Category: Sexual Harassment

A Wildfire in Silicon Valley Ignited

After decades of thinking, “this is just the way things are” the defeat of Ellen Pao ignited a new sensitivity to possible gender discrimination, especially in Silicon Valley. Thus far, two new lawsuits have been filed in the technology mecca, both by women complaining of discrimination and bias based on sex.

Elisabeth Sussex, former counsel for wearable technology company Jawbone, file a wrongful termination suit against her former employer. She alleges that over a year earlier, she filed a complaint against the chief technology officer, Michael Luna for his demeaning behavior. Regardless of her performance, Sussex always received a negative review from Luna. The most recent one being only one month before her termination. She was demoted based on, what she alleges to be, inaccurate and fabricated facts.

Sussex was terminated in April 2014. She further alleges that Luna’s behavior specifically turned female employees away and that kind of behavior was saved for female employees only.

Another Silicon Valley lawsuit details not only gender discrimination, but race discrimination and sexual harassment as well. Heather McCloskey worked for Paymentwall Inc., an online based payment system. McCloskley alleges that her supervisor, Benoit Boisset  said she was in need of a good spanking because she was a “bad girl.” Benoit also compared McCloskey’s chest to an airport runway and mimed oral sex acts toward her.

McCloskey complained, in writing to the CEO, and was fired two weeks later. McCloskey, who was only twenty-three at the time of the incident, had work piled on her with impossible expectations—a mere pretext for her termination.

Pao, though not a favorable verdict for the plaintiff, opened many other Silicon Valley women’s eyes to the possible disparate treatment around them.

Source: Daily Journal

The Wolf of Humphrey’s County

Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Wolf of Wall Street” depicts powerful men in high places living a life of sex and drugs. It seems a Humphrey’s County, Tennessee superintendent saw himself as one of DiCaprio’s men. Jimmy Long is now being sued by a bookkeeper for the school district, Teresa Smith.

Smith alleges in her suit that Long bragged about his open marriage and continually propositioned Smith for sex. The bookkeeper complained to county commissioners, as well as the Tennessee State Controller about the harassment. In her email complaint, Smith also accused the superintendent of misusing district funds for his own personal use, and allowed other, retired district officials to do the same.

The embezzlement of funds aside, the bulk of Smith’s complaints stemmed from Long’s overtly sexual behavior. Long grabbed Smith aggressively and in a sexually suggestive way. Often, he would make comments about Smith’s breasts and speak about sexual stimulation products he utilized.

Her complaints, Smith alleges, were continually ignored and eventually led to her termination. The suit seeks lost wages, lost benefits, lost future wages, compensatory and punitive damages.

In California, this falls under a classic case of hostile work environment sexual harassment. Long’s behavior toward Smith was pervasive and created a sexually charged working environment. Long was Smith’s superior, establishing liability on the part of the school district. She also reported the situation to over the superintendent’s house, but she was met with silence. If this situation sounds similar to you in California, don’t hesitate to give our Aegis attorneys a call.

How Social Media and Technology Changed the Landscape of Sexual Harassment

There is a fine line between co-worker and personal friend. Although it was not uncommon for work buddies to turn into friends outside the office before, the rise of technology and social media has often made it increasingly difficult to establish boundaries with co-workers.

In an age of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and social media related dating applications—Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, OKCupid, casual relationships initiated at the office but facilitated by social media is on the rise. It is now easier than ever to know what your co-worker is doing on the weekend without talking to them than before. It almost makes you feel as if you’re closer with that person, knowing what they are doing when you are apart.

San Francisco employment attorney, David Lowe, commented that “social media…creates more opportunity for people to cross the line between professional and unprofessional conduct.” The instantaneousness of social media and technology allows information, both good and bad, to be accessible at our fingertips.

1 in 4 women in a study conducted by Cosmopolitan Magazine, indicated they have been sexually harassed from lewd texts or emails in the workplace. Others have claim they were confronted with sexually explicit materials on office computers, co-workers’ phones, or find comprising images of themselves leaked to the workplace.

