Sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment
Chastity Jones, is a 42-year-old single mother, who worked as a sales accountant Hologram USA and FilmOn.TV, companies owned by billionaire Alkiviades David. FilmOn.TV Networks is an online television service and Hologram USA operates a hologram theater in Hollywood that has produced holographic images of entertainers Billie Holiday, Jackie Wilson and Bernie Mac.
Jones said that during her employment at David’s companies, David subjected her to a barrage of sexually harassing conduct. Jones said David forced her to watch a repulsive fetish video. David also hired a male stripper to come to the workplace during an executive’s birthday celebration. She said she found the stripper’s appearance offensive and considered it sexual harassment. Jones said David gave her unwanted shoulder rubs while she worked. Jones also claimed sexual battery which included three incidents where David, while at the workplace, touched Jones’ private parts without her consent.
Jones said she was hired in January 2015 but was fired in November 2016 because she refused to have sex with David. Jones sued David and his companies for wrongful termination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and battery, and retaliation.
Although the law is not designed to rid the workplace of vulgarity, specific conduct may cross the line from “vulgarity” into sexual harassment. Courts recognize two types of sexual harassment. The first type is called quid pro quo harassment. This harassment exists when submission to a sexual conduct is made a condition of employment benefits. When Jones was fired for refusing to submit to David’s sexual demands, it can be argued that sex with David was a condition of Jones’ continued employment at David’s companies.
The second type involves harassment created by a “hostile environment.” This claim may arise where unwelcome sexual conduct interferes with an employee’s job performance or creates a hostile working environment, even if it does not lead to economic job benefits. In Jones’ case, David’s unwelcome sexual comments and inappropriate touching of Jones despite her requests to stop created a hostile work environment for her (and others who witnessed this interaction), even if there was no threat of termination. The hiring of the stripper may also have crossed the line and created a hostile environment for those who found it offensive, as Jones did.
In either type of sexual harassment, the complainant must establish that the sexual conduct is unwelcome, or must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.
If the employee’s efforts to end sexual harassment by reporting it to management resulted in suspension or termination, management’s conduct may be retaliation. Sexual harassment and retaliation cases are taken seriously by the courts and the juries.
In Jones’ case, the jury found David and his companies liable for sexual harassment and sexual battery. The jury agreed that she was wrongfully terminated after refusing David’s advances. The jury also deemed that workplace management knew or should have known about the harassment and hostile environment but failed to stop it. The jury awarded Jones $3.1 million in compensatory damages. The jury also found that the employers acted with malice, fraud or oppression, which entitled Jones to punitive damages. After hearing evidence regarding the malicious and oppressive nature of David’s conduct, the jury ordered David to pay $8 million in punitive damages for committing sexual battery.
The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas in 2018.]