A Supervisor’s Mocking of a Corrections Officer’s Stutter was Severe and Pervasive Enough to Warrant $500K in Damages

corrections officerIn order to win a disability harassment case under the FEHA, you, as the employee, must prove that the harassment you suffered was severe or pervasive. In other words, you can succeed by showing that the harassment you endured included a substantially large number of incidents or, even if the harassment occurred only a very few times, was extreme in its nature. To make sure that your case has everything you need for success, reach out to an experienced California employment attorney.

An example of a successful disability harassment case from recent weeks was the lawsuit pursued by A.C., a corrections officer at a state prison in Chino. A.C. had a speech impediment. Specifically, the officer stuttered. Over a period of approximately two years, other prison employees mocked A.C.’s speech impediment at least a dozen times. One of the employees who engaged in the mocking was a supervisor.

The officer eventually brought a lawsuit against the supervisor and the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He asserted that he was the victim of disability harassment and failure to prevent disability harassment in violation of the FEHA.

The law requires that actionable harassment be severe or pervasive. The harassment doesn’t have to have occurred over a long period of time to qualify as severe or pervasive. In 2011, the California Court of Appeal ruled for a cashier who alleged that she suffered pervasive sexual harassment in violation of the FEHA. Although the harassment lasted only three weeks, a store manager’s repeated comments about the cashier’s body and requests that she show her posterior to customers was still enough to qualify as pervasive harassment. In the federal courts, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that two Pennsylvania employees had a viable claim based upon a supervisor’s one-time use of the N-word, which the court concluded was sufficiently severe under the federal law.

California law requires jurors to consider the “totality of the circumstances” in a harassment case. In A.C.’s case, the jury concluded that the 12+ incidents amounted to a pervasive pattern of harassment, as well as constituting severe harassment. The judgment in the officer’s favor included a damages award of $500,000.

Despite an appeal, the verdict and award of damages was not changed. A.C. had proof that the supervisor, J.G., always mocked the officer’s stutter in front of others. This included mimicking the stutter during a training exercise and, in one especially extreme instance, mimicking the officer’s stutter while making an announcement over the prison’s radio system, which was heard by roughly 50 employees. This was enough proof to allow a reasonable jury to find the conduct pervasive and severe, and to award A.C. damages.

If you have experienced harassment based upon a disability or perceived disability, you may have a viable legal action under the FEHA. The Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch have been working hard for many years to protect the right of workers from illegal discrimination. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Ninth Circuit Revives County Employee’s Case Because Sheriff’s Hugs Could Amount to Harassment, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, April 27, 2017

Courts Refuse to Allow San Francisco Mechanic to Pursue Title VII, FEHA Claims Over Noose Hung in the Workplace, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, June 15, 2016

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