Legal Blog

Dealing with Jerks? Three Takeaways on Harassment Claims.

a brunette unhappy woman is exposed to discrimination and harrassment in a modern office from the woman director n front of their colleagues.Dealing with unpleasant people can be very frustrating. Instead of extending common courtesies, they seem to thrive on making things difficult. However, there are some interactions that go beyond the typical “annoyance” and into what can feel like harassment. Such situations can be very stressful and create adverse impacts on an individual’s physical and mental well-being. Legal recourse may come to mind as a way to deal with the situation. Here are a few things to keep in mind:


  1. The legal bar for workplace harassment is high – however, it should not prevent prompt action from employers. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, harassment in the workplace must be “severe and pervasive” – and tied to an individual’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or creed. State/local governments have expanded the definition of protected classes to include veterans as well as marital status. What constitutes “severe and pervasive” is both a subjective and objective legal analysis and typically extends beyond “one-off” comments – a factually-intensive inquiry. I recommend that managers in the workplace review and investigate all claims of harassment (no matter how seemingly small) despite this “high bar.” It is possible that there are circumstances that are not immediately apparent and that may lead to additional exposure/liability if not promptly addressed.
  2. Individuals may have relief or avenues to pursue via the criminal justice system. Sometimes harassment occurs outside of the context of the workplace. While most states do not have a general “harassment” criminal action, there are certain items that may warrant police or government intervention. For example, in Virginia, it is a misdemeanor to intimidate or harass an individual via phone – or online. Similarly, exposing an individual’s social security number or credit card information is similarly a misdemeanor. If you believe that you are being harassed, you can reach out to the police to file a report. Filing a report creates a record of the incident if additional incidents happen in the future.
  3. Look at other ways to potentially address the scenario in addition – or outside of legal remedies. The legal system can provide consequences for improper/bad acts. That being said, related “results” typically take time and can be stressful on all those involved. I recommend that employers that become aware of complaints in harassment consider moving or adjusting the complainant’s work if it involves dealing with the alleged harasser (even though a legal determination of “harassment” has not been reached). Further, accessing mental health services via an Employment Assistance Program (EAP) may allow for a reduction in stress/coping mechanisms for both managers and employees.


Questions about harassment in your life or workplace? Feel free to reach out to me to discuss.

Contact me at or 703.745.1849


Theodora Stringham is a member of Offit Kurman’s Commercial Litigation, Real Estate Law and Transactions, and Employment Law practice groups. Ms. Stringham’s diverse experience is aimed at assisting individuals, businesses, and organizations with growing successfully while minimizing liability. Focusing on real estate and personnel needs, Ms. Stringham executes sustainable plans for real estate development and employee matters. She provides comprehensive representation for everyday growth issues, including, but not limited to, re-zonings, site plan approvals, eminent domain/valuation concerns, employment discrimination, and disciplinary issues. Ms. Stringham’s scope of representation ranges from identifying potential liability and providing counseling/trainings, all the way through representation at trial.