Workforce.com

'Me Too' Evidence in Sex Harassment Claims

February 18, 2010

Thelma Alaniz, Noelia Galvan-Santiago, Mary Tipton and Angelica Zolis worked for a medical clinic owned and operated by Dr. Jorge Zamora-Quezada in McAllen, Texas. They alleged that Zamora sexually propositioned, kissed or attempted to kiss them, touched their thighs and hands, promised job security and advancement in exchange for sexual favors, and disciplined them when they did not give in to his advances.

A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas returned a verdict in favor of the employees on all counts and awarded $51,286 in back-pay damages, $42,000 in compensatory damages and $164,000 in punitive damages, for a total of more than $257,000 in back pay and damages for harassment and retaliation. At trial, the court allowed the jury to consider “me too” evidence (that other employees not parties to the lawsuit experienced similar acts of harassment).

Saying the evidence did not prove a hostile work environment and that a new trial was required, Zamora appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 5th Circuit affirmed the verdict on all counts but one, reversing judgment on Galvan-Santiago’s claim of quid pro quo harassment for insufficiency of evidence, noting: “We focus on the frequency and crudeness of the remarks, as well as the frequent inquiries about the plaintiff’s sexual activity, and determined that this conduct was sufficiently severe and pervasive to create a hostile work environment, even without evidence of propositioning or inappropriate touching.”

However, the court held that there was no need for a new trial on damages. With respect to Zamora’s other challenges, the court found no abuse of discretion by the trial court admission of the “me too” evidence and decision to merge each of the plaintiffs’ claims into a single trial. Alaniz v. Zamora-Quezada, 5th Cir., No. 07-40325 (12/21/09).

Impact: Business owners must always be on their best behavior toward employees and customers. It is recommended that employers consider policies and procedures to alert all managers of their obligations, and provide employees with an avenue for complaints.

Workforce Management, February 2010, p. 10 -- Subscribe Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.