For today’s post I thought I would highlight a recent sexual harassment case: Moran v. Quest Communications. In this case the jury awarded the plaintiff, Amy Moran, $4,292,710.
Let’s outline the facts in detail. I’ve copied and pasted much of it from an online copy of the appellate decision. I want to highlight the kind of behavior that qualifies as sexual harassment. Although a new trial has been ordered on some aspects of the verdict, this case highlights what a jury can do for a sexually harassed employee.
Moran joined Qwest (which is now CenturyLink) in early 2006. She was hired in a sales position and was compensated in base salary plus commission. By mid 2006 her managing boss had been replaced by Dennis Sherwood.
Sherwood seems like a disaster of a boss. He had received sexual harassment training at previous jobs and, according to an appellate brief, “recognized such harassment as a serious issue.” In a previous job, Sherwood tried to start an intimate relationship with a subordinate employee while she was a candidate for hire and after she was hired.
While at Qwest, Sherwood was derogatory toward women. He seemed to stand too close to them, remarked on their attire, and stared at their chests.
At business meetings, in the presence of others, Sherwood would comment on Moran’s dating status. In one such meeting, Moran felt insulted when Sherwood told her “You’re never going to get married. You’re good at being single.” At another business gathering, a co-worker asked Moran what she was doing that evening, and Sherwood interjected with: “Oh, are you going out looking for sex tonight?” or “Oh, Amy, are you going out to look for some?”
In one-on-one meetings, Sherwood would tell Moran that she “wasn’t bringing anything to the table” and that she was riding the coattails of the sales representatives. He told her that her parents didn’t raise her properly. Sherwood would often “get very heated” and raise his voice. Moran had never before been “badgered to tears,” but became “teary-eyed” after her meetings with Sherwood.
At the end of 2006, Moran was recognized for exceeding her sales targets. However, she was not enjoying her job, which she described as “stressful and starting to take a toll” because of Sherwood’s behavior. Despite this, she did not consider complaining to Qwest’s HR department because other employees had complained to HR about Sherwood and they had done nothing or made it worse.
During the next year, things got worse. Sherwood told her during a one-on-one meeting that none of the managers or sales representatives liked her and that she was on thin ice. He compared Moran to “his insecure 15-year-old daughter.”
Once, Moran was discussing her style of working with sales representatives and stated that she didn’t like to push herself on them. Sherwood interjected that the conversation was not about her personal life and how she pushed herself on men.
Another example of Sherwood’s bad behavior occurred at a business dinner when he made Moran “very uncomfortable” by describing how “hot” his daughter looked in a bikini, “going on and on about her breasts.”
Despite being afraid of retaliation and losing her job, Moran contacted Qwest HR and spoke with someone on the phone. this person gave her a “compliance number” to call in order to talk with an organization external to Qwest about her complaint. Moran called and was asked for “a couple of examples” of incidents. Moran provided some examples and explained that what she was experiencing was interfering with her health and ability to work. The person with whom she spoke seemed to be making notes but Moran never saw them. HR deemed her complaint a low priority.
After talking with HR, Moran received a voice message from Sherwood telling her to meet him the next day “at 8:30 a.m. sharp.” Sherwood’s tone “was very harsh and he was clearly very upset.” Sherwood followed up with an email relaying the same message. Fearing retaliation, Moran called her doctor and went on medical leave.
Not surprisingly, Moran never came back from medical leave. She was so distraught that she resigned and filed a lawsuit. Although this judgment seems high for these facts, I wasn’t in the court room or in the jury deliberations. Recently an appeals court issued a new trial on the issue of noneconomic damages (comprising $2.8 million of her total verdict).
This is a typical fact pattern for sexual harassment. If you’ve been harassed, don’t wait, contact a employment lawyer immediately.
Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who exclusively represents employees in workplace disputes. He focuses his practice on sexual harassment, wage & hour, wrongful termination, and retaliation. Visit his website at BRobertsonLaw.com or call his office at 949.667.3025.