When Does Favoritism Become Harassment at Work?

We all hear the typical workplace stories of the male supervisor being overly generous to the young and attractive female subordinate. But at one point does sexual favoritism become a hostile work environment, and therefore a violation of law? This is a tricky question with an answer that is not exactly clear cut.

Sexual Favoritism and CA Employment Law

Interestingly enough, it is not unlawful for a supervisor to favor a subordinate with whom he or she has a romantic relationship. However, it may be unlawful and create a hostile work environment if the favoritism is based upon the granting of sexual favors, it is widespread throughout the workplace, and employees witnessing the favoritism do not welcome such conduct. It does not matter if the employee claiming hostile work environment was the target of such conduct, they can merely be a witness to the conduct.

Under California law, an employee may establish a claim of sexual harassment by demonstrating that widespread sexual favoritism was so severe as to alter his or her working conditions and create a hostile work environment. What is severe as to alter the employee’s working conditions depends on the fact of the case.

Case Study: Salinda vs. DIRECTV Inc.

Salinda is a great example of widespread sexual favoritism in the workplace. Plaintiff was an employee of the Defendant for several years. After a few years of employment with Defendant, Plaintiff witnessed favoritism for young and attractive female employees by male managers and superiors. Further, these female employees would perform sexual favors for the male managers and superiors.

After she complained of this, certain managers and employees were fired. However, years after this first incident, sexual favoritism ensued again. She again complained about the widespread sexual favoritism. Around the same time, Plaintiff was diagnosed with disease of the eye. When she requested a reasonable accommodation, Defendant retaliated against Plaintiff by verbally reprimanding her on her job performance. Soon after, Ms. Salinda was fired.

Plaintiff argued that, among other things, she was retaliated against for her complaints regarding widespread sexual favoritism in the workplace. Defendant argued that Plaintiff was terminated for legitimate reasons having to do with poor job performance. The jury sided with the Plaintiff, and awarded the Plaintiff $1,178,341 in damages.

Sexual Favoritism is Unlawful in California

Sexual favoritism in the workplace is not an uncommon occurrence whether it is between a male and female, male and male, or female and female. Sadly, some larger companies give their star executives too much discretion in the workplace, and sometimes these executives will have employees engage in sexual favors to get ahead in the workplace. If you feel you are a victim of widespread sexual favoritism at your work, then contact an employment lawyer to see if the law was broken.

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