After only two hours of deliberation, a Los Angeles County jury recently returned a verdict of $17.4 million for a Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation employee who suffered discrimination based upon his perceived sexual orientation.  The male employee, who is married to a female, was falsely perceived to be homosexual by his supervisors and, as a result, suffered repeated instances of harassment by his supervisors.  This included verbal abuse, hazing and a bullying campaign in which his portrait was photoshopped to show him in a same-sex relationship with a co-worker. The images were then circulated among city employees.  This verdict serves as a reminder of how common an occurrence discrimination or harassment in the workplace can be, whether it is based upon an employee’s perceived sexual orientation, race, gender, ethnicity or any other illegal grounds.  

The Plaintiff’s Complaints to Regulators and Retaliation from the City

The Plaintiff, Bruce Pearl, began working for the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation in 2002. He was promoted in 2006 to the position of wastewater collection supervisor.  Nevertheless, when the harassment against him based on his perceived sexual orientation began, a colleague informed one of the highest ranking managers at the Bureau of Sanitation about Pearl’s mistreatment.  The high ranking official nevertheless did nothing to remedy the situation and Pearl continued to be harassed.  

Finally fed up with the constant barrage of verbal insults and bullying, Pearl filed a discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging he was transferred to an out of the way office in Reseda, far away from his home, on the basis of his race (Pearl is black) and as retaliation for complaining about a fellow worker’s misconduct in connection with his constant harassment.   Days after making the complaint, Pearl was advised that the city was recommending he be fired. He was accused of falsifying time documents for a subordinate whom fellow employees also perceived as being gay.  Pearl was terminated by the city in August 2011.

Pearl immediately reported his firing to state regulators, contending it was retaliation and motivated by his perceived sexual orientation.   Wisely, he also contested his termination through an internal complaint filed with the L.A. Board of Civil Service Commission. The internal panel ultimately determined that his firing was unfounded and he was reinstated 13 months after his firing in August 2011.  Nevertheless, during the period that Pearl was off work, a supervisor continued showing at least seven colleagues the edited photos that showed Pearl in a fabricated same-sex relationship.  On Pearl’s return to the Bureau of Sanitation, he was placed on a lower-paying day shift, faced more bogus accusations of misconduct, and was given the same supervisor who had been showing the photo-shopped pictures to co-workers.  As a result of the harassment, Pearl eventually went on permanent disability.  

California State and Federal Law Protecting Employees Against Workplace Harassment

Sexual orientation is not a protected category under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”), the main federal law protecting Americans against discrimination, harassment and retaliation in the workplace.  However, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the main state law protecting employees from discrimination and harassment in the workplace in California, prohibits employment discrimination because of sexual orientation or assumptions about an employee’s sexual orientation.  It thus would be illegal for an employer to fire an employee because he or she believes the employee is gay, regardless of whether that belief is true.  Both Title VII and the FEHA also provide protections for Californians who fall into a large number of protected categories, including race, gender, ethnicity, age, and pregnancy status.  Both laws prohibit harassment, discrimination or retaliation for making complaints of racial or other prohibited discrimination or harassment in the workplace.  If a California employee is subjected to discrimination, harassment or retaliation, then he or she has the right to file a lawsuit against his or her employer under Title VII and/or FEHA.

Contact Rastegar Law Group if You Are Being Subjected to Harassment or Discrimination in the Workplace

If you are being subjected to discrimination or harassment in the workplace on the basis of your sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, gender or any other reason protected under state or federal law, contact the experienced California employee rights lawyers of the Rastegar Law Group today.  Our firm has been representing employees in discrimination and harassment matters for over 25 years.  If your supervisor, manager or any other co-worker or colleague is making you feel uncomfortable or subjecting you to harassment or discrimination in the workplace, contact our experienced California employee rights attorneys today at (310) 961-9600 for a free consultation.