Sexually Harassed Farmworkers Win $17 Million

Sandra Lopez, an immigrant from Chiapas Mexico, along with five other women, recently won a $17 million sexual harassment suit against their employer, Moreno Farms, a packing plant in Florida. According to the suit Lopez and the five women were subjected to graphic acts of sexual harassment that included rape, attempted rape, propositioning, and groping by three male supervisors. 

According to the Miami New Times, Lopez said she was dragged into her supervisor’s trailer and raped for half an hour. The other five women claimed they were fired when they didn’t comply with their supervisors’ sexual advances. 

Despite the large sum awarded to the women, collecting the money will be very difficult. As the case was coming to an end, Moreno Farms shut down and the owner fled to avoid going to jail.

Even though the women may never see a cent, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission still believes that the ruling was significant.  That’s because it shows farmworkers that they have rights despite their current immigration status. The EEOC is committed to protecting immigrants and vulnerable populations that are being subjected to discrimination and harassment by their employers.

Do you think that immigrants are particularly vulnerable to workplace sexual harassment? 

*image by Unsplash

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California Passes Historic Equal Pay Law

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a gender wage equality law that gives women new tools to protect them from being paid unfairly because of their gender. The law had bipartisan support and is one of the strongest in the nation. 

California is leading the way when it comes to addressing and tackling the gender wage inequality problem that plagues women in the United States. According to a study done in 2013, women employed full time in California were paid 84 cents for every dollar that their male counterpart earned. The gap was even greater for minority women.

Now that more and more families rely on a woman’s income, income equality is essential to having a prosperous economy. It is estimated that the gap in California alone causes families to miss out on an additional $33.6 billion a year, money that would then be pumped back into local business and economy.

As of late, high-profile actresses such as Patricia Arquette have been voicing their feelings on the matter, which is said to have influenced California lawmakers.  For example, Arquette used her Oscar moment to stir controversy with her equal-pay remarks, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” 

Some effects of the new law are:

  1. Puts the burden on the employer to prove that a male’s salary is higher due to seniority or merit.
  2. If a woman believes she is being paid unfairly because of her gender, she can question her employer without fear of repercussion/retaliation.
  3. Encourages women to inquire if they are being paid unfairly.
  4. Opens the door for other states to follow suit.

Do you think wage inequality is intentional by employers?  Or do you think wage inequality has more to do with outside factors not having to do with discrimination?

*image byFlickr

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Employees Awarded $12 million in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit for Being Called Sluts and Accused of Having STD’s

A call center in Indianola, Iowa was recently sued by five female employees for sexual harassment. Danielle Rennenger, one of the plaintiffs, claims that she and other female employees were called derogatory names such as ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ on a daily basis during their time of employment. In addition, Rennenger also claims that she was accused of having sexually transmitted diseases at work and also forced to sit on the lap of a male co-worker.  The harassers, supervisor and co-worker, were also accused of holding up money and asking Rennenger to dance. When she complained, Rennenger claims that she was laid off in retaliation. 

Amme Roush, another plaintiff, claims that her supervisor asked her what her favorite sexual position was. When she called in sick one day, the same supervisor told the office it was because she had a sexually transmitted disease. In addition, she also alleges that she (and other female employees) were referred to as sluts and other derogatory names. 

Though a jury returned a $11.9 million verdict in Rennenger’s favor, collecting the money might prove to be very difficult. Because $10 million total was awarded in punitive damages against four independent companies (Manley Toy Direct LLC, Toy Network LLC, SLB Toys USA Inc, and Aquawood, LLC), it will be very difficult for Rennenger to collect money from any one company. Rennenger’s attorney believes that the corporate structure of the call center was set up in a way to protect the companies from lawsuits such as these. 

Though Rennenger has yet to receive any money from the lawsuit, she feels happy knowing that the jury ruled in her favor and that the harassment is out in the open and on record. 

What do you think of these crazy allegations?

*image by Michael Lokner, Flickr

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Casino Loses Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Re High Roller

A Pittsburgh cocktail waitress was recently awarded over one million dollars in a lawsuit against her employer, the Rivers Casino.

