Category: Sexual Harassment

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);

No One Is Immune From Harassment – Not Even Lawyers

Often when you are dealing with employment issues, you’re looking at companies with all the bargaining power taking advantage of or punishing underpaid workers who don’t have many options.  That’s not always the case, though: even highly paid, sophisticated professionals can find themselves victims of an unscrupulous company or boss.

Even lawyers, who many people might assume are immune to bad corporate behavior, can end up in the same boat as other employees as victims of sexual harassment, retaliation, and other illegal conduct.

For example, the top U.S. lawyer for a large IT outsourcing company just revealed through a lawsuit that she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor, the company’s global head of its legal department.  Despite having a successful twenty years in the legal profession, a prestigious position, and even a seat on the company’s anti-harassment committee, the female attorney was “treated as a piece of meat,” according to her attorney.

The lawsuit explains that the lawyer’s boss asked her to take him to a strip club, insisted that the lawyer come back to his hotel with him, and proposed they have an affair.  He didn’t stop there – he forced a kiss and other unwanted sexual contact on her.  To top it off, her supervisor suggested that a promotion the lawyer had been promised was contingent on her coming to his hotel room and, impliedly, consenting to his sexual demands.

Like many employees, the lawyer had no real way to deal with the harassment.  Her boss was good buddies with the CEO, and the lawyer knew that other harassment claims had been swept under the rug.

After her supervisor began retaliating against her, first by denying her the promised promotion and then by taking projects away from her and undermining and reversing her decisions, the lawyer realized the only option she had was to resign – and, now, file a lawsuit.

The unfortunate lesson from this lawyer’s situation is that sexual harassment is still far too common in the workplace and that employees, no matter their level or experience, too often have no real recourse within their companies.  That is where attorneys like Aegis Law Firm come in.  If you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, we may be able to help.

Sometimes Law Firms Do It Too

Chicago based national law firm, Arnstein & Lehr, is on the receiving end of a lawsuit. A terminated legal secretary filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the one of the firm’s managing partners alleging bizarre sexual behavior.

The former legal secretary, Dasschinka Storani, was fired after the firm accused her for wrongfully claiming compensation for unworked hours. She responded saying that the firm did not compensate her for being “on call” to the partner all day, every day. The partner, Alan Kipnis, and Storani worked for the Ft. Lauderdale office of the firm. Kipnis would constantly text and email Storani all hours of the day and night and if she did not respond, Kipnis would react hostilely in the office the next day.

Kipnis would also enlist Storani to do odd things for him in the office, including injecting a shot of B-12 in his buttocks. He would often say sexually pervasive comments about oral sex and would speak about sex with her. Storani was often reminded when she was hiring new employees that Kipnis preferred “young and attractive” staffers. Though she endured everything Kipnis did to her, she was terminated for the alleged time card fraud.

Arstein & Lehr are denying the claims, saying that they previously had conducted an investigation into the issue. “We found there was no basis for any liability, said the firm’s chairman.

Source: ABA Journal

Opening 2015 With an Investigation

2014 was the year of judge mishaps. The year closed with another inquiry into a judge’s behavior toward a subordinate. Thus 2015 opens with the news of yet another California judge’s indiscretions in and out of his chambers.

The Commission on Judicial Performance publicly charged Tulare County Judge Valeriano Saucedo of inappropriate conduct. It all started with a “special friend” request from Saucedo to a female clerk that worked in his courtroom. The judge presented an anonymous letter addressed to the clerk, claiming that a copy had been sent her husband’s workplace. As a favor, Saucedo said he could have the letter destroyed before it reached the clerk’s husband.

Saucedo asked for the female employee’s trust in the matter; he claimed he would take care of the situation and her. Allegedly, the judge had written the letter himself.

Keeping his promise of taking care of the clerk, Saucedo then began showering her with gifts and financial perks. He sent her flowers, commanding her to pretend they were from her husband, paid for a Disneyland trip for her family, and bought her a new car. The clerk allegedly had extreme financial issues—sometimes with only $10 to her name—so Saucedo supplemented her income. On one occasion, the judge gave his clerk $8,000 to pay for expenses related to the Disneyland trip that had not been previously paid for.

