These days, even if it’s newsworthy, a sexual harassment case has a lot to compete with in order to command the public’s interest. In a digital mediascape flooded with a steady stream of updates on the world’s constant scandals, sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace don’t hold us in rapt attention as in the days of Anita Hill.
But while the latest Kardashian fiasco competes for clicks in the blogosphere, sexual harassment cases continue to flood the legal system at both the federal and state level. Many involve a male supervisor who harasses a female subordinate, but they come in a variety of other forms as well, and the details never fail to be shocking.
We’ve plumbed the depths of the internet to come up with a list of ten high profile and slightly crazy sexual harassment cases. No doubt some of these cases were high profile due some unusual quirks — from bear-hugging surgeons to sex-hungry CEOs.
Before we get to our list, here is a video that Mr. Robertson posted on YouTube that explains CA’s sexual harassment law. You can skip it if you’re in a hurry. Remember, while it might be entertaining to browse these cases from behind the safety of a computer screen, it’s usually a living hell for those caught in the experience. State and federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on their sex or gender (in addition to other factors). If you believe you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment or discrimination, contact our sexual harassment attorney to see if we can help.
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1. Julie Fisher v. San Pedro Peninsula Hospital
In 1987 a surgical nurse named Julie Fisher filed a sexual discrimination suit against San Pedro Peninsula hospital in California. Fisher claimed that a gynecologist she worked with named Dr. Barry Tischler contributed to an environment of sexual harassment against women at the hospital. In her lawsuit, Fischer alleged Dr. Tischler engaged in sexual insults and inappropriate touching. On one occasion, Fischer claimed Tischler hugged her so tightly; he separated the cartilage in her ribs.
After Fisher complained to hospital management about Dr. Tischler’s behavior, the Dr. wrote her a letter of apology, but no disciplinary action was taken against him. She claimed that following an investigation by the hospital, Dr. Tischler continued to engage in harassing behavior with other female hospital employees, including pulling nurses onto his lap, grabbing women from behind and putting his hands on their breasts, picking them up and swinging them around. On one occasion, Fischer claimed, the good doctor even threw one woman onto a gurney. According to court documents, these actions took place in hospital hallways, the lunchroom, as well as the operating room.
The nurse claimed her fellow employees ostracized her after she complained about the Doctor’s behavior. Fisher said too that her husband, also a doctor at the hospital, began seeing a decline in his referrals.
The case was considered landmark at the time because Fischer was ultimately allowed to seek damages as a witness to sexual harassment and not as the direct target of harassment. Before she went to trial, the California Supreme Court ruled that employees who are not direct targets of sexual harassment could still sue if they can prove the harassment was pervasive enough to create a hostile workspace.
In a decision rendered by the California Court of Appeals, 2nd District, one judge took exception to a lower court’s ruling that referred to Dr. Tischler’s behavior as merely “sophomoric antics.” The judge wrote, “Relegating this conduct to such a category is both demeaning and dishonest. Grabbing a woman’s breasts, gesturing towards a woman’s vaginal area or even making offensive sexual statements to another is far from being merely sophomoric. It is egregious, hostile conduct which should not be condoned or excused to immaturity.”
But in 1992, after only seven hours of deliberation, a jury voted 9-3 in favor of Dr. Tischler, finding that he did not engage in sexual harassment. According to a Los Angeles Times article following the verdict, Fisher’s lawyer, Peggy Garrity, likened her client’s case to the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill investigation.
“Clarence Thomas also made it to the Supreme Court and Anita Hill took a difficult, painful step and she made a difference,” Garrity told the times. “Slowly there will be changes here.”
According to an online state database, Dr. Tischler is still licensed to practice medicine.
2. EEOC v. Z Foods
In July, a Federal Judge awarded a group of California farm laborers more than $1.4 million in damages relating to sexual harassment and retaliation. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the workers by the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleged that two supervisors with California based Z Foods awarded promotions to female farm workers in exchange for sexual favors. The supervisors were also found to subject female workers to continuous sexual advances, leering and unwanted physical touching. The company also fired male and female employees who complained about the harassment.
