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Nominee to Head VA Subject of Hostile Work Environment Allegations

April 26, 2018

Recent news headlines about the drama surrounding a Senate committee’s investigation into the fitness of the president’s personal physician to head the Department of Veterans Affairs included allegations that the doctor created a hostile work environment during his years of being in charge of the White House medical unit. The allegations, although unproven at this point, created enough of a firestorm to convince the doctor to withdraw his name from consideration for the post.

Some people might not be aware of the legal implications associated with hostile work environments under California law or that workers subjected to such conditions could be entitled to compensation from their employers. The allegations concerning the doctor were characterized in media reports as limited to conduct that was verbally abusive and “belittling” toward subordinates. Hostile work environments can also be created by a pattern of sexual harassment. Singling someone out because of gender or sexual orientation is harassing conduct in much the same way a worker can feel harassed by a co-worker or supervisor on the basis of unwelcome sexual advances or overtures.

Hostile work environment and sexual harassment

If workers are unable to perform the duties or tasks associated with their jobs because of unsolicited sexually oriented comments, this could be a hostile work environment. The fact the conduct is not directed at a specific worker is immaterial. A worker exposed to or witnessing a pattern of sexual harassment aimed at another worker may also suffer the effects of the existence of a hostile work environment.

One incident is not enough

Among the types of conduct constituting sexual harassment in the workplace giving rise to a hostile work environment in California include the following:

• Jokes, slurs and derogatory comments
• Sexually suggestive comments
• Unwelcome touching or physical contact
• Offers of promotions or other benefits in exchange for sexual favors
• Sexually suggestive gestures
• Pictures, posters and other material of a sexually suggestive nature

Harassment based on sex is broadly defined under California law to include conduct directed toward gender, pregnancy, and childbirth in addition to sexual harassment.

The existence of a hostile work environment requires conduct that is pervasive and severe. The rule to determine if the conduct rises to the level of pervasive and severe that is used by courts in California is one that evaluates the conduct on a case-by-case basis instead of creating a hard and fast rule to be followed in all cases.

Courts employ a reasonable person standard, which considers the reaction to the conduct of a fictitious, reasonable person of average intelligence being of the same gender as the party seeking compensation for the wrongful conduct. Essentially, it asks what a reasonable person would feel under similar circumstances as faced by the individual claiming damages for a hostile work environment.

Help is available for victims of hostile work environments

The Cifarelli Law Firm, LLP, has been at the forefront in California in aggressively pursuing compensation for the victims of sexual harassment, hostile work environments, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual misconduct and sexual assault for more than 25 years. Our skilled, knowledgeable and compassionate attorneys understand the laws and how to use them to obtain maximum compensation for victims. Contact us today by calling (949) 502-8600 or use the form on our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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