Attorney: Victims of workplace sexual abuse have options

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As more women are going public about sexual harassment they have faced in their workplace, many are wondering what type of legal recourse they can take.

Rutgers instructor and attorney Jim Cooney says that these women should feel empowered and not afraid to call a lawyer for advice.

Cooney says that many attorneys will listen to details of the victims’ cases without charging them. He also says that New Jersey could be one of the early states to ban nondisclosure agreements so victims can speak out after settlements.

“This is actually a public safety issue,” he says. “If there’s a harasser out there, might be a pattern harasser, having one woman agree not to talk about it might keep other women at risk.”

Cooney says that anyone who is facing repeated sexual harassment and wants to build a case should write down the incidents with dates and times. He also says that recording the inappropriate behavior on a cellphone can provide strong evidence. Recording someone is legal in New Jersey as long as it is not over the phone lines.

“More of the harassment will occur behind closed doors, obviously trying to avoid witnesses,” Cooney says. “I did have a few cases where my client recorded something incriminating that the harasser said. Those cases obviously settle pretty easily.”

The statute of limitations to file a civil case about harassment in New Jersey is two years. Victims must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days. They must file a case with the Division of Civil Rights within 180 days.

But Cooney says that each case may vary depending on the details.

“If the case involved possible criminal conduct, such as unwanted touching, which could be sexual assault [or] battery, then there may be criminal statutes of limitation that may go longer,” he says.

Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations will be holding professional workshops in December and January for employers to learn how to prevent harassment.

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