The award was the maximum amount allowed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The judgment found that the farm workers suffered severe emotional distress as the result of the company’s actions.
3. Elementary School Sexual Harassment
As far as pure craziness goes, this one might have taken the top prize, had the sexual harassment portion actually gone through the courts. Not only was the accused harasser a child, but he was also the winner of a large settlement.
In 2006, officials of at a Massachusetts elementary school accused a first grader of sexually harassing a fellow student. While sitting in a classroom of about 20 students, as well as a teacher, the unidentified boy allegedly touched a female classmate inside her clothing waistband on her skin.
The school principle said the child’s actions constituted sexual harassment and suspended the boy for three days. In addition, the police were contacted as well as social services and the district attorney. No charges were filed, but the boy’s parents sued the city in 2007. Media reports stated that an insurance settlement paid out to the boy’s parents totaled $20,000. Meanwhile, the boy will receive a guaranteed lump sum of more than $132,000 when he turns 17. The boy’s attorney was also paid $60,000 in legal fees.
“It was not handled properly, and we’re paying the price,” Brophy said.
4. Penny Muck v. Geffen Records
The music industry is rife with tales of debauchery. While many stories from the industry revolve around old-fashioned sex, drugs and rock and roll, legitimate harassment — and worse — does occur. One high-profile case to recently storm through the blogosphere involves the efforts of pop star Kesha to be released from her contract with Sony Records over claims that she was sexually assaulted and verbally abused by music producer Dr. Luke. While young music fans may find such a story to be an outlier in the industry, record executives have a well-established history of harassment and discrimination that goes back decades.
In 1992 the media referred to a 28-year-old secretary at Geffen Records named Penny Muck as the Anita Hill of the music industry. In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Muck claimed her boss, Marko Babineau, general manager of the label, had engaged in various harassing behaviors including fondling her breasts, and on one occasion, forcing her face into his crotch. Perhaps most shockingly, Muck recounted the day when Babineau stood over her desk and began to masturbate. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Muck said the experience reminded her of something out of Jekyll and Hyde.
“After he ejaculated, it was so weird,” Muck said. “He just walks back into his office, it’s like business as usual. As if nothing ever happened.”
While Geffen initially said Babineau left the company to spend more time with family, it later admitted to terminating the executive as a result of an investigation into his behavior with Muck. Though the label denied any prior knowledge of Babineau’s harassing behavior, the company quietly settled the suit with Muck for $500,000.
5. Melissa Clerking & Lindsey Allison v. Long Beach Police Department
Sometimes a discrimination case has all the elements of a made for TV movie. This was literally the case in the early 1990s when two female police officers sued the Long Beach Police Department for harassment and won a large settlement.
The officers, Melissa Clerkin, and Lindsey Allison accused male officers of treating them with hostility, and in some cases, putting them in physical danger. Allison, the department’s first female canine handler, was subject to ridicule and isolation from those in her unit who allowed their dogs to attack her. Clerkin meanwhile had been in a years-long physical relationship with a supervisor. When the relationship ended, the supervisor threatened her. When she complained about this treatment, male colleagues refused to provide backup assistance, and sent offensive messages to her over police computers.
In 1993, after Clerkin and Allison won their lawsuit, the city decided to settle the case for nearly $3 million. The women’s ordeal was chronicled in the made for TV movie “With Hostile Intent.” Broadcast in 1993, the film starred Melissa Gilbert.
6. James Gist v. Pam Matranga
Not every case of sexual discrimination or harassment involves a man mistreating a woman (though a lot of them do). In 2014, a Texas jury awarded $567,000 to 51-year-old former police constable James Gist after it found a supervising constable, Pam Matranga, sexually harassed him for nearly five months.
Gist accused Matranga of making suggestive comments and advances, as well as pressing his head between her breasts. Gist’s attorney told the Houston Chronicle, that in addition to awarding his client $200,000 more than he asked for, the jury wasn’t swayed by the atypical gender dynamics of the case.
“They rejected this whole notion that you get away with it because you are a female,” Griffin said.
