A jury recently awarded a comedy writer $650,000 in compensatory damages in her sexual harassment lawsuit against her billionaire employer.
The 36-year-old woman alleges her employer subjected her to months of sexual innuendo and inappropriate conduct. She sued her employer and two of his companies for battery (unwanted touching) and harassment.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury found in favor of the plaintiff and found that the employer acted with malice, oppression, or fraud. As a result, a second trial will commence to determine if the plaintiff should be awarded punitive damages.
The plaintiff was the third individual to file a sexual harassment case against the employer and take it to trial since April, when another woman was awarded $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages. However, that plaintiff later agreed to a reduction of around $445,000 after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge found the out-of-pocket damages to be excessive. Bill Hetherman "Comedy writer awarded $650,000 in harassment suit against producer" avpress.com (Oct. 13, 2019).
Commentary and Checklist
Family employers should always follow the strictest code of decorum when interacting with all staff. By setting a good example of appropriate behavior, you let managers and employees know what is expected of them and show that bad behavior on the part of others is not acceptable.
Train all managers and supervisors on your anti-harassment policy regularly. Include boundary violations, which can escalate into harassment claims if not stopped. Emphasize respect for others and communication skills. Cover prohibited types of statements, physical touch, and other behaviors.
Here are some additional best practices for family employers to follow to help create a safe and positive work environment free from harassment:
· Never engage in illegal or inappropriate behavior around staff. Even if the wrongdoing is not directed at staff, if staff witness it, it creates exposure.
· Do not drink alcohol or use drugs when staff members are present, or interact with staff in an intoxicated state.
· Always act in a professional manner. Treat staff like respected employees, not close personal friends.
· Limit your physical contact with staff, especially touches that are more personal than professional.
· Do your best to keep your social life out of the workplace.
· Avoid emotional outbursts when staff is around. Never yell at or belittle staff.
· Closely monitor how managers treat staff, and how staff treats each other, for any signs of harassment or discrimination. Immediately address any suspected wrongdoing.
· Let staff know that they can come to you with any complaints about a manager or coworker. Back up your words by quickly investigating all reports and keeping the reporter safe from retaliation.
· Make sure staff has multiple reporting methods available and encourage reporting of any wrongdoing.