Sometimes, very terrible events can led to important court rulings that hopefully will lead to better outcomes in the future. The rape of a hotel housekeeping worker led the California Court of Appeal to consider whether the victimized employee could sue her employer for violating the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The court ruled that, due to the actions taken and not taken in this circumstance, the woman could proceed with her claim of employer liability for non-employee sexual harassment. The case is a reminder that the potential for a recovery in civil court may potentially exist in a wide array of employment situations, so it is wise to consult with knowledgeable California sexual harassment counsel about your case.
The employee who sued her employer in this case, called “M.F.” by the courts, was a housekeeping worker at a hotel in San Diego. According to the housekeeper, the events that led to her injury and legal action began early one morning when a drunk man, who was not a guest of the hotel, was spotted wandering around the hotel property by the hotel’s engineering manager, who, despite seeing the man multiple times, reported nothing about the trespasser.
After that, the drunk man allegedly began approaching various housekeeping workers, offering them cash for sexual favors. One worker reported her encounter to a housekeeping manager. Although housekeeping management made efforts to check on the safety of the workers, they missed the second floor of one building, which happened to be where M.F. was working, according to the lawsuit. The drunk man encountered M.F. cleaning a room, blocked her exit, and, when she tried to leave, knocked her unconscious. He then spent the next two hours raping her.
Certainly, the facts as alleged indicate that the drunk man’s actions point to criminal activity. However, what about M.F. and the harm she suffered? Does she have a potential case against her employer for failing to do a better job protecting her? Although a trial judge in San Diego County said no, the Court of Appeal recently said yes. The housekeeper, whose lawsuit claimed that the employer was liable to her for violating the FEHA by virtue of the employer’s failure to protect M.F. from non-employee sexual harassment, had a claim that should be allowed to proceed, the appeals court said.
An important aspect of M.F.’s presenting her case as a FEHA violation is that law’s relationship to workers’ compensation. In many situations, employers are able to avoid facing civil lawsuits from their employees because of a legal concept that says that, if you’re injured on the job, your exclusive recourse is through workers’ compensation, rather than a civil lawsuit. The workers’ compensation “exclusivity” rule doesn’t apply to claims made under the FEHA, however.
In California, the FEHA protects employees from many forms of discrimination as well as many types of sexual harassment. Even if a non-employee is the perpetrator of the harassment, the employer is obliged under the law to take “immediate and appropriate corrective action” if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment. Once the drunk man began aggressively propositioning other housekeeping workers, the employer knew or should have known that a sexual harassment problem existed. Based on this, M.F. was entitled to go forward with her case, arguing that the employer didn’t do enough during that vital period of time between the other worker’s report of the harassment and the drunk man’s attack on M.F.
If you’ve been a victim of any type of workplace sexual harassment, you need experienced employment attorneys working for you. The Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch have been protecting and advancing the rights and cases of workers for many years. To learn more about how our team can help 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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