A California Appeals Court Revives a Police Bomb Technician’s Sexual Harassment Case Against Her Employer

Our system of civil litigation in California is based, in part, upon the idea that, generally, it is preferable when cases are resolved on their actual merits, not by one side using some technicality to sidestep addressing the merits. One of the implications of that notion of justice is that if you’ve put enough in your complaint to put the other side “on notice” of a basis for liability, you are entitled to pursue that basis. When it comes to putting together the strongest and most effective complaints (and case presentations,) be sure you are relying upon the experience of a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney.

This concept proved very important to a police department employee in her recent sexual harassment case. S.A. had been a bomb tech for seven years when a male coworker, H.L., decided to make a play for her affections. He told her he had been “madly in love” with her for more than six years and planned to leave his wife due his love for her. S.A., who was a lesbian and had a female partner (all of which H.L. knew,) told H.L. that she didn’t love him and to leave her alone.

What allegedly ensued was a pervasive pattern of stalking. According to the complaint, H.L. showed up at restaurants where S.A. was eating, “bombarded” her with phone calls, texts and emails, and even showed up to S.A.’s job sites though he was assigned to a different detail. Eventually, the man allegedly cornered her and forcibly kissed her.

S.A. reported H.L. to her supervisor. According to S.A.’s lawsuit, despite some scheduling changes, H.L. continued to stalk her. Allegedly, H.L. was ordered to stay away from S.A., but he didn’t and no punishment arose from that failure to stay away.

S.A. sued but, in her lawsuit, there was a problem. The complaint did not contain a specific heading dedicated to “sexual harassment” under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

According to the appeals court, that technical error did not prevent the woman from pursuing her sexual harassment claim.

California law says that injured plaintiffs’ complaints should be “construed broadly,” which means avoiding hyper-technical readings that work against the plaintiff. Construing S.A.’s complaint broadly, it was clear that she had presented the pieces of a claim of sexual harassment under the FEHA.

Even though she didn’t have a heading labeled “sexual harassment,” she had allegations in her complaint that H.L. “repeatedly subjected” her to “unwanted romantic advances,” that she reported the stalking and other harassment to a supervisor, and that the department responded in a way that was inadequate and too slow.

All the elements of a ‘hostile work environment’ claim

Despite the absence of a “sexual harassment” heading, S.A.’s complaint had laid out the components a potential claim of “hostile work environment” sexual harassment, based on all the specific allegations she had in the body of her complaint. Additionally, in the caption of the complaint (which is a part that comes at the beginning of the complaint document,) she had listed sexual harassment as a claim.

In this case, the allegedly harassed employee was entitled to continue pursuing her case. Success at trial, of course, will require a presentation that is well organized, clear and powerfully persuasive. When you need to seek compensation in civil court for the harm you’ve suffered, you’ll need that kind of powerful representation. Look to the skilled Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch to provide you that sort of effective advocacy. Successfully representing clients from across the East Bay, we are eager to get to work getting results for you. To learn more about how to put our office to work for you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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