CALIF. COUNCILMAN FACES CHARGES FOR ALLEGED SEXUAL HARASSMENT

In many sexual harassment cases in the workplace, those being harassed are hesitant to step forward for fear of losing their job. In other instances, even when an employee reports harassment to their supervisor, they are answered with inaction and disdain. Fortunately, with the help of legal recourse through criminal and civil courts, some victims are able to get justice.

Recently, a 47-year-old city councilman in Southern California has been accused of sexually harassing seven women when he was serving a term as a high-ranking county executive. The charges were brought against the administrative manager, who worked with the Orange County Public Works. He faces several felony charges, ranging from false imprisonment to sex offenses.

The alleged crimes occurred between 2003 and 2011, when he resigned from his post. The man is currently a city councilman in Santa Ana.

The women have accused the man of luring them into his office with work-related questions. He would then reportedly close the door, kissing and hugging the women without their consent. He also sometimes grabbed them, they say, and forced them to watch him perform sexual acts on himself.

The women were reportedly reluctant to come forward to report the incidents, largely because the man was high-ranking and commonly considered a rising political star in the agency. They thought they might lose their job if they accused their boss of sexual harassment. Orange County prosecutors say that shows a classic abuse of power scenario, where the women were led to believe that their jobs would be endangered if they spoke up.

The man was arrested in early July, and he was released on $100,000 bond within 24 hours of apprehension. He faces charges of false imprisonment, assault with the intent to commit a sexual offense, as well as other charges.

Investigators began to delve further into the man’s affairs after they received an anonymous letter about his conduct in March. Prosecutors have said that a statute of limitations prohibits other women from coming forward to report their victimization in man’s office.

If he is convicted, he faces as long as 26 years in a state prison. The allegations come amid a string of other corruption accusations among elected officials and other high-ranking public workers.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Carlos Bustamante arrested: Santa Ana city councilman faces sex assault charges,” Amy Taxin, July 3, 2012

SAN ONOFRE NUCLEAR EMPLOYEES LACK STATE WORKER SHIELD

One of the nuclear industry’s worst safety offenders is on the hook for more than just hazardous conditions at the facility. New information about the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station reveals that whistleblowers had attempted to reveal dangerous safety concerns at the facility as early as 2010. Their voices were not heard, though, because they feared retaliation.

The reason those employees were afraid is that San Onofre sits on federal land that is not subject to California’s whistleblower-protection laws, which are among the strongest in the nation.

Instead, the workers remained silent, enduring inexcusably hazardous conditions because of a legal loophole, according to professionals. The facility was closed earlier this year because of a design flaw that caused excessive wear on a critical component. A break in one of the poorly designed systems could cause a radiation leak. That fact brought nuclear safety to the forefront of the Californian consciousness yet again.

In 2010, the plant had about 10 times the number of safety and health complaints as similar plants in other parts of the country. Employees contend that they were fired because they dared to come forward with safety concerns, and they were left without recourse because San Onofre sits on federal ground.

Attorneys say that although workers still enjoy the protection of federal whistleblower laws, the larger government entities generally work slower than less cumbersome state authorities. Federal laws still have safeguards against retaliation, but they are not enacted with such speed. As a result, it can take a long time to get to the bottom of a health and safety claim. This is particularly true in California, which operates its own occupational safety and health program apart from federal authorities.

Despite some modest efforts to fix safety concerns at the facility, San Onofre remains one of the most often-cited plants in the nation, tied with another plant for the highest number of employee complaints filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Source: KPBS, “San Onofre workers lack state whistleblower protections,” Amita Sharma, June 28, 2012

FIRE CHIEF SUES STOCKTON FOR RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION

A former fire chief for the city of Stockton has filed a wrongful termination suit against the city, the city manager and the deputy city manager. The man claims that he was a victim of religious discrimination.

The 49-year-old man was fired in late 2011. He is suing for an unspecified amount of damages. The man had been with the Stockton Fire Department for 24 years, and he became the chief in 2006. When he was fired, the man was presented with a long list of complaints from a formal internal investigation, according to court records.

The most egregious violation of the rules that the man committed was attending a Christian-affiliated leadership conference while he was technically still on duty. According to city attorneys, that activity violated the express regulations prohibiting employees from attending religious-themed events while on taxpayers’ payroll.