According to the report, a high-roller placed a $1 tip in Allyson Pelesky’s bra while she was serving him. As a result, he also touched her breast. Pelesky immediately reported the incident to the police but later dropped charges when she was promised that the man would not be allowed to return to the casino. A little more than a month later, the casino lifted its ban on the man, leading Pelesky to file a lawsuit against the casino for violating its zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy. 

Pelesky, who was teased by her co-workers, says she filed the lawsuit because she did not want to have to see the man who sexually harassed her every day. “Whether you’re a waitress, a manager, it doesn’t matter. We just deserve respect,” Allyson told the press. She feels that the casino only let the man return because he is a “Signature Card” player. 

Pelesky was awarded $150,000 in compensation and $999,000 in punitive damages.

According to a recent report by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, nearly 90 percent of females that work in the restaurant industry, have experienced some type of sexual harassment at one time or another. 

How prevalent do you believe sexual harassment is in the restaurant/hospitality industry?

*image by Thomas Hawk, Flickr

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Obama Orders Paid Sick Leave for Government Contractors

President Obama recently signed an executive order that will require government contractors to be given at least seven paid sick days a year. For every 30 hours worked, contractors will earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave. The new regulations will go into affect starting in 2017 and will affect around 300,000 people. 

Some studies have shown that paid sick leave not only contributes to friendlier worker relations and increased loyalty, but it is especially beneficial to workers with families. As Obama nears the end of his second term, the White House has been working diligently to expand access to paid leave. In addition to the most recent executive order, Obama has also directed the following changes this year:

1. In January 2015, Obama issued a presidential memorandum to advance up to 6 weeks of paid sick leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

2. Obama is currently pushing Congress to pass a law that would grant government employees 6 additional weeks of paid maternal leave.

3. Obama is pressing Congress to pass The Healthy Families Act which would require any business with 15 or more people, to give employees up to 7 paid sick days per year.

The United States is the only advanced nation that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. As it currently stands, only 60 percent of the total private-sector workforce in the United States, has access to some sort of paid sick leave.  In California, mandatory paid sick leave went into effect on July 1, 2015.  Over a decade ago, California also instituted paid family leave, but those funds come from the taxpayers, not employers.

What do you think of government mandating sick and family leave pay by employers?

*image by Marc Nozell, Flickr

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Dentist Who Killed Cecil the Lion Allegedly Sexually Harassed His Receptionist

It appears that lions aren’t the only thing Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist who was made famous for killing a protected lion in Zimbabwe, preys on. In 2009, Palmer settled a sexual harassment claim against him for $127,500. Not only was the plaintiff a former patient but she was also his receptionist. 

The woman accused Palmer of touching her breasts, buttocks and genitalia as well as making verbal comments between the dates of July 1999 and January 2005. When she informed her supervisor that she wanted the harassment to stop, she was fired. Palmer then paid out the settlement without admitting guilt. In addition to paying out $127,500, Palmer was also ordered to undergo three hours of sexual harassment training. He was also required to write a letter of recommendation for the woman. 

On July 1, 2015, Palmer killed a 13 year old lion that was being tracked and studied by Oxford researchers. The two men who helped Palmer kill Cecil are being charged with poaching. Palmer might also face charges as well. 

*image by Flickr

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New Study Shows More than 1 in 10 Sexual Harassment Claims at Work are Filed by Men

It seems like every other day there is another sexual harassment case making headlines. Though the specifics may vary, the case usually goes something like this: female employee or subordinate gets sexually harassed by her male employer or supervisor. What some people might be shocked to hear however, is that 5% of reported sexual harassment cases are actually filed by men against women and 11% of cases are filed by men against other men. According to a study conducted by the QUT Business School, that means more than 1 in 10 sexual harassment claims at work are filed by men. 

An overwhelming majority of sexual harassment complaints (9/10) are made by subordinates against their supervisors. The study suggests that women supervisors may be adopting the sexualized banter often found in “old boy’s clubs” as a way to fit in with their male cohorts. Some examples of complaints filed by men subordinates against their female supervisors include: a female manager asks her male employee to expose his abdominal muscles, yells at him in front of co-workers, calls him princess, tells him to ‘toughen up’ or ‘get a tiara’, and tells jokes about rape. Sexual harassment also includes unwarranted touching, hugging, or kissing. In sexual harassment cases filed by men against men, complaints involving homosexual slurs and questions of sexual orientation are the most common. 

