$1.47 Million Awarded to California Workers in Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Case

Jul 26 2016 - Harassment - Gail Cecchettini Whaley

Sexual Harassment Costs Employers

Ignoring employee complaints of sexual harassment could cost you a lot!

Think that sexual harassment is a problem of the past? Think again. By now, employers are well aware that sexual harassment is unlawful under both state and federal law, but that doesn’t stop the problem from occurring.

Sexual harassment charges still make up 17 percent of all charges received by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). And in 2015, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing received over 4,800 complaints of sexual harassment.

Recently, a federal judge ordered a dried fruit processor in California’s Central Valley to pay $1.47 million in damages in a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the EEOC.

According to the EEOC, the court found that two supervisors subjected multiple female farm workers to ongoing sexual harassment by:

  • Conditioning promotions and employment on sexual favors;
  • Continuous sexual advances;
  • Stalking female employees; and
  • Unwanted physical touching and leering.

The female employees complained, as did male employees who witnessed the harassment. These employees were fired soon after their complaints.

The court awarded the maximum allowed by the statute, offset by a previous settlement. The court also ruled that the claimants suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the company’s actions.

It is unlawful to retaliate against workers who complain about harassment or discrimination. Both state and federal law also prohibit retaliation against anyone who provides information during, or participates in, an investigation or lawsuit. Witnesses to harassment, for example, are protected.

“EEOC continues to see sexual harassment and retaliation in the agricultural industry,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for EEOC’s Los Angeles District. “The solidarity that male employees displayed here in supporting and speaking up along with their female co-workers about the severe harassment is a critical component of remedying the pervasive problem of sexual harassment.”

Melissa Barrios, director of EEOC’s Fresno Local Office, added, “With this ruling, the court sends the message that employers who ignore or punish employees for complaining of harassment leave themselves open to greater liability.”

Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content

California companies with 50 or more employees are required by law to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisors within six months of hire or promotion, and every two years thereafter.

Regardless of company size, harassment prevention training for all supervisors and employees is recommended.

CalChamber offers an online, interactive 2-Hour California Harassment Prevention Training making it easy to educate employees and fulfill compliance obligations.

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