My good friend, Lawrance Bohm, got the largest sexual harassment verdict in history for his client, Ms. Chopourian. The case demonstrates that sexual harassment still occurs quite often across California, especially with highly successful individuals like doctors. Sexual harassment is one of the more disturbing forms of gender discrimination. Not only can it financially hurt someone in their profession, but can also severely hurt an individual emotionally.
Sexual harassment most commonly takes the form of hostile work environment. Hostile work environment can take the form of verbal and physical conduct, whether sexual or nonsexual in nature. In hostile work environment cases, an employee must show that he or she was subjected to unwelcome sexual advances conduct or comments, and harassment was so severe as to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. Further, the employee must also show the employer knew or should have known of the sexual harassment. Usually, the harassed employee is terminated for poor performance or for a reason out of nowhere or arbitrary.
In Chopourian v. Catholic Healthcare West, plaintiff, a surgery physician assistant, was terminated for not showing up to an on call shift, but plaintiff filed suit. She claimed she was terminated after filing over a dozen written complaints over the course of two years regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. During her employment, plaintiff was subjected to consistent unwanted sexual advances and physical contact, as well as inappropriate and demeaning sexual comments such as surgeons telling her they are horny. The jury was not convinced by the employer’s reasons for termination and awarded plaintiff a verdict of $167,730,488.00.
At the end of the day, this case is good news for employees in California. A verdict this large is a testament that employers will be still be held accountable for the wrongs they commit in the workplace. If you believe you have been a victim of a hostile work environment, contact an employment lawyer immediately.
As surprising as it may seem, some employers still fail to pay their employees proper minimum wage and overtime under California law. Recently, the California Department of Industrial Relations issued wage theft citations of roughly $16 million against several California restaurants. The California restaurants were cited for wages, premiums, and penalties owed to hundreds of employees for various wage theft violations. Investigations exposed a heinous amount of wage theft as it was discovered that employees, mostly waiters and waitresses, were paid an average of $1.15 per hour. Some waiters and waitresses were even either not compensated at all or were just paid a fixed rate of $200 per month. Also, kitchen employees were also never compensated for overtime. Considering some employers have trouble following wage and hour laws, let’s go over some of the basics.
As of July 14, 2014, California’s minimum wage is $9.00 per hour. Although the Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, California law supersedes for employees working in California. Thus, the California restaurants were breaking both California and Federal law by paying their employees only $1.15 per hour. It is also important to note two important things. Employees cannot waive minimum wage so even if some of the waiters and waitress here agreed to be paid under minimum wage, that agreement would not hold water in court. Second, since we are talking about employees who make tips, California law prohibits an employer from crediting tips toward minimum wage and also prohibits an employer from taking any amount of tip given to an employee by a patron.
Under California law, an employer must pay 1 ½ times the employees regular wage after 8 hours worked in a day and after 40 hours worked in a week for all non-exempt employees. Sometimes employers tell an employee that it is necessary for him or her to work long hours due to the nature of the assignment and therefore overtime is not required. Or employers might tell employees that the company he or she works for does not fall under the kind of company that must pay overtime under California law. These are all fabrications and excuses not to pay an employee. All that matters is if the employee worked overtime hours and whether the employee worked with the knowledge of his employer.
Although it sad and unfortunate that employers continue to violate basic wage and hour laws, citations issued by the California Department of Industrial Relations, such as the citation discussed above, shows that employee rights are still being fervently upheld across the state. If you believe your employer is paying you under minimum wage or you are being deprived of overtime, contact an attorney immediately.