Though the majority of complaints are still females against males, it’s important to raise awareness about this growing minority. Regardless of who is doing the harassing, sexual harassment in the workplace can have a detrimental affect on the emotional and psychological health of the employees and overall company morale. Because of the stigma associated with men reporting sexual harassment cases, workplaces should place more focus on implementing supportive complaints mechanisms for both men and women alike. 

*image by David Tan, Flickr

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Grad Students Suing UCLA for Sexual Harassment Cover-up

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone regardless of profession or industry, but also in educational institutions. In fact, many victims that incur sexual harassment at universities are often asked to keep their allegations quiet so as not to tarnish the institution’s reputation—such is the case in this recent sexual harassment claim.

Two University of California Los Angeles grad students recently filed a suit against the university alleging that they were told to keep quiet about allegations of being sexually harassed by their history professor, Gabriel Pieterberg. The women claim that Pieterberg made inappropriate comments and unwanted advances such as pressing his body close to theirs and forcibly kissing them. 

One of the women, Kristen Hillaire Glasgow, alleges that Pieterberg began sexually harassing her early as 2008 and continued to do so until 2013. She didn’t speak up about the harassment because she was afraid the department would cut her funding. When she found out another woman, Nefertiti Takla, filed a formal complaint, she decided to speak up. Unfortunately, UCLA failed to investigate Glasgow’s claims. As far as Takla’s claims—she says she eventually dropped them after the campus adviser (who oversees the reports) told her that the other faculty members— Piterberg’s peers— would likely side with the professor. 

How often do you think claims of sexual harassment are mishandled (encouraging victims to keep quiet, failing to properly investigate claims in a timely manner, refusing to hold the harasser accountable, failing to report the harassment to the proper authorities)? 

A recent report from the Huffington Post found that 143 colleges across the US had mishandled sexual harassment and assault incidents. Sexual harassment and assault claims aren’t investigated because institutions fear the stigma that will result if word gets out. Unfortunately, ignoring the claims only causes emotional distress for the victims, perpetuates the likelihood that the harasser will harass again, and opens the institution up to more civil liability. 

images by Chris Radcliff and Derrick Story 

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Garth Brooks Sued for Unpaid Wages

Garth Brooks’ former business partner is suing him for unpaid wages and bonuses.  Lisa Sanderson is seeking $425,000 from the famed country music artist whom she worked with for almost 20 years.  Sanderson is a television and movie producer who claims she was hired by Brooks to start his acting career. Sanderson claims she is owed wages for getting Brooks movie roles which he declined.  Brooks allegedly declined roles in Saving Private Ryan and Twister because he “wanted to be the star” and was not willing to take a backseat to Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, or a tornado.

Sanderson also alleges Brooks turned down other deals she arranged for him including Fox and Disney.  Sanderson’s suit states that she never got the 50 percent of producers fees she was promised.

What do you think of a business partner–as opposed to an employee–suing for unpaid “wages”?

Please post your comments at:

For a little more juicy unpaid wages/salary misclassified case see my article re Lady Gaga being sued here.

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LA Employment Lawyer Sues Gloria Allred for Poaching his John Travolta Sexual Harassment Client

I often write on popular issues in employment law, but this time the issue is the employment lawyers themselves.  A local Los Angeles employment lawyer who represented one of the masseurs accusing John Travolta of sexual battery/sexual harassment is now suing “famous TV attorney” Gloria Allred.  The lawyer has sued Allred claiming that she poached his John Travolta client while he represented him.  The John Doe client along with another unidentified male is now represented by Allred.

Allred vigorously denies the poaching allegations and has threatened to countersue for defamation.

UPDATE:   L.A. Superior Court Judge Michael Linfield officially dismissed the suit against Allred on June 29.  The Court ruled that since the “claims are premised upon activities protected by the litigation privilege, there is no possibility” of prevailing on this claim.

What do you think of this interesting twist to the John Travolta cases?

Please post your comments on my website:

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Shirazi Law Firm, PC

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