Harassment: Is It Criminal or Is It Civil?


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Laws serve an essential role in civilizations, including the State of Texas. Laws are designed for the greater good – in an effort to support peace and order at large. Violent and criminal behaviors that are either threatening or generally undesirable are criminalized. There are some behaviors, however, that, although they are socially undesirable, do not reach the level of criminal wrongdoing, and the charge of harassment can walk in both worlds.

A Recent Example

A recent harassment case that was filed by 34 former employees of the suggestively named Twin Peaks Dallas-based restaurant chain highlights the distinction between civil and criminal harassment charges. The employees filed a joint federal lawsuit claiming that the company employs a system that it uses to rate its servers’ bodies in their work uniforms (which are scanty at best). The top scorers were allegedly awarded the better-paying serving areas, while the low scorers worked the lower-paying beats and were threatened with termination. The servers involved in the case contend that the rating system amounts to both harassment and sex discrimination. Still, this civil harassment case highlights the question of what distinguishes a civil from a criminal harassment case in the first place.


In Texas, harassment is defined as an act that is intended to abuse, annoy, alarm, embarrass, harass, or torment someone else. Civil harassment is further defined as harassment that is intended to injure the victim based on his or her protected class, including race, gender, disability, and more (in the case above, the charge is based on the women’s gender). Criminal harassment, on the other hand, is defined as a harassing act that causes the victim to experience fear. Some of the actions that qualify as criminal harassment in Texas include:

  • Sending electronic communications, such as texts, DMs, or emails, that are abusive, annoying, or threatening in nature

  • Threatening someone else with physical harm

  • threatening to commit a felony offense against someone else, his or her family member, or his or her property

  • Falsely reporting someone else’s death or severe bodily injury

  • Repeatedly making calls to someone else in an attempt to be annoying

  • Requesting that someone else perform an obscene act – like a sexual favor

The Element of Intention

For the act in question to reach the level of harassment in Texas, the accused must have intended for his or her actions to cause the person on the receiving end to be alarmed. Doing this is intended to protect those whose actions might be misconstrued as harassment but who have no intention of causing alarm (telemarketers making routine phone calls are good examples).

Do Not Wait to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney

If you face a criminal charge of any kind, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is an accomplished criminal defense attorney who understands the serious nature of your situation and is committed to skillfully advocating for your case’s optimal resolution. To learn more, please contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today.
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