contact us if you believe you have been subjected to sexual harassment or have any questions regarding your rights in the workplacePlease call a Madison employment discrimination attorney directly at (608) 257-0040 or a Milwaukee employment discrimination attorney at (414) 271-8650, or email us via our Contact Page.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates federal law – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act and the City of Madison Equal Opportunities Ordinance. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace when it fits into one of two categories: “Quid Pro Quo” and “Hostile Environment” sexual harassment.

“Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment

This type of sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when sex-related harassment is explicitly or implicitly made a term or condition of an individual’s employment. For example, a supervisor tells an employee he will select her for promotion if she goes out with him. When an employee’s agreement to such propositions would lead to a positive employment action from the supervisor, such as promotion, or if rejection would lead to an adverse employment action, such as termination or demotion, then the proposition is “quid pro quo” harassment. 

Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment 

Hostile environment harassment occurs when the behavior directed at the employee unreasonably interferes with that employee’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. In order to prove hostile environment harassment, the conduct generally must either be unwelcome and repeated, or so severe that anyone would be appalled. The following examples illustrate cases where the court found hostile environment discrimination present:

  • On a number of occasions, the company president asked the complainant and other female employees to retrieve coins from his front pants pocket, to retrieve objects he had thrown on the ground in front of them and commented, using sexual innuendo, about female employees’ attire. On other occasions, he remarked to complainant in the presence of other employees, “You’re a woman, what do you know,” “You’re a dumb ass woman,” and “We need a man as the rental manager.” In addition, he once remarked in the presence of other employees, as well as a client, that he and complainant should “go to the Holiday Inn to negotiate [her] raise.” Harris v. Forklift System, 510 U.S. 17 (1993)
  • A supervisor engaged in virtually daily horseplay of a sexual nature with female subordinates other than the complainant, including sitting on their laps, touching them in an intimate manner, and making lewd comments. The subordinates joined in and generally found the horseplay funny and inoffensive. The supervisor additionally engaged in consensual relations with at least two of his subordinates. Although none of the horseplay was directed at the plaintiff, the court found that supervisor’s conduct violated the law as it would have interfered with the work performance and would have seriously affected the psychological well-being of a reasonable employee. Spencer v. General Electric, 697 F. Supp. 204 (E.D. Va. 1988).

Sexual harassment can also occur between individuals of the same sex. For example, a court found a hostile work environment in the following case:

  • One of eight men on an offshore oil rig was forcibly subjected to sex-related humiliating actions against him by his male co-workers. Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., et al, 118 S.Ct. 998 (1998).

Are Employers Responsible for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Employers are directly responsible for the actions of supervisors — or other managers who act as their agents — if the harassment results in tangible employment action (e.g. termination, denial of promotion). They are also responsible for harassment by supervisors and co-workers if they have knowledge of the harassment, and fail to take prompt corrective action.

Employers should clearly communicate that sexual harassment will not be tolerated by engaging in training, and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance procedure. Employees experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace should be encouraged to come forward, and should not be required to complain first to the offending supervisor.

Are Workers Protected Against Employer Retaliation? 

It is unlawful under both federal and state law to retaliate against an employee for opposing sexual harassment or filing a discrimination charge, testifying or participating in any way in an investigation, or proceeding regarding such discrimination. These anti-retaliation laws extend to employees who may not be subject to the harassment, but witness it or reasonably expect it. 

Action Steps for Employees Experiencing Workplace Sexual Harassment

  1. It is helpful for an employee experiencing harassment to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop.
  2. Employees can also use any employer complaint or grievance procedure to report the problem and seek resolution.
  3. An employee can also file a formal complaint with the state or federal anti-discrimination agencies:

The Wisconsin Equal Rights Division of the Department of Workforce Development can be reached in Madison or Milwaukee:

Madison Office
201 East Washington Avenue
Room A100
P.O. Box 8928
Madison, WI 53708
(608) 266-6860

Milwaukee Office
819 North 6th Street
Room 723
Milwaukee, WI 53203
(414) 227-4384

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can be reached at

310 West Wisconsin Avenue
Suite 500
Milwaukee, WI 53203
(414) 662-3680

The City of Madison Department of Civil Rights can be reached at

210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Room 523
Milwaukee, WI 53703
(608) 266-4910

Contact Us

Contact us if you believe you have been subjected to sexual harassment or have any questions regarding your rights in the workplacePlease call a Madison employment discrimination attorney directly at (608) 257-0040 or a Milwaukee employment discrimination attorney at (414) 271-8650, or email us via our Contact Page.

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