Soon, the perks seem to turn into a kind of obsession. The Commission presented numerous text messages where Saucedo told her that he needed to hear from her. He asked her if he was her “ordinary friend” or “special friend.”

At this point, the clerk was troubled at the sheer amount of text messages and correspondence she was receiving from Saucedo. She had denied a request to turn the relationship romantic and now felt the need to tell her husband of the situation.

Saucedo threatened that her job was “toast” and that he was going to commit suicide. The clerk threatened to call 911. Two weeks after the altercation, she requested a transfer to a different court room.

While a Commission investigation is underway, it is not a lawsuit…yet. We will keep you posted if the clerk decides to pursue action in civil court.


Source: Daily Journal

The Most Bizarre Employment News Stories of 2014

On the last day of the year, we thought it would be fun to look back throughout 2014 and reflect on the most interesting, bizarre employment new stories we’ve heard. While we have seen significant changes to the landscape in terms of the employment law, it has not halted a steady stream of odd lawsuits. So what’s in our Top 5?

5. Tyra Banks and America’s Next Top Model Sued for Cheating Real WinnerCycle 14 of “America’s Next Model” featured former contestants from previous cycles competing for a modeling contract prize. Oddly, before the finale was aired, Tyra Banks informed audiences that the finale had to be re-filmed after production wrapped since one of the final three contestants, Angelea Preston, had been disqualified.

Preston filed a lawsuit stating that she was the real winner of Cycle 14 and therefore should be entitled to the prize. She alleges that the reason she was disqualified held no merit and anything suspect was reported before the cycle’s filming began. Preston was allegedly terminated from the show for her previous experience as an escort. She is demanding $3 million.

4. “My Supervisor Pushed Me Down the Stairs”-Santa Fe County Clerk employee Jayla Ortiz loved her job as a recording clerk. However, when her supervisor learned she was gay, things changed. One day, in a heated argument at the top of a staircase, Ortiz alleges that her supervisor, Esther Artino, pushed her and sent her toppling down the stairs.

Ortiz was found at the bottom of the steps pooled in her own blood. She filed a discrimination lawsuit based on sexual orientation. Ortiz is also accusing negligence since Artino purportedly walked away from Ortiz at the bottom of the stairs and left her.

We often hear about altercations in the workplace, but rarely as violent as this one.

3. How Did the NFL Get Away with Paying Their Cheerleaders Pennies?-An Oakland Raiders cheerleader was the face that launched multiple lawsuits. Lacy, a former Raiderette, sued on the behalf of cheerleaders similarly situated with the team, for minimum wage violations. The cheerleaders were being paid per game, never paid for endless hours of practices, and fined for various appearance infractions, like having the wrong color hair and wearing the wrong uniform.

One would think in such a high profile industry such as professional athletics, this practice would be caught before now. Evidently not.

Lacy’s lawsuit inspired similar suits across the country. Cheerleaders from the Jets, Bengals, and Bills followed suit.

2. Taking No Shave November Too Seriously– A female storeroom employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company for failing to prevent a manager from constantly and pervasively harassing her. It started off as a traditional case of sexual harassment; the manager would attempt to put his arm around the female subordinate or even try to kiss her.

After she rebuffed him several times, the manager ultimately locked them together into his office and forced a pair of tweezers in her hand. He then demanded her to pluck an ingrown hair from his chin. After that, he tried to kiss her.

The employee was eventually terminated for performance. If it wasn’t for the chin hair, this might be a fairly standard case, but that fact makes it pretty bizarre.

1. The Obvious Answer to a Dispute at Work is…Poison?!– The most bizarre story of 2014 had to be the alleged poisoning of a medical worker after a workplace fight.

A medical assistant was hired by a medical staffing company at an office where said assistant and a permanent employee were not getting along. One day their disagreements escalated to a verbal altercation. After the altercation, the medical assistant poisoned her co-worker’s water bottle with carbolic acid. The permanent employee sustained burns on her tongue and mouth.

The permanent employee sued both the medical assistant and the staffing agency, claiming that the agency had neglected its duties of training the latter in better conflict resolution than poison. The court found the agency not liable because the medical assistant’s actions were not within a reasonable scope of the employment. The individual medical assistant, though, can be personally liable.

Those are just five stories that proved news worthy in 2014. We all eagerly await what 2015 has in store!