— Johnson Fistel, LLP (@JF_LLP) June 14, 2022
On June 2, 2022, a Los Angeles County jury awarded $440 million dollars in punitive damages to two men who claimed they were forced to quit their jobs at Southern California Edison (“SCE”) due to retaliation for reporting sexual and racial harassment. Attorneys for the men have stated that this is the largest victory for punitive damages for any employment verdict in U.S history.
Alfredo Martinez and Justin Page alleged that after they reported sexual harassment and racist language occurring in their workplace, upper management retaliated against them resulting in their constructive termination. Constructive termination is a form of termination where the employer makes working conditions so intolerable that the employee is forced to quit.
The complaint, which was filed in August 2017, described the “fraternity” like atmosphere that allowed and enabled constant racial and sexual harassment of employees. Page was employed at SCE in 2015. He said he witnessed multiple instances of sexual harassment directed towards women and himself, as well as derogatory racial language, and consequently submitted complaints in 2017 to the SCE ethics hotline. Martinez, who was a supervisor at SCE since 2001, stated two female employees came to him in 2017 and confided they had experienced sexual harassment. Jurors awarded $24.6 million in compensatory damages to plaintiffs, bringing the total to more than $464.6 million.
The complaint states the two women went to Martinez because “he was just about the only supervisor who could be trusted and who had not engaged himself in any of the harassment”. Martinez gathered the information from the two female workers and other victims and took it to upper management in an attempt to stop the harassment. After Martinez and Page came forward to upper management, their jobs were upended by their coworkers and superiors. They were allegedly forced to work in horrible conditions consisting of disrespect, gossip, and threats due to coming forward.
The jury awarded Martinez $100 million from SCE and $300 million from its parent company Edison International. Page was awarded $10 million from SCE and $30 million from Edison International. In an unusual and symbolic twist, the jury awarded the two men $140 million more than what their attorneys suggested.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, in California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature may constitute sexual harassment when the conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Individuals of any gender can be the target of sexual harassment, which does not have to be motivated by sexual desire. It is similarly unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in a responsive investigation, proceeding, or litigation.
Johnson Fistel, LLP has been retained by victims of sexual harassment in the workplace and has counseled employers on the appropriate steps to take to avoid claims of harassment. If you have been illegally victimized by your employer or another person in the workplace, or if you have questions as an employer, please contact us for a free consultation and case evaluation. You may telephone us at (619) 230-0063 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.