Jury Returns $1 Million Verdict in Sexual Harassment, Bullying Case

Sexual harassment violates employment non-discrimination laws throughout the country. While New York City has one of the most expansive non-discrimination statutes in the country, offering numerous protections not available in other places, the laws regarding sexual harassment have become fairly uniform nationwide. Interesting developments in sexual harassment law can occur almost anywhere in the U.S. A recent sexual harassment trial in a Texas state court resulted in a jury verdict of over $1 million. Aside from the large award of damages, the case is notable for several other reasons. More than one-third of the verdict was assessed directly against the plaintiff’s supervisor in an individual capacity. Additionally, much of the coverage of the case described it as a fight over “workplace bullying.” While bullying has received a great deal of attention in the context of schools, bullying in the workplace has no specific legal remedy apart from existing anti-discrimination law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex and other factors. Court decisions have established that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under certain circumstances, such as when a supervisor or manager makes unwanted sexual advances toward an employee, or attempts to condition some benefit of employment on participation in sexual activity. It can also include remarks and actions of a sexual nature, as well as any pattern of sex-based harassment that creates a hostile work environment.

Workplace bullying does not have a precise legal definition, but it is broader in scope than sexual harassment in common usage. At least three states—California, Tennessee, and Utah—have laws that directly address workplace bullying in some form, although none of them allow private causes of action. California’s law, for example, requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide supervisory employees with training regarding issues like sexual harassment. Cal. Gov. Code § 12950.1.

The New York Legislature has considered a bill known as the Healthy Workplace Bill. This bill would amend the New York Labor Code to create a private cause of action for “abusive conduct” or an “abusive work environment,” specifically noting that such claims would not be covered by existing anti-discrimination law. The most recent version of the bill was introduced in 2016 as S6438 but did not advance out of committee. Another New York anti-bullying law did not survive a constitutional challenge, after the Court of Appeals struck it down because of the vague definition of “abuse.” People v Marquan M., 2014 NY Slip Op 04881 (Jul. 1, 2014).

The plaintiff in the Texas case, who worked as a nurse at a urology clinic in the Dallas area, made a series of allegations against a doctor that fit just about any conception of “bullying.” She claimed that the doctor screamed at her on several occasions, and he apparently then testified that he offered her a “demonstration” of screaming to prove that he had not “screamed” at her. The jury returned a verdict of $1.08 million for sexual harassment and other claims. Nearly $350,000 of that amount was against the doctor himself. The parties settled after the trial for about $440,000.

The knowledgeable and experienced sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of job applicants, employees, and former employees in New York City, helping them assert claims for sexual harassment under local, state, and federal laws. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

New York City College Agrees to Reforms after Sexual Harassment Investigation, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 11, 2017

Do New York Employment Laws Prohibit Firing an Employee for Not Being Attractive? New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 24, 2017

Nationwide Sexual Harassment Class Action Results in Public Apology, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 17, 2017

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