The man’s attorneys claim that he obtained authorization to attend the leadership conference. He was told by his supervisors that he needed to improve his leadership skills, and he chose the conference in question after extensive research. Legal representatives have said that the city should not have fired the man simply because of his conference choice.

Internal investigation documents also cited the man’s relationship with union leaders and his soft stance on discipline. The former chief had failed to disclose his co-ownership of a vacation property with one of the union leaders. He also had failed to disclose that one of the department’s consultants worked with him to build a church school.

Financial difficulties for the city of Stockton have slowed the predicted outcome of the case. A hearing slated to occur on July 2 in Sacramento may not be permitted to continue, primarily because the city is planning to declare bankruptcy by the end of June. If that happens, Stockton would become the nation’s largest municipality to ever declare bankruptcy, according to official records. If that happens, then the lawsuit would be put on hold indefinitely.

Source: The Record, “Fired Calif. chief claims religious discrimination,” Roger Phillips, June 15, 2012

WOMAN SUES CALIFORNIA FIRM FOR ALLEGED SEXISM

A California-based venture capital firm has made a legal move to avoid addressing a discrimination suit brought by one of its partners. The suit alleges the woman dealt with ignored complaints about alleged sex discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

The suit has become a hot topic in the Silicon Valley, where sexism has been prevalent since the inception of the first tech company. The woman’s lawsuit alleges that the company described women at the firm as “buzz kills,” refusing to promote them to positions that they had earned. Furthermore, the woman alleges that the firm hosted male-only dinners for employees and partners.

The firm issued a response to the allegations that addressed some of the more lascivious claims, including the fact that a supervisor encouraged the woman to marry a colleague who had been harassing her. The document did not address some of the other allegations, though, which accused the company of sexism in profit sharing and promotion opportunities.

The firm contends that the woman did not complain about any of the sexual harassment between 2007 and 2012, though she was hired in 2005. That assertion comes in spite of the fact that the woman says she spoke to several human resources personnel at the company, both internal and external consultants. She also had spoken with other partners about the issue in an effort to resolve the problems.

The firm said that it failed to promote the woman because she had a bad performance record, but reviews show that she had received both positive and negative feedback during her reviews. She says instead that the firm had a systematic practice of keeping women out of high-paying, decision-making roles.

Source: The Chicago Tribune, “Venture firm Kleiner moves to dismiss discrimination suit,” Sarah McBride, June 14, 2012

CALIFORNIA COACH SAYS SCHOOL FIRED HIM FOR BEING GAY

An openly gay water polo coach in California says he lost his job because of his sexual orientation. The man has filed a wrongful termination suit against the school that fired him during the summer of 2011.

The coach was fired after an anonymous individual sent suggestive pictures of him to the school’s principal. The photographs featured the man eating a corndog and posing with drag queens. In one of the pictures, the coach was wearing eyeliner and posing with men dressed in women’s clothing. Another photograph featured the man pretending to take a giant bite out of a corndog at a fair.

School officials say that the photographs were obscene but the coach says he was fired strictly because school leaders dislike gay and lesbian people. He says that he was held to a different standard than the school’s other teachers simply because of his sexual orientation. The man is seeking to be reinstated, and he wants the incident removed from his employment record. In addition, he is seeking an unspecified amount in damages in connection with the incident.

The coach’s problems reportedly began earlier in the 2011 school year, when three of his water polo players failed to turn in their physical examination paperwork. Instead of practicing with the team, the boys were made to wash cars, because they could not practice without their forms. One of the students complained to his father, who allegedly threatened to print pictures of the coach for revenge. Although the player said that he did complain to his father, he said the complaint exaggerated what happened.

The coach said that he didn’t realize the pictures were inappropriate, so he was not concerned about their availability on Facebook. The photographs are representative of gay culture, he said, and should not have resulted in his termination from the school.

School officials have not made a statement about the suit or alleged wrongful termination.

