Employment discrimination and harassment based on membership in a protected class are patently unacceptable in California. Victims of discrimination and harassment are often hesitant to report what has occurred at their workplace for fear of retaliation. Federal and California lawmakers understand this dynamic and have worked to design a legal framework for addressing harassment and discrimination claims while protecting the complaining victim. When an aggrieved employee claims harassment and retaliation, the amounts awarded by the judge or jury are commonly greater for the retaliation portion of the claim. A California woman was recently awarded over $600,000 from her former employer for retaliating against her after she complained of harassment.
According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff was an employee of the California Department of Transportation. At some point in 2009, the plaintiff receive electronic communications that were not intended for her and contained sexually explicit and offensive material. The plaintiff reported the situation to the human resources department of the defendant. According to the plaintiff, she was treated differently after reporting the messages and ultimately fired from her post. The plaintiff alleged in a lawsuit that her termination was unlawful, and the result of illegal retaliation by the defendant.
After a trial lasting over three weeks, the jury agreed that the plaintiff was a victim of retaliation. Notably, the plaintiff’s unlawful termination claim failed, but the retaliation claims stuck and resulted in an award of over $600,000 to the plaintiff. This demonstrates that an employer’s response to a complaint can be more harmful to them than the initial incident that led to the complaint. Aggrieved employees who may be victims of illegal harassment or discrimination should not fear complaining to their superiors about the treatment, as the law protects them if they are punished for making a report.