FEMALE HARVESTERS WIN SEX HARASSMENT SUIT

A group of female tomato pickers who reported sexual harassment will receive a $150,000 settlement from their former employer, according to government reports. The women were part of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation into unfair work practices at DiMare Ruskin, one of the nation’s foremost producers of tomatoes.

The two women had filed formal sexual harassment claims against their employer after they endured sexual advances by their supervisors. One of the women’s crew leaders would frequently proposition her for sex, using vulgar language to attempt to persuade her to sleep with him. The other woman said she was groped and verbally harassed by her male supervisor on multiple occasions.

Not only will the company be required to pay the women, according to the terms of the settlement, but the firm will also be required to implement a revised sexual-harassment policy, creating a better system for employees to submit harassment claims. The firm must also provide better training to its workers about EEOC mandates and requirements, according to court documents.

Attorneys for the women say that this case should serve as an example to other growers throughout the nation’s major agricultural regions. From California to Florida, agricultural professionals should be sure that they are implementing appropriate protective measures for all of their employees. That means developing and maintaining EEOC-mandated programs designed to decrease the incidence of sexual harassment.

Many women are afraid to report sexual harassment because they think they might lose their jobs and find themselves without financial resources. Furthermore, Spanish-speaking Hispanic farmworkers are even more vulnerable to sexual harassment from supervisors, largely because they are not familiar with United States employment law.

The workers in this case had come to an independent coalition to report the incidents. Advocates say that independent support groups provide an important link between workers and government agencies, as demonstrated in this landmark case. They say they hope the results of this case inspire more people to come forward to report workplace injustices.

Source: The Miami Herald, “Women farm workers win sex harassment case,” Christina Veiga, July 26, 2012

COURT: NEWSPAPER ALLOWED TO FIRE UNION JOURNALISTS

A long-running wrongful termination dispute between a local newspaper and several employees has come to an end at an appeals court in Washington, D.C., according to local media reports. The case was seen as a victory for business owners, but the employees who lost their jobs are less enthusiastic about the outcome.

The eight workers at the Santa Barbara News-Press were dismissed from their positions after they participated in a series of protests about the paper’s blurry line between opinion and news. These journalists were concerned that the integrity of the news in their community was falling victim to poor reporting and unethical action on the part of the publisher. They even went so far as to hang a sign from a local pedestrian bridge that told area residents to cancel their newspaper subscription.

The reporters allege that they were discriminated against because of their participation in union activities. They also say they were fired after bringing up legitimate complaints about their working conditions. For a journalist, ethics are among the most important workplace concerns.

Instead of siding with the plaintiffs, the appeals court ruled that the publisher of the newspaper was allowed to make the final decisions about the content in the publication. Reporters, therefore, do not have the authority to make final decisions about the content of a newspaper, even if they feel the content is unethical.

The case stemmed from several incidents in 2006, during which top editors at the newspaper quit their jobs to protest the owner’s involvement in deciding the publication’s content. Eight reporters who worked under those editors were fired after they decided to form a union.

Legal experts say the court used the First Amendment to rationalize its decision, saying that the newspaper’s First Amendment rights would have been violated if its leadership had been required to hire back the dismissed reporters.

It can be difficult, sometimes, to determine what constitutes wrongful termination. Those who feel they may have been fired without proper cause can speak to an attorney for more information about their situation.

Given the prolonged status of this case, it appears that judges involved had some difficulty in dealing with its thorny issues. Though it is not clear whether the workers will seek to appeal to a higher court, it’s possible they will find success in it if they do.

Source: The Fresno Bee, “Appeals court sides with newspaper in labor fight,” Sam Hananel, Dec. 18, 2012

FRY’S SETTLES HARASSMENT SUIT FOR $2.3 MILLION

An electronic retail group based in California has been ordered to pay a massive settlement in connection with a sexual harassment and alleged retaliation case that dates back to 2010. The case was filed against Fry’s Electronics two years ago by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a young female employee in Seattle.

Reports indicate that the woman’s supervisor had attempted to stand up for her at work, but that person was quickly fired after complaining to Fry’s legal department about the boss’s actions. Federal documents note that the woman’s immediate supervisor had been commended on his work ethic and applauded in performance reviews, but there was no obvious reason for his employment termination.

The perpetrator is accused of sending sexual messages to the young woman via text, which included sexual innuendos and requests to have drinks together.

Fry’s, which is based in San Jose, agreed to settle the case for $2.3 million in late August, according to media reports. The company vehemently argues that no discrimination occurred, and a formal statement indicates that the settlement was necessary only to prevent continued legal costs from accumulating. Even though Fry’s has proudly boasted about its diverse workforce and tolerant policies, the EEOC is still concerned about activities within the company.