Technology has made sexual harassment more complicated than an inappropriate grab at your body or a drunken wink and smile. In this day, sexual harassment can be a winky emoticon following a comment about your clothing, or a person of the same gender’s email to you, asking for sexual advice when you’re not comfortable speaking about things like that.

Does sexual harassment via social media and technology sound familiar to you? You might not have realized it was harassment, but if you felt uncomfortable, then it could be the case. It’s always a good idea to memorialize any existing messages, photos, emails, etc. that showcase a pattern of uncomfortableness. Be careful of your response too. If you get a winky emoticon and it actually makes you uncomfortable, you are in no way obligated to send a winky back.

Concerned that these circumstances apply to you? Give an Aegis attorney a call.

Source: Forbes & Cosmopolitan Magazine

All the Days of our West Hollywood Lives

This is a tale of soap operatic proportions. Let’s meet the characters of this story, in fair West Hollywood where we set our scene.

First, there is Ian Owens, a deputy to a city council man of West Hollywood. He is accused of bugging a co-worker’s office to prove her of wrongdoing.

Enter the co-worker, Fran Soloman, who is the deputy to another councilman that works with Owens’s boss. She is accused of soliciting unethical campaign contributions for her boss from wealthy developers.

Now comes the two bosses at the heart of the matter. Owens’s boss was Councilman John Duran. He is accused of having a sexual encounter with Owens and then hiring him after they met on Grindr, a dating app for homosexual men. Afterwards, Duran purportedly continued his attempts at a sexual relationship with Owens, despite Owens’s consistent rebuffs.

Soloman’s boss was Councilman John Heilman. Heilman isn’t directly accused of everything but is swept up in this dramatic tale.

So here’s how the story unfolds. Owens, suspecting Soloman was up to no good, reported it to his boss, Duran. Duran refused to entertain the idea because he was upset at Owens for not engaging in a relationship with him. So Owens took matters into his own hands and became what he calls the “whistle blower.” He placed surveillance bugs in Soloman’s office, though Owens’s is now claiming he just heard her through the thin walls. Regardless, after listening to these conversations one way or another, Owens created a spreadsheet of quotes from Soloman’s phone conversations in her office. That spreadsheet was then emailed to city residents and the city’s resident bloggers.

Owens had emailed out the spreadsheet under an alias, but metadata from the document revealed Owens was the creator. He has since been suspended, on paid administrative leave while the city investigates the allegations from all sources. His attorney is claiming that he is being wrongly punished because he was blowing the whistle on Soloman’s wrongdoings.

Owens’s attorney is demanding that his client be restored to his position, outlining the whistleblowing status of his client as well as the sexual encounters between Owens and Duran.

We’ll keep you updated on the every growing drama that is the West Hollywood City Council.

Source: Los Angeles Times

You Don’t Have to Say Yes to Cupid’s Arrow

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, so today, be prepared for heart shaped chocolates in the break room and flowers being delivered in the lobby. But just because today is Valentine’s Day Eve and tomorrow is the day to celebrate love, does not mean supervisors or fellow employees have an excuse to act inappropriately in the office.

In the case of Johnson v. West, 218 F. 3d 725 (7th Cir. 2000), a supervisor had continually harassed the plaintiff by engaging in appropriate activities and comments. On Valentine’s Day, the supervisor sent the plaintiff a greeting card and said, “I can’t imagine loving you more than I do…but tomorrow I will. Happy Valentine’s Day Sweetheart.” Though originally the court found in favor of the employer, the decision was reversed since the action constituted as a hostile work environment.

This case is not uncommon—employees, both male and female, receive greeting cards or love notes on Valentine’s Day. It is easy to dismiss these actions with a casual, “well it’s Valentine’s Day,” and shrug it off. In the state of California, employees have the right to work in an environment free from harassment. Sexual advances are the most obvious form of sexual harassment, but a plaintiff need only show that a hostile working environment existed to prevail on a claim.

Source: Mackey v. Dep’t of Corrections, 105 Cal.App.4th 945 (2003); Johnson v. West, 218 F. 3d 725 (7th Cir. 2000); HRlegalist.com