Category: Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a serious problem in many California workplaces. In many cases, sexual harassment causes psychological trauma that can last years after the original incident. Additionally, victims of sexual harassment may be unfairly—and illegally—targeted for retaliation by employers desperate to cover up their own misconduct.

Ex-School District Secretary Prevails After Three Trials

A case decided earlier this year by the California Court of Appeals illustrates the lengthy ordeal many sexual harassment victims face in seeking to obtain justice.

The victim in this case worked as a senior administrative secretary for a school district in the Los Angeles area. She reported to one of the district’s assistant superintendents. She also performed assignments for the district’s chief facilities officer (CFO).

According to the victim, over a period of several months the CFO had sent her “sexually suggestive emails which became increasingly explicit in nature.” Although the victim said she was not offended by these emails at first, she eventually made it clear to the CFO he was not interested in a sexual relationship with him. Despite this clear rejection, the victim said that she was called into the CFO’s office one afternoon, at which time he “locked the door” and proceeded to sexually assault her.

The CFO denied this allegation. He claimed the victim had come to his office voluntarily to request a transfer to his department. He further denied any sexual interest in the victim.

Several months after this incident, the CFO filed a workplace complaint against the victim, claiming she had “engaged in misconduct.” The school district appointed outside counsel to investigate. After listening to the both parties, the outside counsel concluded the victim’s account of the alleged sexual assault was more credible than the CFO’s account.

The school district did not take any disciplinary action against the CFO aside from temporarily reducing his and changing his job title. The victim, meanwhile, was demoted, ostensibly for having “personal email exchanges” with the CFO in violation of district policy.

The victim subsequently resigned and sued the school district and the CFO for illegal hostile work environment harassment under the federal Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

The case ended up being tried three times. At the first trial, the school district was allowed to introduce evidence of the victim’s marital problems in an attempt to destroy her credibility. After the jury returned a verdict for the school district, the Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, holding that evidence was not properly admitted. The second trial ended in a mistrial when the school district’s attorneys, ignoring the trial judge’s warnings, again attempted to introduce evidence of the victim’s marital problems.

The victim finally prevailed, at least in part, at the third trial. The jury ruled in her favor on the FEHA claim and awarded her approximately $200,000 in compensatory damages. But the jury also sided with the school district on a cross-claim that the victim had engaged in “intentional misrepresentation” and ordered her to pay $19,500 in damages.

On appeal, the school district raised two points:

  • First, the trial court improperly admitted the testimony of the school district’s outside counsel, which supported the victim’s allegations; and
  • Second, the trial court once again excluded evidence related to the victim’s marital problems.

The Court of Appeals rejected both of these arguments. With respect to the outside counsel’s report, the appeals court said that was admissible evidence given the school district “asserted as a defense at trial that it had properly and timely investigated [the victim’s] sexual harassment complaint.”

As for the victim’s marital problems, the court noted that the victim has an inherent right to “marital privacy” and the “filing of a sexual harassment suit…does not operate as an implicit waiver” of that right.

Get Help From a California Workplace Discrimination Lawyer

As this case illustrates, bringing a sexual harassment case is often not a simple matter. That is why if you have been the victim of any type of workplace discrimination, it is imperative you speak with an experienced San Jose sexual harassment attorney right away. Contact the Briski Law Firm if you require immediate legal assistance.