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The ongoing definition of sexual harassment relationships

Reports of sexual harassment in California are currently filling the state and national news outlets. While these news items tend to concern unwanted sexual advances or offensive sexual comments in the workplace, the scope of sexual harassment code in the state is not strictly limited to events occurring in an office.

New cases are coming to light concerning figures as prominent as film industry magnates and state legislators. The recent statements made by members of the congressional delegation and a congresswoman regarding sexual harassment in the government underscore this. However, a report from Los Angeles Times states that the very possibility of liability between members of congress is a subject of debate.

The root of this controversy, in a legal sense, is most likely found in the California Civil Code's definition of relationships supplying an adequate basis for a sexual harassment claim. There must a professional or other service relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant. The law gives the following examples of potentially liable professionals:

  • Caregivers, such as a dentists or psychotherapists
  • Degreed social workers or attorneys
  • Financial professionals, such as loan officers, debt collectors and bankers
  • Someone acting with power of a will, such as an executor
  • Teachers

While peers in congress are not delineated specifically in the list of relationships suitable for the basis of sexual harassment claims, the law does provide that any professional or business relationship might qualify. If the claims of sexual harassment in the legislature are taken to court, California could see some interesting precedents made in this area of the law.

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