Defendant in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Claims Defamation Against Plaintiff

A former software engineer at the internet company Yahoo filed a lawsuit alleging that her supervisor, the company’s Senior Director of Engineering, sexually harassed her by demanding that she have sex with her and retaliated against her when she refused. Shi v. Zhang, et al, No. 1-14-CV-267855, complaint (“Complaint”) (Cal. Super. Ct., Santa Clara Co., Jul. 8, 2014). The defendant, in addition to denying the plaintiff’s allegations, filed a cross-complaint for defamation. Shi v. Zhang, et al, cross-complaint (“Cross-complaint”) (Jul. 16, 2014).

The case has received more media attention than many cases of alleged harassment, in large part because same-sex harassment cases between women are still rare. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that the number of same-sex harassment complaints it receives has doubled in the past five years. The U.S. Supreme Court first recognized claims for same-sex sexual harassment under Title VII in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Svcs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998), which involved male employees on an offshore oil platform.

The plaintiff began working at Yahoo as a software engineer in February 2013. She alleges that the defendant, who was her direct supervisor, instructed her to let her stay in the plaintiff’s “temporary Yahoo housing unit in Sunnyvale” shortly after she was hired. Complaint at 4. While the defendant was staying there, the plaintiff alleges that she coerced her into sexual activity “on multiple occasions against her will,” promising the plaintiff that “she would have a bright future at Yahoo if she had sex with her.” Id. The defendant also allegedly threatened the plaintiff’s job, company stock, and future employment prospects if she refused.

The plaintiff claims that she initially did not refuse the defendant’s demands out of fear for her job. When she did rebuff her, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant retaliated by “unfairly downgrading her performance reviews[,]…removing her as lead from projects and promoting others” ahead of her. Id. The plaintiff complained to Yahoo’s Human Resources department, but she claims that they did not conduct an adequate investigation. Instead, she alleges that the company retaliated against her by putting her on unpaid leave and then terminating her.

The lawsuit asserts three causes of action under state and common law: sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is claiming lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and other general damages. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages in an undisclosed amount.

The defendant filed a cross-claim for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, calling the plaintiff’s allegations “outrageously false.” Cross-complaint at 1. She states that she founded a company that employed the plaintiff, which was acquired by Yahoo in February 2013. The plaintiff allegedly “struggled to perform up to company expectations” at Yahoo. Id. at 2. The defendant alleges that the plaintiff made complaints to Yahoo Human Resources in an effort to save her job. She made the allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation, the defendant claims, as a “drastic measure[] to ward off her termination.” Id. at 3. The company allegedly found “no basis” for the claims. Id. at 4.

The sexual harassment lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of workers in the greater New York City area in claims for harassment, hostile work environment, and discrimination at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

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New York Transit Company Settles EEOC Sexual Harassment Lawsuit for $17,500, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 31, 2014
Phillips & Associates Obtains $50,000 Jury Verdict in Sexual Harassment, Retaliation Lawsuit, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 24, 2014
Co-Founder of Dating Application Sues Company for Sexual Harassment, Presents Text Messages from Manager in Support of Claim, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 10, 2014

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