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Appeals court upholds sexual harassment suit against LA law firm

A Los Angeles appeals court has overturned portions of a ruling by a superior court judge in a sexual harassment case against a Century City law firm. The trial judge had dismissed the claims of a legal secretary who sued for sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment, retaliation, and infliction of emotional distress.

The legal secretary claimed that one of the firm’s attorneys sent her multiple sexually explicit emails, and that, despite her repeated complaints, nothing was done to stop it. What made matters worse, according to the plaintiff, was the fact that the firm’s management knew that she had once been a victim of a traumatic rape.

According to the plaintiff, in 2009, the year after she was hired, the attorney named in the suit copied her on an explicit email to one of the firm’s managing partners. She says she complained to the firm’s office manager, but nothing was done. The following year, she alleges the same attorney included her on emails with sexually explicit videos, images, and messages between his wife and him. She says she complained to the office manager each time, but the manager told her she had done all she could.

The appellate court judge found that the trial judge was wrong in two of his dismissals: in deciding that the number of incidents alleged by the plaintiff was not sufficient to constitute a hostile work environment, and in ruling that the emotional distress claim was covered under workers’ compensation. In his opinion, the appellate judge stated that a jury should determine whether the incidents constituted a hostile work environment and sexual harassment. He also said that sexual harassment should not be included under workers’ compensation for emotional distress since it is not part of a normal workplace.

Two of the trial judge’s decisions, however, were upheld. The appellate court found that the defendants could not be held liable both for committing sexual harassment and failing to prevent it. It also found no support for the plaintiff’s claim of retaliatory action.

Anyone who experiences sexual harassment or any other type of inappropriate or discriminatory behavior in the workplace should report it, as this plaintiff did, and keep records, along with any evidence. If the employer does nothing to stop it, he or she should seek the services of an attorney who specializes in employment law.


Metropolitan News-Enterprise, “C.A. Reinstates Sexual Harassment Suit Against Attorney, Firm” Kenneth Ofgang, Jul. 23, 2013

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