Category: Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is often dismissed as the inappropriate actions of a lone individual. But in many cases, sexual harassment is pervasive throughout a company’s culture. Even a change in ownership may not put an end to sexual harassment, and in some cases it can make the problem worse.

Plant Owner Held Liable for Sexual Harassment That Began Under Former Owner

Recently the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) obtained a $1.47 million judgment against a Fresno, California, company over sexual harassment that began when the business was under a different owner. According to the EEOC, several employees at a fruit processing plant complained of sexual harassment. For example, a female employee alleged that a male supervisor had offered her a “better position in exchange for sex,” and repeatedly subjected to her harassing conduct including “hugging her from behind, grabbing her buttocks, rubbing her arm, following her, telling her that she was pretty, and making comments regarding her physical appearance.”

The employee complained to management about the sexual harassment but “no corrective action was taken,” according to the EEOC. To the contrary, several other employees filed similar sexual harassment complaint. In response, the EEOC said management retaliated against the complaining employees, “including but not limited to termination.”

A few months after these sexual harassment complaints surfaced, the plant was sold to a new owner. The new company rehired many of the same managers—including the former owner and human resource manager—while not rehiring many of the employees who complained about sexual harassment. In addition, new sexual harassment complaints emerged after the new ownership took over. A female employee complained that a male supervisor had made “harassing telephone calls” demanding she date him. This same supervisor also “threaten[ed] other female employees that their continued employment…would be dependent on their acquiescence to his advances.”

Multiple employees ultimately filed a complaint with the EEOC. After an investigation, the EEOC determined there was widespread sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC sued both the current and former owners of the plant. Last year, the former owner settled the EEOC’s charges, agreeing to pay $330,000 in damaged to the harassed employees.

As for the current owner, it never bothered to contest the EEOC’s charges. On July 22 a federal judge in Fresno, adopting an earlier report and recommendation from a magistrate judge, entered a default judgment in favor of the EEOC. The judge said that it was proper to hold the new owner responsible for sexual harassment that occurred under the former owner because the new owner “took adverse employment actions against the complaining employees, including selectively failing to rehire those employees who reported harassment.” The judge awarded $200,000 to each of the nine employees affected by the sexual harassment—a total of $1.8 million, which was offset by the $330,000 judgment previously assessed against the former owner.

Taking Sexual Harassment Seriously

If you are a victim of sexual harassment, it is not enough to simply complain to your supervisor and hope for corrective action. Too many companies fail to take harassment seriously, or worse, may engage in illegal retaliation. That is why you need a qualified California workplace discrimination lawyer on your side. Contact the Briski Law Firm if you need to speak with an experienced sexual harassment attorney right away.