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Sexual harassment claim nets $3.3 million

Sexual harassment in the workplace in California is a terrible thing to endure. The harassment may be the result of inappropriate actions and comments, including comments of a sexual nature. A successful claim does not require sexual contact. Rather, it is enough that the victim proves the misconduct caused a hostile work environment, meaning the employee dreaded going to work or worried that he or she would be fired for not acceding to the abuser's requests.

A Los Angeles jury last week found in favor of a woman who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former boss, movie executive Jon Peters. Peters was once the boyfriend of Barbra Streisand, and is known as the "hairstylist to the stars" that turned his contacts into a career in the movie business. In 2004, he hired a personal assistant, a woman who had tallied more than 23 years of experience working for other stars in the industry. She lasted barely a year with Peters and complains she was subjected to repeated abusive behavior.

The 44-year-old woman testified that Peters touched her inappropriately during the course of her employment. She also said he crawled into bed with her at an Australian hotel, where they were on location for the shooting of Superman Returns. He was also said to have blown marijuana in her face on that same trip and to have exposed himself to her in front of her then 2-year-old daughter at his Santa Barbara ranch.

The jury returned a verdict of $822,000, most of which was for her emotional suffering and the rest for lost wages. However, the jury also found that Peters acted "with malice." That triggered a second portion of the trial, where the jury considered the imposition of punitive damages, essentially a sum of money to punish the defendant for his intentionally wrongful conduct. After hearing from each attorney, the jury deliberated and returned an additional, punitive damage award of $2.5 million.

Clearly, the law, as well as California jurors, considers sexual harassment in the workplace beyond the realm of reasonable conduct. Conduct that is also malicious may well result in substantial monetary damages to prevent the wrongdoer from pursuing similar behavior in the future. A California attorney intent on helping victims of sexual harassment in the workplace may give support to someone prepared to stand up to their abuser.

Source: Rafu, "Producer Ordered to Pay Over $3 Million to Former Assistant," Aug. 29, 2011

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