Government attorneys said the company sent a negative message by retaliating against a person who was attempting to maintain moral and ethical standards. That kind of reaction can prevent legitimate sexual harassment claims from coming forward in the future, largely because employees are afraid that they will lose their jobs if they speak out. This could be even worse for Fry’s in the long run, because workers will likely wait until the harassment is intolerable before reporting it, instead of addressing small problems early on.

The company is reportedly required to provide additional training to managers and employees, and government inspectors will be reviewing the firm’s sexual harassment policies. Increased reporting requirements to the EEOC will also be implemented.

Source: NBC7 San Diego, “Fry’s to pay $2.3 million in sexting case,” Lisa Fernandez, Aug. 31, 2012

WHISTLEBLOWER TAKES ON MORGAN STANLEY

A former risk management officer at Morgan Stanley has filed a suit against the company, alleging that the company violated the Dodd-Frank Act, which makes it illegal for companies to retaliate against whistleblowers, by firing him in April. The man, who was employed by the firm’s wealth management division, says his employment was wrongfully terminated because he was a whistleblower.

The man had been employed at the company for six years, according to statements. He is seeking legal fees and $1 million in back pay. He also wants his job back.

The man says he was told to cover up illegal trades between December 2011 and April 2012. Those trades cost customers money, he says, and he was ordered not to investigate or report any of the questionable activity. When he told other firm employees that he wanted to report the illegal trades to the independent securities regulator FINRA, the man was fired.

At first, the man says, his supervisors were happy that he had identified the illegal trades, which were pushed through by the division’s new manager. The trades had begun to generate massive commissions for other workers, though, and the man was quickly dissuaded from investigating further because employees were enjoying their larger paychecks. The man had reportedly even identified more than 80 illegal trades conducted by a single other co-worker. When he approached the man who was trading illegally, the plaintiff says he admitted to the misdeeds.

The man alleges that he has been unable to find another job because his reputation within the industry has been tarnished. The firm has argued that he was fired because of poor performance, but the man says he had never received a negative performance review, except for the one conducted after he blew the whistle.

Although whistleblowers still face uphill battles when dealing with major corporations, the Dodd-Frank Act has provided them with additional shielding by prohibiting company retaliation. Still, Morgan Stanley has a record of strong-arming the courts and plaintiffs to win such civil battles; without well-qualified representation, the man might be in danger of retribution from his former employer.

Source: Huffington Post, “Former Morgan Stanley risk officer Clifford Jagodzinski sues over firing in whistleblower case,” Bonnie Kavoussi, Aug. 2, 2012

DOMINO’S CORPORATE FACES SEXUAL HARASSMENT SUIT

An appellate court in California has ruled that Domino’s Pizza can be held responsible as a corporation for sexual harassment perpetuated by franchise owners. A lower court had previously held that the food service giant could not be sued in relation to a recent case.

A Domino’s manager had allegedly sexually harassed a 16-year-old during her time as an employee. She said she was harassed and assaulted, and she filed a complaint under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. She has sued the franchise for failing to prevent discrimination, retaliation for exercise of rights, battery, wrongful termination, and assault, according to court documents.

The appellate court ruled that since franchise owners report directly to their corporate overseers, they are necessarily connected in an agency relationship. That means that the corporation, in addition to protecting its trademark and branding measures, should also be held responsible in actions of the franchise. Even if the franchisee is declared as an independent entity, the strength of the owner’s relationship with the corporation can cause a transfer of liability.

A review of the franchise agreement shows that Domino’s has significant control over qualifications for employees and standards for their conduct. If franchises violate the provisions of their corporate agreement, they can be terminated from the franchise program. In addition, the corporate entity enforces stringent rules regarding employee activities such as timecard submission, appearance and demeanor.

The appellate court has thus decided that the larger entity, Domino’s, is responsible for the conduct of its franchisees because of its intense involvement in everyday operations at retail locations throughout the United States. That means that sexual harassment lawsuits, such as the one brought by the young woman, have access to significantly more resources for punitive damages. Clients are able to sue the parent company, not just the independent franchise.

This decision opens up franchisees of many larger corporations to larger liability in sexual harassment, retaliation and wrongful termination suits. It is likely to have a lasting impact on the legal landscape in employment law for years to come.

Source: Blue Mau Mau, “Dominos liable in franchisee sexual harassment case,” Janet Sparks, July 17, 2012

TRAVOLTA NAMED IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT SUIT

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of work environments, but individuals in California who provide private services in people’s homes are even more at risk. Those people do not always enjoy the same corporate protection provided by large companies, even if other firms employ them. Sexual harassment claims are perhaps more easily dismissed among this population, primarily because evidence in these cases is strictly circumstantial.

