We’ve all heard or read stories about sexual harassment cases in which a victim reports the violation, goes to court, and receives compensation. For those who’ve never experienced sexual harassment, it might be easy to think that the process is easy. Folks with little understanding of this traumatic experience might even ask why a person didn’t just go to HR sooner, or report the abuse to the police.
The reality of the matter is it takes a lot of courage for an employee to stand up to a harasser. Often, employers will be protected by the company, as well as their peers. Not surprisingly, harassed employees often try to endure the harassment for the sake of a paycheck, or in some cases, just move on to another job.
This article was written to discuss some recent cases highlighting the difficulties harassed people experience in their pursuit of justice, and to remind readers that regardless of what critics might say about harassment, it is against California law.
If you’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, or some other type of discrimination, hopefully you’ll find something in this article you can relate to. Hopefully you’ll feel that you’re not alone. Remember, it’s ok to feel uncertain. A good lawyer should be able to answer your questions and help you navigate this difficult period in your life. If you’re wondering whether you should contact an attorney, this article should help you in your decision. If you have questions, feel free to contact our office for answers.
Board Members Ignore Adult Harasser of a 16-Year-Old Girl
In July 2018, the Sacramento Bee reported on the case of a 16-year old girl who worked at the snack bar of a Bel Passi Baseball Park in Modesto. A 37-year youth baseball coach who stood accused of harassing the girl, happened to be married to a member of the Bel Passi ball park’s board. A lawsuit filed against the harasser alleged that board members were dismissive of the girl’s concerns.
According the Bee, several people notified the board of the harassment, including one alleged incident in which the man brushed up against the girl with his body and said “[Expletive] what I could do with you. I would have so much fun with you.”
According to witnesses, two park employees confronted the man, and the alleged harasser became belligerent. The board released a statement to the Beesaying it was prepared to settle the case out of court but maintained that the harassment didn’t occur. The board also stated that the alleged victim denied the incident happened.
However, in one written account obtained by the Bee, a former board member said of the young girl, “she was fearful because she really needed this job.”
It was also reported that the Sacramento Sherriff’s investigators were reviewing the case.
Public Official Accused of Harassment Faces Limited Transparency
In July 2018, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board wrote a piece criticizing a California State Assembly investigation into one of its own members. The focus of the investigation, Assemblyman Devon Mathis, stood accused by a former female staff member of sexual harassment and bullying. A lawsuit filed against Mathis and another male staffer in May 2018 alleged that the female staffer was told “a man could do her job better,” and that she was regularly called a bitch. In one alleged incident, the plaintiff stated that while Mathis was bullying her, she stood her ground. Mathis made a fist and moved toward her.
The Timeseditorial, written months after the woman’s lawsuit was filed, focused on the state Assembly Rules Committee investigation, which found that Mathis had violated the Assembly’s internal policies. The Timeswas critical of the lack of transparency exhibited by the Assembly, a publicly accountable government entity. Rather than detailing the facts of its findings, the Assembly released a heavily redacted letter written to Mathis. In general terms, the letter stated that Mathis had engaged in “locker room talk,” which included sexual comments about his colleagues. But as the Timesnoted, the letter lacked any substantive information.
“How can the public draw any conclusions without knowing what constitutes locker-room talk,” the Timesasked. “Does it mean Mathis cracked the occasional off-color joke – or did he embarrass women by making vulgar propositions?”
Some Harassers Operate Unchallenged for Years
Stories abound of CEOs, employers, and hiring managers who abuse their power, sometimes for years, and sometimes hidden in plain sight. High profile cases that come to mind include disgraced Hollywood heavy hitters Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. Both terrorized co- workers, and potential hires for years.
Sadly, such harassment happens just as commonly in lower-profile industries.
In Orange County, a former Public Works director and Santa Ana councilmember named Carlos Bustamante harassed multiple women in his office before finally being arrested and jailed (in a private facility he paid to stay in). At one point prior to his conviction for felony stalking, attempted sexual battery by restraint and misdemeanor false imprisonment, he returned to the Santa Ana City Council, and received a warm welcome from fellow members during a public hearing. One councilmember said to Bustamante, before a stunned public audience, “It’s good to see you…and it’s good to have you back in the house.”
When considering cases such as Bustamante’s as well as others discussed in this article, it’s easy to see that abusers in power often have powerful friends to support them—sometimes in very public ways. This is just one reason why some harassment sufferers hesitate to come forward.
On top of the fear of confronting a powerful person in court, some harassment victims also feel guilt and shame. One study discussed in a Psychology Today article noted that “victims are less likely to report sexual assault when they have a close relationship, either personal or professional, with the perpetrator.”
At the office of Odell & Freeze, we understand that it’s not always easy for a person, man or woman, to proceed with a suit against a former boss. But if you have concerns about whether or not you should proceed, hopefully you’ll give us an opportunity to review your case.
When Should a Harassed Employee File a Claim?
If you’ve come to this page because you’re asking yourself this question, chances are good you’ve experienced harassment. The answer to whether you should proceed with a case will depend on a number of circumstances, all of which should be discussed with an employment attorney. At the office of Odell & Freeze, our attorneys provide free consultations, and take cases on a contingency basis. This means the client doesn’t pay out-of-pocket legal expenses, and the attorney is paid with proceeds from the settlement.
If you are hesitant to proceed, keep in mind that it could be well worth your time and effort to discuss your situation confidentially with an employment attorney to determine the strength of your case. Workers who experience sexual harassment could be entitled to:
- Back Pay
- Lost Wages
- Pain and Suffering Damages
- Punitive Damages
Have Questions? Contact an Attorney
At the office of Odell & Freeze, we know that employers often abuse their power and get away with abhorrent treatment of the people who make their businesses profitable. We know it can be intimidating for an employee to file suit against powerful employers. We also know the only way hold these people accountable is by bringing the full force of the civil legal system to bear against them. We take pride in the fact that we only represent employees.
If you have questions about sexual harassment, or some other workplace issue, contact the office of Odell & Freeze to find out what we can do to help you seek justice.