New Case Law: Ventura v. ABM Industries

Attorney Case Law Update: Ventura v. ABM Industries – California Second District Appellate Court. Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who focuses his practice on harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination.

Facts of the Case

This case was brought by Sylvia Ventura. Within a few weeks of becoming Ventura’s supervisor, Carlos Manzano began flirting with her and telling her that she was pretty and that he was in love with her, advances which Ventura turned down. Once, when Ventura was cleaning an office, Manzano pulled her arm, pushed her against a wall, and told her that he liked her, and to pay attention to him. Another time, in an elevator, he asked her to kiss him, and leaned in very close. Ventura’s cleaning cart blocked him from kissing her.

Ventura did not complain about Manzano because she did not think she would be believed, but might be disciplined. She testified that she had seen this happen to other workers. Ventura did not complain about Manzano because she did not think she would be believed, but might be disciplined. She testified that she had seen this happen to other workers.

On August 22, 2005, she again saw Manzano drinking at work. While she was cleaning, he left her several voicemails, suggesting in one of them that she “had had a good time” with her husband the day before. Later that day, while Ventura was cleaning the handicapped stall in one of the men’s bathrooms, Manzano entered the bathroom and closed the door. He grabbed her arms from behind, squeezed her, and started rubbing his parts on her buttocks. She tried to shout, but he had his arm across her neck so tightly that she couldn’t breathe. His fingers left marks on her. He also bit her.

Ventura managed to break free. She hid in an office, under a desk, until she felt safe. She called a friend and also called area supervisor Martinez. She did not tell Martinez about the incident, but told him that Manzano and others were drinking in the janitor’s room and that he should come and see. He told her that he couldn’t do that right now.

She left the building, then returned, afraid that if she left, she would lose her job. She again called Martinez, this time telling him what had happened. He told her to give Manzano her keys and tell him that she was leaving because she couldn’t bear it any longer. He also told her to come to the office the next day to prepare a statement. Ventura said that she was going to call the police. Martinez told her not to, because company ethics did not allow it. (Ventura did go to the police, who documented bruises.)

Ventura called Manzano and told him that she was leaving and that he had to pick up her keys, and that she had called Martinez. Manzano came downstairs. Ventura threw the keys at him and took off running to her car. He followed, calling her name, and saying “oh, we’re going to file a lawsuit, right?” and telling her that he was a very vengeful person. She got into her car. Manzano held the door so that she could not close it, and reached in and banged on the steering wheel, swearing at her and telling her that he loved her. She put the car in reverse, and he let go.

Labor Code § 51.7 & Wrongful Termination Case

California Civil Code § 51.7 states, “All persons within the jurisdiction of this state have the right to be free from any violence, or intimidation by threat of violence, committed against their persons or property because of political affiliation, or on account of” their “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation….”

Defendants next argue that section 51.7’s reference to threats or violence because of a person’s sex logically means that the offending act must be based on hate. They further argued that there was no evidence of hate here, because Manzano told Ventura that he loved her. The Court found that hate is not an element, though it also added that even if it was, we would reject defendants’ argument that Manzano’s protestations of love mean that there was no evidence of hate. The evidence was that Manzano ‘loved’ Ventura enough to attack her and hurt her.

Ventura won her case and was awarded $125,000. Her attorneys applied for their fees and the Court awarded $550,000 in fees.

At the end of the day it was a good result for a client who was in need.

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