Famed actor John Travolta has been accused of sexual harassment by a massage therapist, according to recently filed court documents. The man has accused the actor of creating a hostile work environment as a result of his offensive actions, which the masseur says included Travolta touching his own genitals after he had removed his clothing for the massage.

The man is suing Travolta in federal court for assault and sexual battery after the actor allegedly attempted to have sex with the masseur after a massage treatment.

Travolta also reportedly requested that the massage therapist participate in a three-way sexual encounter with himself and a Hollywood starlet who was in the same building.

According to the court filings, the massage therapist immediately asked to be returned to the location where he had been picked up. Travolta then paid him $800 for the service, which is double what the man generally charges, ostensibly as hush money to prevent him from speaking out about the incident.

Travolta’s media team has vehemently denied the claims, asserting that none of the actions ever occurred. They say that the alleged victim has refused to give his name because he knows the accusations are patently false. According to the defendant’s attorneys, Travolta was in another state on the date of the supposed event, and he has documentation to prove his whereabouts.

Travolta’s lawyers also say they intend to pursue a malicious prosecution charge if they succeed in having the suit thrown out. The plaintiff is seeking a settlement of more than $2 million, along with court costs and other unspecified compensatory funds.

Source: The Oakland Tribune, “Hicks: John Travolta sued for sexual harassment,” Tony Hicks, Contra Costa Times, May 7, 2012

TV ACTRESS ARGUES WRONGFUL TERMINATION

Sacramento-area employees working at some of society’s more traditional jobs are not the only ones that can be subjected to harassment, retaliation and even wrongful termination. Celebrities can face these outlawed practices as well.

One such case involves actress Nicollette Sheridan, who formerly appeared on the hit television show “Desperate Housewives.” Sheridan is in the spotlight as she works through litigation that accuses the show’s producers of wrongfully firing her for complaining about a mild assault she received at the hands of the show’s creator.

One day during rehearsal in 2008, the actress argued that the shows creator slapped her on the head. She complained about the incident, and that is when she said clear signs of retaliation occurred.

After appearing on five seasons of the show, which airs on ABC, Sheridan’s character was not included in the show for a matter of months once she complained about the incident. Her character was eventually written off the show for good.

Sheridan argued it was a retaliatory effort, because in 2007 the show’s producers told her that her character would be included on the show until it ended, which it is slated to do later this year. However, a lawyer for the show’s creator said that producers were planning on writing the character off the show even before the alleged slapping incident happened.

The actress filed the lawsuit for wrongful termination and also battery in April 2010. The show’s creator and Touchstone Television Productions were identified as defendants in the suit. In the recent trial, Sheridan recalled the incident where the show’s creator knocked her upside the head, while his lawyers retain it was a simple tap. The actress explained how she returned to her trailer after the incident, and the show’s creator joined her later to acknowledge and apologize for the incident.

Many of Sheridan’s cast mates, who are still on the show, are expected to testify in the ongoing trial.

Source: Bangkok Post, “‘Desperate Housewives’ star claims unfair dismissal,” March 3, 2012

RESTAURANT SETTLES SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWSUIT

Sexual harassment in the workplace can create an extremely hostile work environment for the victim of the act and unfortunately, even when those victims speak out, they are not always heard. In a recent case, the voices of sexual harassment victims were finally heard and changes were finally enforced.

Restaurant workers in California can understand that sexual harassment is sometimes hard to identify for managers in the restaurant industry due to a high rate of turnover. But what happens when management blatantly ignores claims of such harassment? That’s what happened at a restaurant in Tennessee called Rafael’s Italian Restaurant, and now the owners are paying for it.

After being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the restaurant chain agreed to pay $25,000, as well as agreeing to a few other terms in order to settle the lawsuit. The EEOC says male kitchen workers at one of the restaurant locations were harassing some of their female workers, two of whom were teenagers at the time. According to the allegations against the restaurant, the men asked for sex, touched the victims, and made crude comments to them. They even went as far as simulating sex acts with vegetables and hitting the females between their legs. Although the women told their managers, nothing was done to eradicate the problem.

The restaurant has agreed to annual employee rights training and must keep a record of any sexual harassment complaints, providing them to the EEOC yearly. There will also be a written policy about discrimination at the restaurant and access to the EEOC’s contact information, as well as a notice about the lawsuit.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Rafael’s Italian Restaurant Settles EEOC Sexual Harassment Suit,” Jan. 18, 2012