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7. Corey Lashley v. Sheila Flynn
Yet another instance of a male plaintiff winning a sexual harassment against a female employer happened in 2014 in Queens. Corey Lashley took a job at the New Life Business Institute in 2012 after company president Sheila Flynn offered him position advertising for the company. While the New York Daily News referred to Flynn as a “sex-hungry boss,” federal court documents paint a slightly less salacious story.
According to court records, the pair initially met at a nightclub and a romantic relationship formed during Lashley’s employment with New Life. But Lashley contended that after he broke things off with Flynn, she continued to pursue him romantically.
Lashley testified that Flynn’s pursuit included rubbing on his body while the two were in her office, as well as performing oral sex on him. He testified to feeling badly about the relationship and made attempts to avoid his boss. Soon after that, Flynn fired Lashley.
During the civil trial, Flynn testified the reason she fired her former lover was because of his criminal background, which limited his ability to obtain a particular license pertinent to his job. However, Lashley maintained that his boss was aware of his criminal background at the time she hired him. Lashley sued Flynn and her company under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act arguing that he was the victim of “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. This type of harassment occurs when rejection of unwelcome sexual conduct is used as a basis for termination. A jury awarded him $40,000.
8. Kerry Woods v. Chuck Wolfe
In another example of the unexpected ways sexual harassment can occur, the EEOC sued a construction company in Louisiana in 2009 on behalf of a male employee who claimed to have been sexually harassed by another male employee.
According to the EEOC, the accused harasser was Chuck Wolfe, a superintendant with Boh Bros. Construction Co. Employee Kerry Woods accused Wolfe who taunted him with abusive sexual language and even exposed himself to Woods.
During the trial, Wolfe admitted to harassing Woods, because in his opinion, Woods was effeminate and didn’t conform to the stereotype of an ironworker. According to an article in the Pacific Standard, Wolfe took exception to Woods making an off-hand comment to coworkers about preferring pre-moistened antibacterial wipes to toilet paper. Wolfe reportedly found this to be a less than manly thing to say out loud.
Boh Bros. was ultimately found to have allowed “hostile work environment” sexual harassment to occur. The jury awarded Woods $451,000 in back pay, compensatory and punitive damages. This figure was reportedly reduced by the court to $301,000 due to statutory limits.
9. Women Harassing Other Women
As the previous case on this list showed, in the eyes of the law, men are capable of sexually harassing other men. It should come as no surprise then that sometimes women harass other women sexually.
In 2014, the EEOC announced a same sex harassment settlement in favor of a group of women who worked at a Reno Nevada branch of Wells Fargo. According to an EEOC press release, four female employees accused another female employee as well as a female manager of directing sexual comments, gestures and images at them. The manager and teller were also accused of inappropriately touching and suggesting that the four employees wear sexually provocative clothing.
During its investigation, the EEOC found that the women reported the offensive behavior several times, but management failed to respond quickly. Wells Fargo agreed to pay $290,000 to the four bank tellers as settlement.
10. Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Inc.
The last case on this list laid the groundwork for same sex harassment cases to go to trial, and itself went all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 1997.
The case involved Joseph Oncale, a roustabout on an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Oncale accused his male co-workers, who were reportedly heterosexual, of harassing and taunting him repeatedly. In one incident, Oncale claimed while he and the other employees were showering, he was grabbed by his coworkers, who forced a bar of soap between his buttocks. Oncale also claimed to have been threatened with rape.
Oncale quit his job, and eventually sued. After a lower court tossed the case because it was a same-sex incident, the US Supreme course heard the case and decided the gender of the victim was irrelevant under the civil rights act.
“Nothing in [this law] necessarily bars a claim of discrimination because of sex merely because the plaintiff and the defendant are of the same sex,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote on behalf of the court.
The above 10 examples are crazy stories from a factual standpoint. If you want to read about some enormous California sexual harassment verdicts, click here. If you want to learn more about wrongful termination, click here. If you want to learn more about other types of harassment, view our main hostile work environment & harassment page here. If you’re looking for a personal injury attorney, this guy is pretty good. Finally, if you just want to speak with an employment lawyer, visit our homepage.