Woman wins $300K in retaliation lawsuit
If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment at work, chances are that you deliberated for a while before you reported it.
If so, you’re not alone. Many people worry that their jobs may be on the line, or that no one will believe them. Some people even fear that they’ll be accused of inciting the harassing behavior.
While these things can and do happen sometimes, it’s important to realize that the law offers protection from retaliation after you’ve made a complaint about inappropriate behavior on the job.
Let’s take a look at a recent case, in which a female worker fought back after being fired over her sexual harassment complaint.
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Over several years, Maria Gracia worked her way up through the ranks to assembly line supervisor at Sigmatron International, Inc.
Gracia reported to Patrick Silverman. Things were peaceful and professional between Gracia and Silverman for several years.
But then something changed. According to Gracia, Silverman began emailing her pornographic images. One of the images allegedly contained a superimposed photo of Gracia’s sister’s face.
Even though the emails were upsetting to her, Gracia says that she was afraid to file a complaint. She knew that Silverman was a close friend of the executive vice president (EVP) of the company, and that the EVP was the CEO’s brother. She claims that she feared she’d lose her job if she spoke up.
In 2008, Gracia says that Silverman suddenly began writing her up for tardiness, although he never had before. She says that he also began calling her at home late at night. One time, he allegedly asked her to come out and join him and a former employee for a party. Gracia declined.
Several days later, Gracia says she received a two-day suspension for tardiness.
When she returned to work, Gracia filed a complaint about Silverman. The head of human resources brought Gracia directly to the EVP so she could recount her story to him.
In that meeting, Gracia says that the EVP interrupted her and spoke over her. She claims that he and the HR director briefly stepped out to meet with Silverman. When they returned, she says the EVP asked Gracia and Silverman to shake hands and agree to work nicely with each other.
Not satisfied with the company’s response to her complaint, Gracia filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Two weeks later, she was fired for a supposedly getting a customer’s order wrong.
Gracia sued the company for sexual harassment and for unlawfully retaliating against her for complaining about it.
The company argued that Silverman’s conduct didn’t rise to the level of harassment. It also alleged that Gracia had been terminated for performance issues.
However, at trial, another employee gave a conflicting account of Gracia’s supposed performance issue. He testified that the error she had been accused of was minor, and that she corrected it right away. He also stated that Silverman had warned him to stay away from Gracia because he was “throwing bombs at her.”
The court sided with the company on the sexual harassment claim, but Gracia scored a victory on the retaliation charge.
A jury awarded her $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
The company appealed, but lost. The court ruled that Gracia easily prevailed on her retaliation claim, due to both the timing of her termination, and the other coworker’s testimony about the supposed performance issue.
(The case discussed here is Gracia v. SigmaTron International, Inc.)
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No one should have to feel like their job is on the line after reporting sexual harassment or another unlawful behavior.
If you believe that you’ve been retaliated against for making a complaint, it’s smart to speak to an attorney to find out about your rights.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.