Des Moines unlawful harassment & hostile work environment law

Federal and state law prohibit employers from creating or allowing harassment or hostile work environments based on an employee's race, nationality, sex, gender, age, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. Unlawful workplace harassment or hostility can interfere with employee's abilities to perform their jobs. Although harassment and hostile work environment claims are common, courts are making such claims increasingly difficult to prove. It's thus important to understand what harassment or a hostile work environment is and what you should do if you believe you're a victim of such a situation.

what is unlawful harassment or a hostile working environment?

Unlawful harassment or a hostile working environment requires proof of harassment based on an employee's race, nationality, sex, gender, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, or sexual orientation. The harassment must be unwelcome, meaning that the employee must not have initiated or participated in the conduct. And, generally, because hostile work environment claims by their nature involve ongoing and repeated conduct, not isolated events, employees must prove that there was more than just one instance of inappropriate conduct.   

Additionally, the employee must prove that the harassment or hostility was objectively and subjectively hostile. The harassing or hostile conduct must be sufficiently severe or pervasive so that a reasonable person would objectively find the plaintiff's work environment to be hostile. To establish the harassment was severe or pervasive, the employee has to prove that he or she subjectively perceived the conduct as abusive.

Harassment and hostility can occur in different ways, such as:

  • Offensive emails and other documents.

  • Offensive comments about a person's race, nationality, sex, gender, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, or sexual orientation.

  • Unwanted touching.

  • Offensive pictures posted in the work environment.

  • Continued unwanted overtures.

  • Statements about clothes.

  • Statements claiming a certain type of job can only be done by someone of a certain race, sex, or other protected characteristic.

  • Offensive jokes.

Who is liable for harassment or a hostile working environment?

The actual harasser or creator of the hostile working environment can be responsible for causing the situation. Employees are generally responsible for their own wrongdoing in these cases. But the employer itself can also be responsible for an employee's misconduct under certain circumstances.

If the harasser is a nonsupervisory employee, the plaintiff must show the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take proper remedial action. Employers are automatically liable for harassment or hostility by a supervisor unless the employer has a legitimate nondiscrimination policy and complaint procedure. In that case, the employee normally has to first use the employer's complaint procedure and allow the employer an opportunity to remedy the harassment or hostility. The employee's failure to do use the employer's internal complaint procedure can be fatal to the harassment or hostility claim in cases involving supervisory employees. But there are exceptions to that rule, and we have successfully sued for harassment and a hostile working environment in supervisory harassment cases even when the employee did not use the employer's internal complaint procedure.

What legal remedies do I have?

You have significant legal rights if you're a victim of unlawful harassment or a hostile working environment. You can recover compensatory damages for lost wages and other economic harm and emotional distress, plus attorney fees and litigation expenses. Maybe even punitive damages.

Your attorney is waiting.

We make every effort to provide a same-day response to all communications received during weekday business hours. Initial telephone calls are always free. If it looks like we can help, it'll be our pleasure to meet with you, learn more about your situation, and lend you a hand. We handle as many of our cases as possible on a contingent fee basis, meaning that there's no fee unless we make a monetary recovery for you.


Erbe Law Firm 
2501 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50312
(515) 281-1460

Erbe Law Firm has proudly served clients throughout Iowa since 2005 from our Des Moines law firm. We look forward to hearing from you to see whether we can do the same for you.

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