Men harassing men has been a “dirty little secret” since time immemorial. It could have taken the form of, “Do this, or I’ll tell your family you’re gay,” or similar threats, or it might have been the usual, “Do this, or you’re fired.” Before the 21st century, even as few as 20 years ago on the cusp of the new millennium, being gay was far less well received, socially, than now. The stigma attached would keep men from saying anything, lest they be called all manner of disagreeable slurs.

There is a distinction between discrimination because of one’s sexual orientation and same-sex harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, it also does not differentiate between heterosexual and homosexual harassment of either the “quid-pro-quo” or “hostile-work-environment” varieties. Instead of sexual-orientation discrimination, it’s plain old sex discrimination.

There’s nothing that says men who don’t welcome sexual advances from their male superiors have anything about which to be ashamed. They are human beings, too, and they deserve the same respect and dignity of others. Just as is common with heterosexual harassment, the quid pro quo can consist of unwelcome touching and other items up to requests for dates and sexual favors.

Even if the superior doesn’t threaten the other man’s job, benefits enrollment, promotion prospects, or other aspects of work, it is still harassment if the words, winks, or other communication, verbal or otherwise, is unwelcome. The unwelcome touching can be as obvious and forceful as grabbing another’s genitals or as subtle as a hand on a shoulder in supposed “support.”

Other harassment includes sexually explicit text messages, inappropriate photos, or offensive emails, chats, or voicemail messages. Interestingly, it’s also possible for a heterosexual boss to sexually harass another man. If, for example, a boss comments about what he’d like to do to “Jane from accounting,” and the man to whom he sends such a hypothetical text message felt uncomfortable about such a message, that is harassment. “Boys will be boys” doesn’t cut it in the #MeToo era.

It’s important to note that the protections of the Civil Rights Act extend beyond the workplace, such as during off-site parties and during the hiring or training process when the employee is either not on company grounds or is not yet considered a full employee. An example would be a boss fondling a male employee’s buttocks on the dance floor at an after-hours party sponsored by the company. Another would be a threat of, “Sleep with me, or I won’t hire you,” during a second interview.

As with heterosexual harassment, the quid pro quo category includes reverse harassment, which might be an employee going to his male boss and saying, “If you give me a raise, I will sleep with you.” Even if someone is a boss, that person is as deserving of respect and dignity as the rank-and-file employees.

In all of these cases, it would be wise to discuss your options with an attorney whose focus is sex discrimination and workplace sexual harassment. The City of New York Commission on Human Rights, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the New York State Division of Human Rights all have work-sharing agreements with each other, and navigating between the three agencies, not to mention the New York State Supreme Court, can be confusing even at the best of times. We have three decades’ experience in dealing with sexual harassment cases and have kept ourselves abreast of the law changes at all levels of government. Should you want to take advantage of of knowledge and advocacy, call us today or come by the office when you have a moment. Initial consultations are free!

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