Source: South Florida Gay News, “California gay coach sues high school for wrongful termination,” Sergio N. Candido, June 4, 2012

CALIFORNIA JANITOR AWARDED $800,000 IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIM

A California janitor that worked the night-shift received more than $800,000 because she had to endure continued sexual harassment by a supervisor, according to reports released in late May. The woman filed a sexual harassment suit two years ago in state court, alleging that her supervisor at ABM Industries persisted with unwanted sexual advances for years. He made inappropriate comments, grabbed the woman’s body, exposed his genitals and threatened to fire the woman if she did not have oral sex with him. He is also accused of raping the woman in a storage closet.

The firm conducted an internal investigation into the matter, explaining to the woman that no evidence of sexual harassment was present. Her employment was terminated in 2005 and she submitted a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She filed the suit in 2009, according to court documents.

ABM Industries, the nation’s largest janitorial firm, has had more than $6 million in settlements and fines levied against it because of similar suits since 2007. More than a half-dozen other cases have been investigated. Additionally, company subsidiaries in Northern California have paid more than $5 million in a class-action suit involving 21 women who complained of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

The California branch of the company has agreed to review its paperwork and policies relating to sexual harassment, though company leaders will not admit fault in the matters. The firm will be required to employ internal investigators that are well versed in sexual harassment law and additional training requirements will be instituted.

Attorneys say that the company has been systematically abusing its employees. The women that are employed by the company are often alone during the late-night hours at work, which makes them vulnerable to unwanted sexual advances. Additionally, many of the women do not speak English or fully understand U.S. employment law, which can prevent them from reporting significant violations.

Source: The Bay Citizen, “Janitor wins $812,000 in sexual harassment suit,” Shoshana Walter, May 25, 2012

FORMER POLICE OFFICER WINS $1 MILLION FROM LAPD IN RETALIATION CASE

The city of Los Angeles has been told to pay an ex-police officer $1 million as part of a wrongful termination suit, according to information released earlier this month. The man’s supervisors had been accused of retaliation after he reported a fellow officer for failing to pay tolls. That officer allegedly skipped out on tolls on the 91 Freeway for several months.

The man reported the violations in 2009. He had never filed a personal complaint before that time, according to department records. The officer who was accused of defrauding the toll system was not investigated, but the man who reported the misdeeds was targeted with several unnecessary neglect-of-duty complaints. He was accused of failing to quickly send a squad car to a location near Malibu, among other violations, according to information from the department.

After the reporting officer was cleared of the complaints, supervising officers changed documents to drag out the internal investigations, according to court documents.

The client’s lawyer said the verdict was yet another win in a string of victories against people victimized by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He says that a systemic cultural change is the only way the department will be able to halt the stream of suits.

The officer who had failed to pay the tolls resigned in 2011 during an internal affairs investigation. He was accused of covering up parts of his license plate to get out of the payments, and he also allegedly lied to LAPD investigators about the incidents. The man may have been avoiding tolls for as long as a year, according to findings. He had worked in the media relations office before he was moved up to captain of the LAPD’s West Los Angeles Division.

The jury in the case voted unanimously in favor of the plaintiff, reaching a verdict in just four hours. Damages awarded totaled more than $1 million, which included about $112,000 for future economic damages. In addition, $475,000 in past non-economic damages was awarded, along with $434,000 for future non-economic damages.

The LAPD and the city’s attorney chose not to comment on the case, saying that an appeal was pending.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “City must pay cop $1 million in retaliation case,” staff reports, May 15, 2012

CALIFORNIA DEPUTY CLAIMS HE WAS FIRED OVER SEXUAL ORIENTATION

A former sheriff’s deputy in Merced County is alleging that the department is guilty of sexual harassment, contending that his supervisors fired him because he is gay. The man, who was hired on to the force in 2008, says he was continually harassed throughout his three-year stint as a deputy.

The 33-year-old man alleges that the Sheriff’s Department effectively enabled the harassment because administrators failed to act on his complaints.

The man’s lawsuit claims that the brunt of the harassment started in 2009, when he suffered a variety of indignities at the hands of his coworkers. He came to work one day to find the word “homo” painted on his locker in nail polish, he says, and his personal property was routinely vandalized.

In addition, the man has alleged that he was denied training and career advancement because of his sexual orientation. In 2010, the man inquired about joining the department’s patrol unit but he was harangued until he dropped the request. The man’s management team had supposedly laughed at him when he asked for additional training, making lewd comments about gay marriage and insinuating that he should apply to be a flight attendant.

