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Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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.

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Many times, when you begin a new job, you are presented with a massive stack of papers to read and sign. The whole thing can seem daunting and it may be tempting simply not to read all the “fine print.” Beware, though. The employment contract you sign may involve forfeiting various rights you have, such as suing in court if you’re later the victim of discrimination or harassment. The good news is that, even if you did sign such an agreement, there may be ways to avoid its enforcement. If you’ve been harmed at work by discrimination or harassment, whatever the details of your employment agreement were, reach out to a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney to discuss your rights and your options.

S.D. was an example of someone who was able to avoid the hurdle that his arbitration agreement presented. He held a managerial sales position at the maker of a popular energy drink when he was fired in 2018. After that termination, S.D. sued for age discrimination and sex harassment. S.D., who was in his mid 50s when he sued, alleged that he was targeted for termination because of his age and because he had supported women who were sexually harassed by high-ranking males at the company.

The employer asked the court to order both sides to arbitration. The basis for this request was the arbitration agreement S.D. had signed when he began working for the company.

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In California, you have the right to go to work and do your job while free from sexual harassment. You also have the right, if you are the target of sexual harassment, to seek to stop that harassment without suffering reprisals from your employer. That means that you are entitled to say “no,” to complain to your employer’s HR department or to file a harassment lawsuit or claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and your employer cannot punish you for it. That means no firing you, no demoting you, no reassigning you to less desirable work and no cutting your hours. If your employer does engage in these types of actions, you should reach out to an experienced Oakland employment attorney promptly, because those punishments may mean that your employer is liable to you for impermissible retaliation.

S.E. was a teenager working at a drive-in restaurant whose lawsuit presented a case of exactly that sort of retaliation. According to the employee, who was still a minor, her manager made sexual advances toward her and, when she did not accept those advances, he altered the teen’s work schedule to reduce her hours (and, by extension, reduce her income.) The teen informed the employer of the manager’s advances and his retaliation against her after she said no. The employer fired the teen.

That, of course, is one of every workplace sexual harassment target’s nightmares, isn’t it? Too many victims look at their harasser and think that he has far more “pull”/”juice”/power/etc. within the organization than they do, and so they suffer in silence, fearing what would happen to them if they did dare to speak up.

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There are many ways that you can lose an Oakland employment discrimination case. You can lose because you don’t enough evidence to support your case. You can also lose because, even though you have a mountain of extremely persuasive proof, you did not comply with the state’s procedural rules in pursuing your lawsuit. This can happen in a variety of ways, but one of the big ones is missing the deadline for filing a discrimination claim. In the past, the Fair Employment and Housing Act said that you only had one year to file a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Wait more than one year – even if it was just 53 weeks – and your case could be thrown out.

Now, it will be harder for employers to dodge liability based on this kind of deadline argument. As of January 1, 2020, the law in California says that you have three years, not one, to take action. So, if you have been the victim of discrimination at work and it happened more than 12 months ago, don’t give up! Reach to an experienced employment attorney right away to discover more about the legal options available to you.

Back in October, with Gov. Newsom’s signature, AB 9 became law. That bill said that, effective Jan. 1, 2020, the limitations period (a/k/a the time period for pursuing legal action) in FEHA discrimination cases would be three years. Until Jan. 1, 2020, the law said that that time period was just one year. (These deadline periods refer to the period of time you have to file an administrative charge with the DFEH. The filing of that administrative charge is something that you must do first before you are entitled to sue in court, and it is mandatory.)

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On September 30, Governor Brown signed into Law Senate Bill 1300. While that name and number may, by themselves, mean nothing to you, it is important to know what this new law does. This law substantially strengthens California’s law surrounding workplace sexual harassment and sexual harassment lawsuits. Importantly, the new law clarifies that even as little as a single incident of sexual harassment may be enough to give a victimized worker a valid sexual harassment claim in court. With this new law’s provisions in place, victims of harassment have an even greater opportunity than ever to get much-needed compensation. To learn more about your legal rights, and how they may have changed since the law has changed, talk to a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney.

In the past, many courts have required that the victimized worker prove that the harassment she/he endured was either severe or pervasive. That standard, the California Employment Lawyers Association concluded, was not sufficient, which led it to advocate for S.B. 1300. Too many times, advocates for the bill argued, the old standard allowed harassers to escape responsibility, and victims were closed off from compensation for their damages, because the incident was isolated. This new law is designed to wipe out that “one free grope” rule.

The new law bars employers from requiring their employees to sign certain agreements in exchange for raises or continued employment. The types of agreements covered under this provision of the law included agreements to release claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and “gag” agreements that prevent victimized workers from disclosing illegal acts that they suffered in the workplace.

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