Category: Hostile Work Environment, Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment and other forms of illegal workplace discrimination can take a terrible toll on a victim’s physical and mental health. Dealing with a hostile supervisor is bad enough. When the employer compounds the problem by retaliating against the employee, there may be a cause of action not only for workplace discrimination, but also intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Ex-Pharmacy Worker Faces Third Damages Trial Over Sexual Harassment, Illegal Firing

Unfortunately, justice for victims of workplace discrimination often does not come quickly. A long-running Los Angeles case offers a useful example. The plaintiff in this case worked at a well-known retail pharmacy chain for nearly 25 years, working her way up from an ice cream “scooper” to a licensed pharmacy technician.

As the result of a 2004 workplace incident, the plaintiff required a medical leave of absence due to mental health concerns. When she returned to work, she was then subject to extended harassment by her supervising pharmacist. According to court records, the pharmacist made “derogatory remarks” about the plaintiff’s mental health, referred to her as “crazy,” and told her she was “too old.”

Rather than support the plaintiff and discipline the pharmacist, human resources took action against the plaintiff based on false information supplied by the pharmacist. The pharmacist also “make false statements about [the plaintiff] as part of a plan to get her fired.” Management eventually learned of this, demoted the pharmacist, and reassigned him to a different store.

This did not, however, improve the plaintiff’s workplace situation. Her new supervisor badmouthed her to customers. A district manager later touched the plaintiff in an inappropriate manner and said he “was going to take care of her.” Around this time, the plaintiff filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A few months later, the plaintiff was fired.

The plaintiff sued the store and the pharmacist, alleging wrongful termination based on her mental health status and complaints regarding sexual harassment, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury heard the case in 2010 and returned a verdict for the plaintiff. The jury awarded her $3.4 million in compensatory damages and another $4.8 million in punitive damages.

The California Second District Court of Appeal threw out the punitive damages award and ordered a new jury to rehear the issue of compensatory damages. This second jury awarded $321,000 in damages based on the plaintiff’s wrongful termination but $0 for the defendants’ intentional infliction of emotional distress. This time, the plaintiff appealed, arguing the second jury’s verdict was “inconsistent.”

The Second District agreed, returning the damages question to be heard for a third time. The first jury found the defendants liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Yet the second jury awarded zero damages. The defendants argued the second jury must have intended the wrongful termination damages to also cover emotional distress. The Second District said that is not how the law works: The defendant’s infliction of emotional distress refers to illegal conduct that took place before the plaintiff’s termination, i.e. the harassment she suffered due to her mental health.

Get Help From a California Sexual Harassment Lawyer

Pursuing a wrongful termination or sexual harassment claim can take many years. An experienced San Jose workplace discrimination attorney is an invaluable ally in holding an irresponsible employer accountable. Contact the Briski Law firm if you have suffered any form of illegal workplace discrimination and require immediate legal assistance.