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Colorado Sex Crimes Criminal Law – Sexual Harassment Is Not A Colorado Sex Crime – Understanding The Difference Between A Civil Law Suit and A Colorado Sex Crime

Introduction – Harassment IS a crime in Colorado – And Unlawful Sexual Contact IS a crime in Colorado. However Sexual Harassment – for example – in the workplace – is a ground for a civil lawsuit and money damages.  This web page addresses the confusion between the terms of Sexual Harassment and Unlawful Sexual Contact.

Sexual Harassment is generally defined as any kind of sexual misconduct.

Sexual Harassment is divided into 2 types:

1. Where submission to or rejection of sexual advances by a person is used as a factor in decisions about hiring, firing, evaluation, promotion, or other aspects of employment.

2. Where this conduct unreasonably interferes with the person’s job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. When sexual harassment occurs in the work place, employers have the first responsibility to deal with the problem. If the situation is not dealt with, the victim(s) of the harassment may choose to file a formal complaint in the courts.

Under Colorado law it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire, to discharge, to promote, to demote, or to discriminate against any person in regard to sex. It is also illegal for any employer to fire an employee because they have brought about a law suit or are involved in a court case due to sexual harassment/discrimination (24-34-402). If a person or an organization is found to have been discriminatory, they may be ordered to take action in regard to: back pay, hiring, reinstatement, upgrading of employees, etc (24-34-405).*

Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual advances, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, or requests for sexual favors when rejection or submission affects an employee’s employment, impacts his or her work performance or creates a hostile work environment

Sometimes the Two Cross Over – as excerpted from the following Denver Post article about a well known Colorado Criminal Prosecution on the Western Slope involving a former DA Myrl Serra –

It is important to note that Serra was not convicted of Sexual Harassment – he was convicted of Colorado Criminal Extortion and Unlawful Sexual Contact

While sexual-harassment claims continue to decline in Colorado and nationwide, former 7th Judicial District Attorney Myrl Serra’s conviction for exacting sexual favors from his employees offers a reminder that egregious misconduct still occurs in all variety of workplaces.

Experts also warn that a troubled economy creates a more difficult environment for vulnerable victims, who may be less inclined to risk their jobs by reporting abuse.

Three women who worked in Serra’s Montrose office told authorities that he threatened their jobs, frequently exposed himself, grabbed them and forced them to provide sexual favors — crossing a line from harassment to assault — during a three-year period.

Serra, who has since been disbarred, is scheduled to be sentenced today on a felony extortion count and a misdemeanor count of unlawful sexual contact, along with charges related to bond violations.

..

Nationwide, the number of complaints of sexual harassment has dropped by more than 25 percent in the past decade to 11,717 claims filed in 2010, according to the most recent information available from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Some attribute the drop to high-profile court victories for victims and a push to educate employers about sexual misconduct in the office. Others point out that the sharp, 15 percent drop nationwide between 2008 and 2010 coincides with the economic downturn.

Erin Jemison, director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said sexual harassment often is the first step toward sexual assault.

Offices, she said, combine two ingredients key to the bulk of sexual-assault cases: dynamics that give an aggressor leverage and prolonged proximity to potential victims.

“It’s all about the power piece, and the workplace is an obvious place for that to happen,” Jemison said. “They look for victims who are vulnerable or who they can make vulnerable.”

Sexual-assault trauma expert Jean McAllister interviewed Serra’s victims and wrote in a court document that the women felt “hunted” and “held hostage” in the office.

McAllister wrote that victims of sexual abuse often blame themselves and can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Victims who experience trauma in circumstances where they have ongoing relationships with their offenders, such as sexual harassment and victimization in the workplace, are more likely to experience serious trauma reactions,” she wrote.

Serra, 50, agreed in October that the prosecution could prove he had committed felony extortion and unlawful sexual contact. He entered a so-called Alford plea, which is treated as a conviction but in which he does not admit guilt.

Credit for this Denver Post Article  – Jessica Fender

Here is the relevant portion of Colorado’s Sexual Harassment Civil Law

 *24-34-402. Discriminatory or unfair employment practices

(1) It shall be a discriminatory or unfair employment practice:

(a) For an employer to refuse to hire, to discharge, to promote or demote, to harass during the course of employment, or to discriminate in matters of compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment against any person otherwise qualified because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry; but, with regard to a disability, it is not a discriminatory or an unfair employment practice for an employer to act as provided in this paragraph (a) if there is no reasonable accommodation that the employer can make with regard to the disability, the disability actually disqualifies the person from the job, and the disability has a significant impact on the job.

For purposes of this paragraph (a), “harass” means to create a hostile work environment based upon an individual’s race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, or religion. Notwithstanding the provisions of this paragraph (a), harassment is not an illegal act unless a complaint is filed with the appropriate authority at the complainant’s workplace and such authority fails to initiate a reasonable investigation of a complaint and take prompt remedial action if appropriate.


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___________________________
H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
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