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What Defines Sexual Harassment

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Sexual harassment is unlawful in New Jersey under both state and federal law. Under both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is understood as a form of unlawful discrimination. Sexual harassment in the New Jersey workplace can take many different forms, and various types of language or behavior may constitute unlawful sexual harassment. Our New Jersey sexual harassment attorneys can provide you with more information about how sexual harassment is defined and what types of circumstances may involve unlawful sexual harassment.


Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination or gender discrimination under the LAD and under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII and explains that sexual harassment can include “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” At the same time, it is important to be understand that sexual harassment “does not have to be of a sexual nature,” as the EEOC explains, but rather “can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.”

Generally speaking, sexual harassment takes two different forms:

  • 1) Quid pro quo harassment, or “this for that” harassment. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights defines quid pro quo harassment to include situations where “a benefit, like a promotion, is conditioned on sexual favors, or when an adverse action like being fired is threatened if you refuse a sexual advance.”
  • 2) Hostile work environment harassment. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights explains that a hostile work environment can exist as a result of sexual harassment “when you are subjected to unwanted harassing conduct based on gender in the workplace that is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive.”

Under federal and state law, these forms of sexual harassment may include language alone, physical actions alone such as touching, or a combination. In some cases, sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment may also include the display of visual materials, like pornographic images. Sexual harassment can occur in person or electronically over email, text, Zoom, or other work platforms and modes of communication.


Both state and federal law protect against sexual harassment in the workplace, but it is essential to know who is specifically protected by these laws. Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, which means that an employee who faces sexual harassment in the workplace can only bring a federal claim if they work for an employer with 15 or more employees. Further, to be eligible for protection under federal law, a person who has faced sexual harassment must be classified as an employer (as opposed to an independent contractor).

Differently, the New Jersey LAD applies to every employer in New Jersey regardless of the employer’s size — even if the employer has only 1 employee. In addition, the LAD protects independent contractors in New Jersey from sexual harassment.


If you have questions about what defines sexual harassment, or whether specific conduct may be considered unlawful sexual harassment, you should seek advice from a New Jersey employment discrimination lawyer. Contact the Law Offices of Usmaan Sleemi for more information.