A former California prison cook is suing the state, with help from the U.S. Department of Justice, for allegations that his bosses did nothing to halt serious and ongoing sexual harassment that he suffered by a female co-worker.
Our Costa Mesa sexual harassment attorneys know that while sexual harassment complaints are exceedingly common, what makes this claim interesting is that it involves a male plaintiff. Sexual harassment is vastly under-reported as it is. It is even more under-reported when the plaintiff is a male and the accused is a female.
There tends to be the erroneous assumption that male employees either secretly enjoy such treatment or that they should be able to simply handle it on their own. Neither is the case. And as this situation reveals, the perpetrator need not even be a supervisor.
Here, at a prison in Chino, the two individuals worked side-by-side in the same role as cooks. The reason this rose to the level of involving the DOJ was that the prison supervisors repeatedly refused to take action, despite multiple complaints lodged over a period of several months.
In one case, a supervisor was said to respond with laughter and a joke about the victim being a former military member who should “be able to handle a whiny woman.”
According to court documents in the case, U.S. v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, filed July 11, 2013, here is what reportedly happened:
The male plaintiff was hired by the prison system at a youth correctional facility in the fall of 2007. A female co-worker, holding the same title, was also working there at that time.
Sometime the following summer after he started, the plaintiff says his female co-worker began to sexually harass him. She would refer to him on a weekly and sometimes daily basis by some sexual innuendo. She would make sexually profane, inappropriate and unwelcome comments to him. On a number of occasions, she asked what would be necessary in order for the plaintiff to engage in sexual intercourse with her.
On one occasion, the plaintiff was walking up the stairs to provide some additional food trays to the accused. She reportedly met him in the stairwell with her shirt unbuttoned. She told him to “relax and come here.” He reportedly turned around and walked away.
He told her over and over again that her comments were offensive and needed to stop. They did not. Instead, it got worse.
One one occasion, she came up behind him and smacked him in the head, yelling at him for talking to another woman. Moments later, she reached her hands down his pants, grabbed his genitals and asked when he was going to let her “do something about this.”
A number of times, the plaintiff complained to his direct supervisors. For months, sometimes several times a week, those individuals in turn complained to their supervisor. When nothing was done, those supervisors tried to take it to the next highest level within the prison system. However, they continued to be referred back down the chain, in compliance with the prison system’s policy of having complaints handled at the lowest possible level.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2009 that the prison actually launched an investigation, which concluded several months later, finding that in fact the female co-worker had violated policy – including one barring sexual harassment.
However, the prison still took no action to correct the situation. In fact, the two were made to work together through that fall, with the plaintiff told he would have to learn how to get along with his harasser. It wasn’t until she was put on leave for a separate allegation that he finally found relief.
Now, he is filing a civil suit to compensate for everything he endured.
Costa Mesa employment lawsuits can be filed with the help of the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
Prisons Agency Accused of Ignoring Cook’s Harassment, July 12, 2013, By Annie Youderian, Courthhouse News Service
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Sex Discrimination Allegations Hit National Food Marketer, July 3, 2013, Costa Mesa Sexual Harassment Lawyer Blog