NEW CASE: Ignoring Employees’ Sexual Harassment Complaints Costs One Employer $11 Million

In a recent case (Meadowcroft and Brown v. Silverton Partners, Inc.), two winery employees, Megan Meadowcroft and Amanda Brown, alleged they had been sexually harassed by their supervisor, General Manager Pinero throughout their employment.

Specifically, Brown had complained that Pinero has flirted flirted with her constantly (which was unwelcome and made her feel uncomfortable).  She further claimed that Pinero had touched her in an inappropriate manner.

Meadowcroft had complained that Pinero made sexually explicit gestures and sexual comments to her.  She further complained that Pinero had physically touched her by putting his hands on her waist and under her buttocks while she was working.  Finally, Meadowcroft complained that Pinero had told her that she could be a manger if she had sex with him.

Meadowcroft complained about the sexual harassment she was experiencing to the winery’s owners and Pinero was terminated.  However, after making her complaint, Meadowcroft was no longer scheduled to work.  Moreover, after Pinero promised to behave better and to increase sales, ownership reinstated Pinero as General Manager.

After Pinero returned, Brown complained to ownership about Pinero’s presence and even obtained  a temporary restraining order against Pinero.  Rather than address Brown’s complaint, Brown was placed on a leave of absence, pending the result of her TRO hearing and Pinero continued to work.  After the restraining order was granted, Brown was not returned to work — despite several requests to be placed on the schedule.

Ultimately, Brown and Pinero filed a lawsuit against their former employer claiming, among other things, that that they faced unlawful sexual harassment, unlawful retaliation when they complained about the harassment, and that they were wrongfully discharged from their employment.  A Los Angeles County jury agreed and awarded each of the women $1,500,000.00 in future emotional distress damages, $1,000,000.00 in past emotional distress damages, and $3,000,000.00 in punitive damages.

Take home for employers

It is imperative that employers understand that after employees raise protected concerns about their employment, especially ones that are as serious and egregious as the allegations of harassment in this case, employers must avoid treating the employees differently in any way after the complaint.

The employer’s act of taking both employees off the schedule soon after becoming aware of their complaints, gave the jury the impression that the change in the plaintiffs’ hours was directly because of their claims of harassment by the General Manager.