When thinking about sexual harassment in the workplace, do you think about the problem of men being sexually harassed? Sexual harassment of men is common, but men rarely speak up. It begs the question: when men are harassed, is the harm evaluated in the same way as when women suffer harassment?
Consider a Los Angeles case that went to trial in 2017 (Marqui Barber v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group, et al., Los Angeles Superior Court, Case No. BC598063). Attorney Twila S. White served as lead trial counsel.
Pay special attention to how the company dealt with the harassment.
A description of the sexual harassment
In this case, two males were co-workers at a healthcare facility, Kaiser Permanente Hospital West Los Angeles. Due to the nature of their work, the men worked in close proximity to each other in the emergency room.
The harassment began with sexual comments and innuendo and progressed to more blatant sexual conduct. For example, the defendant once said, “If your biceps look like that, I can only imagine what it looks like downstairs.” A particularly vile comment occurred in the company lunch room with other employees present. The defendant slid a packet of “Organic Throat Coat” tea toward the plaintiff and said loudly that the plaintiff would need it when they are together. The people present and plaintiff took this to mean oral sex.
The plaintiff tried to stop the harassment on his own but was not successful. So he reported the behavior to management. The company conducted an investigation, during which the plaintiff and defendant were made to continue working together.
The company concluded that the defendant had violated the harassment-free workplace policy.
How the company responded
According to the company’s policy, employees can be fired for sexual harassment and sexual harassment was considered to be gross misconduct. Instead, the company suspended the defendant for only one day, and allowed the plaintiff to be continuously subjected to a hostile work environment.
Upon returning to work, the defendant retaliated and defamed the plaintiff, using email and other communication to turn co-workers against the plaintiff. Eventually, other workers shunned the plaintiff. It created a hostile environment and the victim suffered emotional distress. The plaintiff complained to management, but they did nothing and failed to prevent the harassment from occurring.
The victim sued the co-worker and the healthcare facility. A Los Angeles jury found that sexual harassment had occurred and the defendants created a hostile work environment. The court awarded $300,000 to the victim.
#MeToo empowers male victims
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women are coming forward and speaking up about sexual harassment. The movement also has empowered male victims to come forward and report sexual harassment.
If you have questions about sexual harassment in the workplace, contact attorney Twila S. White.