Employees who are sexually harassed at work can feel quite vulnerable, especially if they think they have been singled out for such treatment. When an employee finds out others have been treated just as badly, she may sue.
Naturally, the employer’s attorney will try to exclude from evidence any incidents that occurred at other times or to employees other than the plaintiff. But now a California appeals court has permitted such “me-too” evidence.
The court reasoned that, by showing that a supervisor has a propensity to harass, the plaintiff employee is trying to demonstrate the supervisor’s motives and intent. The employee can use such evidence to bolster her claims she was also harassed.
Recent case: Lorraine Pantoja went to work for Thomas Anton, an attorney. She claimed that Anton slapped her buttocks, touched her, offered her $200 while touching her leg, asked for a neck massage and called her his “Mexican.” Finally, he allegedly called her a “stupid bitch” and fired her.
When Pantoja’s lawsuit went to trial, she tried to introduce testimony from other former employees who claimed Anton regularly commented on their breasts and frequently verbally abused them, including using variations of the word “bitch” when referring to female employees at the firm.
The lower court wouldn’t allow the testimony, but Pantoja appealed. The Court of Appeal of California reversed and ordered a new trial.
It reasoned that the “me-too” evidence went to motive and intent and was therefore relevant as proof Pantoja was telling the truth and experienced a sexually hostile work environment. (Anton v. Pantoja, No. F058414, Court of Appeal of California, 2011)
Final note: Don’t ignore repeated complaints about alleged hostility. Instead, take action immediately to stop the conduct before the situation gets out of hand.