Example of Sexual Harassment Cases

Examples of Sexual Harassment Cases

California juries routinely award sexual harassment victims substantial monetary judgment. A sample of verdicts and settlements can be found below:

  • Michele Coyle v. Regents of the University of California, et al. (Super. Ct. Riverside County, 2017, No. RIC1503362), 2017 LexisNexis Jury Verdicts & Settlements 100 [Jury awarded the plaintiff $2,500,000 after the plaintiff was terminated in retaliation for reporting internal harassment and discrimination against female co-workers and because her superiors ignored her complaints. Plaintiff alleged that “they failed to investigate her claims and continued to foster and encourage an ‘old boys’ club’ mentality by harassing and discriminating against women.”];
  • Pavek v. County of Los Angeles (Super. Ct. L.A. County, 2017, No. BC587609), 2017 WL 6876220 [Plaintiff awarded $400,000 because she was ostracized by her superiors after complaining about another supervisor who leered at her, made inappropriate sexual comments, sent sexual photos and videos of himself to plaintiff, and exposed himself to the plaintiff].
  • Parker v. The Automobile Club of Southern Cal., 2001 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 49575  [plaintiff awarded $720,000 in damages after a co-employee engaged in inappropriate “touching, sexually explicit language . . . and other types of harassing behavior”];and
  • Olivares v. Dason, et al., 2016 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 3858 [plaintiff awarded $1,742,690.94 in total recovery after a single-day trial, where plaintiff asserted that a co-employee “would make sexual jokes; sexual comments; leer at her . . . and, on multiple occasions, grab her breast and buttocks”].

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Types of Sexual Harassment

California law recognizes two types of sexual harassment: (1) hostile work environment sexual harassment; and (2) quid pro quo sexual harassment. 

A. Hostile work environment Sexual Harassment

Hostile work environment sexual harassment arises when pervasive or severe sexual conduct creates an intimidating or offensive work environment.

Under FEHA, the elements of a cause of action for “hostile work environment” sexual harassment are:

(1) the plaintiff was subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, conduct or comments;

(2) the harassment complained of was based on sex; and

(3) the harassment was “so severe or pervasive” as to “alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” (Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986) 477 U.S. 57, 67

Whether an environment is “hostile” or “abusive” can be determined only by looking at all the circumstances, which may include the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.  Importantly, no single factor is required.

Hostile work environment harassment is conduct that “offends, humiliates, distresses, or intrudes upon its victim, so as to disrupt the victim’s emotional tranquility in the workplace, affect the victim’s ability to perform the job as usual, or otherwise interfere with and undermine the victim’s personal sense of well-being.” (Gov. Code § 12923, subd. (a).)

B. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when employment decisions are contingent upon an individual’s submission to unwelcome sexual advances or conduct. It can also involve demanding sexual favors by threatening negative employment actions. The phrase “quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that means “something in exchange for something.”

Under FEHA, the elements of a cause of action for quid pro quo sexual harassment are:

(a) an employee experienced unwelcome sexual advances, demands, or comments;

(b) the sexual advances came from a supervisor; and

(c) if the employee rejected the supervisor’s sexual demands, a tangible negative employment action resulted from that choice. (CACI No. 2520.

A victim of sexual harassment does not need to “prove that his or her tangible productivity has declined as a result of the harassment.”. A victim simply needs to show that the harassment altered the working conditions and made it “more difficult to do the job.

To impose liability on your employer [hyperlink phrase to Failure to Prevent page], you show that management knew or should have known of the harassment by plaintiff’s coworkers or others. This can be proven either through the pervasiveness of the conduct or language, or through surrounding circumstances.