Laws in Texas were created to serve a variety of purposes. One vital reason for law is to help maintain public peace and order by criminalizing violent or criminal behavior. Some laws try to meet this goal by criminalizing specific behavior that is threatening or undesirable – like the laws that surround criminal harassment as opposed to civil harassment.
A recent case out of Dallas against a restaurant chain shows just how harassment laws have been put to the test. In this particular case, 34 former employees of the restaurant filed a federal lawsuit that claimed the organization had a rating system for their bodies in uniform, which they asserted was tantamount to harassment and sex discrimination. Those with high “body ratings” got the more lucrative sections of the restaurant, while those with lower scores were allegedly threatened with the termination of their jobs.
This case may count as civil harassment, but it’s still harassment – which begs the question: what is the difference between civil and criminal harassment? Read on to find out more, as well as penalties that can be associated with a criminal harassment conviction.
What Qualifies as Harassment in TX?
Texas law defines harassment as “an act meant to annoy, torment, embarrass, abuse, alarm, or harass another person”. The act of harassment must be a behavior to meet the elements of this crime under Texas law.
Civil harassment is defined as “an injury to a person based on their protected status”, such as gender or disability. In contrast, criminal harassment takes place if the harassing action causes fear for the victim.
A few actions that are considered criminal harassment in Texas include:
- Threatening someone with physical harm
- Threatening to commit a felony offense against someone, their property, or one of their family members
- Requesting that someone perform an obscene activity, such as a sexual favor
- Falsely reporting that someone has suffered severe bodily injury or death
- Calling someone repeatedly on the phone in a manner meant to be annoying (includes calls in which the harasser does not hang up, even if they don’t speak)
- Sending electronic communications, like text messages or emails, in a threatening, abusive, or annoying manner
For many definitions of harassment under Texas law, the behavior has to be done in a way that’s likely to cause alarm to the person receiving the communications. This is stipulated so that a person won’t be penalized for acting in a way that could resemble harassment without intending alarm — like a telemarketer making cold calls.
Penalties for Harassment in TX
If you are convicted of criminal harassment in Texas, there are serious penalties, even without prior convictions. For a first-time harassment conviction, you may receive up to six months in jail and fines up to $2,000. If you are convicted a second time, then you face Class A misdemeanor charges. Those can land you in jail as long as one year. You also may be required to pay a fine as high as $4,000.
Additionally, those convicted of harassment can be served with a restraining order, which means they cannot legally have contact with the person named in the order. Violation of a restraining order can add penalties to the sentence.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.