Sexual Harassment Laws Applicable to Service Providers and their Clients/Patients in California

In 1994, the California legislature enacted Civil Code section 51.9 to address the relationship between providers of professional services and their clients. The statute sets out a non-exclusive list of such providers, which includes physicians, psychiatrists, dentists, attorneys, real estate agents, accountants, bankers, building contractors, executors, trustees, landlords, and teacher; also falling within the statute’s reach is sexual harassment in any relationship that is substantially similar to the ones specifically listed. Thus, for instance, a certified nursing assistant’s relationship with a patient is either a service or professional relationship with that patient, and would support statutory liability for sexual harassment within this section within a “business, service, or professional” relationship.

Under Cal. Civ. Code section 51.9, the victim must establish not only that a qualifying “relationship” exists, but also that the relationship is one that the claimant cannot easily terminate. The claimant must also show both that the harasser made sexual advances, solicitations, sexual requests, demands for sexual compliance, or engaged in other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature or of a hostile nature based on gender, that were unwelcome and pervasive or severe. The standard for determining whether the conduct is severe and pervasive is similar to the one applicable to the sexual harassment at California workplace.

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