Most areas of law and issues of life can be divided into civil law or criminal law. Private and personal relationship and affairs of people and institutions in Nigeria can be generalized as civil law matters/affairs/issues.
Civil law matters offer civil law remedies and do not need the assistance of government, rather private individuals can approach courts to seek justice.
On the other hand, when an offence is committed, whether against an individual (like stealing, rape or sexual harassment) or against government/state (like, destruction of public property, sexual harassment, or embezzlement of public fund) it is a criminal law matter.
Government is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of cases of criminal law, on behalf of victims. Government plays this role on behalf of any persons that has suffered any crime and government uses public fund to do this. It is part of the protection of persons in Nigeria by government.
However, a case can have criminal law matters and civil law matters in it. Our focus now, is on the civil law matters/issues in a case of sexual harassment.
A victim of sexual harassment can approach a court and sue for legal remedies.
Also, the family members, friends and well-wishers of a victim can do same.
Any person can file and pursue a case of enforcement of fundamental human right on behalf of another person.
Any person, including a counsellor, health service provider, member of the Nigeria Police Force, social worker, organization, or teacher, who has an interest in the well-being of the complainant,
The Lagos State Prohibition Against Domestic Violence Law 2007
Section 2(3): “Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, the application, may be brought on behalf of the complainant by any other person; including a counsellor, health service provider, member of the Nigeria Police Force, social worker, organization or teacher, who has an interest in the well-being of the complainant ….”,
Yes, a victim of workplace sexual harassment can file a civil lawsuit against her employer for the damages incurred because of the sexual harassment in workplace, such as lost wages, medical treatment, and pain and suffering. Employers have a duty to provide employees a safe working environment that is free from all forms of discrimination.
An employer may be held vicariously liable for acts of sexual harassment perpetrated by its employee as seen in the Microsoft case. This is possible where it can be shown that reports were made to the employer and the employer did little or nothing to address the issues effectively.
A harasser can be sued for sexual harassment, whether under civil law or criminal law (through government prosecutor). This also applies to any person that supports a harasser.
The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015 (VAPP Act)
the VAPP Act has specific punishments for any form of inciting, aiding, abating, counseling, assistance, and support for the commission of any of offence, including sexual harassment.
By Order 14 Rule 1 and 2 of the National Industrial Court (NIC) Civil Procedure Rules, the following details must be indicated by a claimant or her counsel in the written complaint brought before the court.
Also, where a victim is seeking for an interim Protection Order (under the Lagos State Protection Against Domestic Violence Law), the victim needs to show that the harasser is committing or has committed an act of domestic violence; and that undue hardship may be suffered by the complainant because of such domestic violence, if a protection order is not issued immediately.
Bringing a civil claim can be challenging and as such needs some skill. Any person can bring a civil claim personally or through a legal practitioner. However, it is advisable civil claims are filed in courts through legal practitioners.
A female victim of sexual harassment in a workplace can sue her employer, (which in most cases is the company or organization that you work for). This will enable the victim to seek damages and compensation for any loss, care, hospital bills and treatments. This is possible since for every case of workplace sexual harassment, an employer can be held vicariously liable under a civil claim.
Employers are the owners of workplaces; they are responsible for bringing people together to work. As such, an employer has a duty to ensure that no employee is maltreated and sexually harassed by another employee or the employer. Where an employer fails in this duty, the employer must pay for his/her negligence.
A victim hoping to be awarded damages, monetary compensation for any injury or loss (whether physical, emotional, financial etc.) suffered because of sexual harassment, needs to sue her employer. After all, it is the employer that engaged a harasser, it is the employer that failed to avoid the sexual harassment and the employer is “where the money is”. A harasser who is a co-worker may not be financially buoyant (when compared to the employer) and may not afford the kind of money that a victim may need to be treated and compensated.
However, the victim must first ensure that she reports any case of sexual harassment to her employer and she should keep good records of her reports and any intervention by the employer. Note that, suing an employer does not prevent a victim from also suing the harasser.
This option could cover issues of enforcement of fundamental human rights and torts (assault and trespass to person).
Approaching a court of law to seek justice against a harasser requires some technical skills and information. Below are tips that will help the process of seeking civil remedies:
Going to court to seek justice offers civil law remedies to victims of sexual harassment. Among such remedies are:
A certain amount of money may be awarded to a successful Claimant (victim of sexual harassment) as compensation for any pain, loss or injury suffered because of sexual harassment.
Stella Ayam Odey v. Ferdinand Daapah & Cuso International (2017),
The Claimant was subjected to sexual harassment from a week after her employment till a period of 6 months. The harassment included saying her voice arrests him, slapping her buttocks and embracing her against her consent. Subsequently, the claimant’s wedding invitation was given to the 1st defendant and he demanded that the Claimant resign but she refused. As a result, her employment was terminated. The Court held the fundamental right of the Claimant to have been breached and awarded a special damage sum of N16,862,511.00.
The Restraining Order, (also called a “protective order”) is a court order that can protect victim from a harasser to avoid continued harassment or subsequent harassment. A Protective Order prevents the harasser from coming close to the victim or sharing a property with the victim. For example, 200 meters may be ordered by the court to be maintained by a harasser away from a victim.
Key resource: thenigerialawyer.com, for more information visit their website via this link.
Where in a civil case there is an application for the enforcement of fundamental human rights, a court can order a harasser to write and publish an apology.
Any other remedy
The court can order anything that the court considers appropriate for the enforcement of fundamental human right of a victim.