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Yahoo director named in California sexual harassment claim

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Laws protect Los Angeles employees from unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace. Sexual harassment does not have to include physical contact. However, when quid pro quo harassment — sexual favors in exchange for advancing in or keeping a job — does occur, an employee’s job status is dependent on giving in to unwanted advances.

A former software engineer has filed a California employment lawsuit against Yahoo Inc. and the company’s senior engineering director. The plaintiff alleges the female boss pressured the worker, also female, to have sex with her on several occasions. As a “reward” for the favors, the employee was promised a “bright future” with Yahoo.

The complaint alleges the harassment began after the woman was hired in February 2013. The engineer went to work for Yahoo the same year the company purchased a mobile business owned by the plaintiff. The executive named as a defendant is a senior director with Yahoo Mobile.

The plaintiff stated she reported the unwelcome behavior to Yahoo’s human resources department, but the company apparently never acted upon it. Meanwhile, the director gave the subordinate two less than favorable reviews for job performance. The company placed the software engineer on unpaid leave following the sexual harassment complaint and later fired her – a wrongful dismissal, according to the lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The company has been supportive of the plaintiff’s former supervisor. A Yahoo representative claimed the engineer’s allegations were unfounded. The company vowed to defend the director in court.

Quid pro quo is one form of sexual harassment. The other involves sexual misconduct that creates an abusive or hostile working environment. Harassment includes unwanted behaviors like leering, sexually-charged comments and verbal or written propositioning, among other actions.

California employers are responsible for safeguarding workers against harassment and discrimination. Employers who shirk duties to investigate complaints and stop and prevent future harassment may be liable for damages.

Source: New York Post, “Yahoo executive Maria Zhang sued by female employee for sexual harassment” Jul. 13, 2014

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