A San Francisco janitor was sexually harassed by her supervisor for months before she was raped in one of the offices on the second floor of the Ferry building where she worked. The harassment consisted of the supervisor making lewd comments and propositioning her for sex or sex acts. After complaining to management, she was told not to discuss the incidents, was forced to sign a confidentiality agreement and told that the company’s own investigation revealed that her harassment and assault claims were meritless.
The janitor, a mother of five children, was fired in February of 2005. Despite the sexual harassment and the assault that took place in 2004, she had stayed at her job because she was the sole supporter of her family.
After a jury trial on the sexual harassment and retaliation claims for reporting the harassment and assault, her former employer, ABM Janitorial Services, was ordered to pay $12,000 in lost wages to the former janitor and $800,000 as compensation for emotional distress.
Despite the jury verdict, ABM denies any wrongdoing and claims that it maintains strict policies related to sexual harassment in the workplace. There was no information as to whether criminal charges were ever brought against the supervisor that committed the alleged rape in 2004.
Sexual harassment can take many forms in the workplace and does not have to culminate in an actual physical attack to be actionable. A request for sexual favors in exchange for not being fired or for a promotion or pay raise is sexual harassment. Repeatedly asking out an employee, making unwanted jokes and touching an employee may also constitute sexual harassment in the California workplace.
Source: SFGate, “Jury awards janitor $812,000 in harassment case,” Bob Egelko, May 18, 2012