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I Was Harassed on the Job But Didn’t Report It at Work. Can I Still Win a Harassment Case in California?

Workers who suffer discrimination and harassment on the job respond to it in different ways. Some may confront the harasser directly, others may approach their immediate supervisor, others may take the problem to their employer’s human resources (HR) department while still others may say nothing to people at work. If you are someone who falls into that last group, does your failure to speak out at work automatically mean that you cannot win a Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) case? No, it doesn’t… not even if your employer has policies about reporting discrimination and harassment! So, if you’ve been the target of workplace discrimination or harassment – whether or not you reported it or confronted it internally – you may be entitled to significant compensation, so be sure to reach out an experienced Oakland employment attorney without delay.

As an illustration of this aspect of California law, there’s the recent case of R.M., a worker at a major aerospace company’s El Segundo facility. The worker, during his nearly two decades with the company, allegedly endured comments and jokes that were blatantly racist. These included crass and offensive things like jokes about R.M. missing work to go to the zoo and visit his relatives there.

R.M. allegedly did not report the offensive comments to supervisors or to HR. He allegedly reached a breaking point one day in 2017 when a white coworker threw a piece of rope at him that was tied into the shape of a noose.

After that, R.M. sued for racial discrimination under the FEHA, arguing that he had been the victim of a racially hostile work environment. The case went to trial and a jury awarded R.M. $350,000 in damages.

The employer appealed the decision, arguing that it could not be held liable for the discriminatory conduct perpetrated by the coworker. The employer argued that it had policies in which employees pledge to report any and all discrimination and harassment, but that R.M. had uttered nothing to “any manager, to human resources, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Department, to his union steward, to the Ethics Department, to an anonymous hotline, or to the Global Diversity & Inclusion Department” prior to his lawsuit.

The legal obligation is on your employer, not you

The appeals court’s ruling in this case firmly demonstrates, however, that none of that matters in terms of a FEHA violation or the employer’s liability. Whether an employee who was the victim of discrimination or harassment did or did not report it to the employer isn’t one of the criteria for establishing an employer’s liability (or lack thereof) under the FEHA.

Instead, as the appeals court explained, the law required R.M. to demonstrate that his employer “knew or should have known of the harassment” to establish his hostile work environment claim. To show the employer was liable for failing to prevent harassment, R.M. merely needed to provide sufficient evidence that the employer didn’t “take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent… harassment from occurring.”

Notice that neither of those legal standards says anything about your reporting your harassment internally. If your employer either actually knew about the problem or reasonably should have known about the problem, you have a potential case… whether you told your supervisor, your HR contact, corporate headquarters, your union contact or… no one at all within the employer’s organization. If the employer knows about it or should have known about it, the onus is on the employer, not you.

In R.M.’s case, he had evidence that his supervisors knew, or at least should have known, about the harassment, but “failed to report it or otherwise intervene.” That was all the proof he needed, and so the appeals court upheld the judgment in R.M.’s favor.

If you’ve been harmed by workplace discrimination or harassment, a successful legal action and much-needed compensation may be easier to achieve than you otherwise would have thought. Reach out to The Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch to learn more. Attorney Fuerch is a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney whose extensive experience can help you to succeed in your harassment or discrimination case. To learn more, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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