Not only was the man harassed within his own department, he also had run-ins with the California Highway Patrol because of his sexual orientation. CHP troopers are accused of ridiculing the man’s attire and posture. The man says that he submitted a complaint to his supervisors but nothing was ever done to fix the problem.

The man says that he is mostly disappointed with the Sheriff’s Department staff, which allowed the problems to continue. State police officers are more advanced in their sexual harassment policies, he says.

The man is suing for $5 million in lost wages and emotional distress resulting from the incidents.

Source: The Oakland Tribune, “Vandalism and insults: Merced County ex-deputy says he was harassed for being gay,” Mike North, May 2, 2012

COUNTRYWIDE WHISTLEBLOWER RECEIVES NATIONAL ACCOLADES

Employees should be aware that it is illegal for their employers to retaliate against them for reporting ethical and financial violations occurring within the company. Although whistleblowers often face harassment and threats after submitting even anonymous complaints, one woman stood up for her beliefs and she has been rewarded by a prominent national organization as a result.

The woman was presented with a prestigious honor bestowed by the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., for blowing the whistle on inappropriate lending practices at Countrywide Lending. Countrywide was taken over by Bank of America in 2008. That organization is said to have employed predatory lending practices throughout the United States, including areas throughout California.

She said she is disappointed that no executive leaders have been implicated in the lending crisis, which shows a continued decline in the overall health of the American legal and financial systems.

The woman had pressed for an investigation into suspected forged documents, which she claimed over-estimated loan applicants’ income streams and included falsified signatures. Bank of America fired her after she submitted the complaints.

The federal Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has mandated that Bank of America reinstate the woman and pay her $1 million in owed wages, but the bank is appealing the decision and the woman has not yet returned to work there. Instead, she is employed by a credit union in southern California, where she leads security, investigations and procurements activities.

The woman said she was naïve in thinking that Bank of America would appreciate the information related to the forged documents. Instead of thanking her for her ethical persistence, the company fired her and has continuously attempted to block her reinstatement. Two of the woman’s coworkers, who were also fired by Bank of America and chose to fight back, attended the ceremony earlier this week. Those cases have been successfully resolved in favor of the former employees.

Previous recipients of the award include army officers who have exposed injustices during the Afghanistan conflict as well as an FBI agent who wrote a tell-all book revealing civil rights infractions by the agency during the 1960s.

Source: Reuters, “Countrywide whistleblower sees no change in financial sector,” Emily Flitter, April 26, 2012

FALSE COMPLAINTS CAN HURT CREDIBILITY OF TRUE HARASSMENT GRIEVANCES

Reports of inappropriate actions or comments in the workplace should be taken seriously. Failure to take prompt corrective action against this, or other forms of harassment, could subject an employee to a hostile work environment and leave the employer open for a lawsuit.

One thing that can compromise the credibility of such employee reports is a fraudulent complaint. Believe it or not, there are men and women that look to take advantage of strict laws for workplace conduct and will misuse the system for personal gain. This is why complaints should be addressed and thoroughly investigated before a judgment is made. No employee or employer should automatically be considered at fault.

Just as employees should take proper actions to combat ill behavior, employers should make sure they are covered in the event of false reports. Generally, the human resource department at the company will conduct investigations into complaints of workplace harassment. But in order to provide the courts with a transparent, non-bias take on the matter, some law experts advise employers to enlist the help of a private investigator to look into the case.

The third party investigator will collect evidence and interview those involved just as the human resources department would. Meanwhile, law experts advise that a new supervisor be assigned to the employee that raised the complaint. If it is determined that an employee lodged a fraudulent complaint, they can be dealt with according to company policy. Usually, termination is acceptable in serious cases like this.

This played out in a 2012 case in California where a Los Angeles police officer claimed that his male superior sexually harassed him by commenting on his appearance and asking him out on a date. Internal affairs looked into the claim and determined the man was lying and was fired as a result.

It is important that employees only make legitimate complaints, otherwise it could affect the future credibility of workers forced to bear a hostile work environment.

Source: Anchorage Daily News, “Use third-party investigator for suspected false claim,” Lynne Curry, March 18, 2012