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Los Angeles Jury Awards Employee $1.6 Million for Racial and Sexual Harassment

On Sept. 8, 2015, a male restaurant worker won a jury verdict award of $1.66 million in Los Angeles County. The plaintiff claimed that his symptoms of schizophrenia returned due to the stress he faced from racial and sexual harassment and his subsequent termination at his place of employment. The jury awarded him $161,800 in total economic damages and $1.5 million in punitive sanctions.

Plaintiff’s Version of the Case

The facts of the case involved the plaintiff’s employment as a shift leader at Roscoe’s House of Chicken n’ Waffles beginning in June 2012. After four months, he was transferred to another location, where he claims he was harassed by two women, both in supervisory roles, based on his gender and on his race as an African-American. He further claimed that Hispanic employees received preferential treatment compared with other employees. He alleged that the women labeled him with stereotypical names and called him derogatory and racial slurs. He also claimed that one of the female supervisors rubbed up against other female employees, moving in a gyrating fashion and moaning in a sexual way, in his presence.

When he tried to intervene, she instead made fun of him, stating that he would not be able to stop her from doing what she wanted. Although he complained to the second woman, she did not respond. He finally went the human resource manager and CEO to complain. He was terminated a short time later, allegedly because of the on-going complaints.

The plaintiff originally requested more than $100,000 in back wages, $400,000 in front wages, $140,000 to $150,000 in anticipated medical expenses, $5 million in punitive sanctions and $6 million for emotional suffering.

Defendant’s Version of the Case

The defendant countered that the plaintiff was not sexually harassed as he only witnessed the alleged treatment of other employees, who did not complain. In addition, this supposed sexual conduct only occurred on occasion.

The defendant further denied that the plaintiff suffered racial discrimination because he received two raises at one point during his tenure with the company. He was terminated from his job because he did not meet his expected job duties and not because of any racial issues. Instead, he was offered an opportunity to possibly return to his initial store but did not do so for three years. In addition, the defendant claimed that he did not submit complaints to either human resources or to the CEO.

Plaintiff’s Injuries

The plaintiff alleged that he suffered severe emotional distress after the discrimination and the firing. Although he had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia, he was stabilized prior to taking the job. However, once he was fired, his condition became aggravated, and he was also diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder and a severe, major depressive disorder. He became seriously depressed, reportedly due to the harassment he suffered. He eventually lost his apartment and became homeless.

Meeting the Standards of California Civil Law

California law includes six standards for a jury that is trying to determine if a plaintiff has been the victim of discriminatory treatment:

  1. The defendant’s status as an employer
  2. The plaintiff’s status as an employee of the listed employer
  3. The firing of the plaintiff by the defendant
  4. That some type of protected status was the basis for the firing
  5. The harm to the plaintiff and
  6. That the firing was a significant part of the harm done to the plaintiff.

The jury determined that the plaintiff, who bears the burden of proof in the case, did, in fact, meet each of the required standards.

Similarly, state laws include civil jury instructions for proving retaliation against an employee at their job:

  1. The plaintiff must have engaged in a protected activity, such as reporting discriminatory treatment
  2. The defendant must have fired the plaintiff
  3. The defendant fired the plaintiff because of his or her involvement in the protected activity
  4. The plaintiff was harmed and
  5. The defendant caused harm to the plaintiff due to their retaliation.

Again, the jury found for the plaintiff and that the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff significant harm.

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