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Employee wins same-sex harassment case on appeal

By Thomas M Lee

On March 26, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal in Lewis v. City of Benicia, No. A134078, __ Cal. App. 4th __ (1st Dist. Mar. 26, 2014) held in its published decision that a jury had reasonable basis to conclude that a supervisor engaged in a pervasive pattern of same-sex harassing conduct. Such conduct included numerous gifts, frequent lunch purchases, some sexual jokes, and displays of pornographic computer images. Further examples of the harassing conduct included the supervisor asking the Plaintiff to kiss him and inviting him over to his house.

The Plaintiff in this case is a heterosexual man who sued his former employer, the City of Benicia, and two former male supervisors, for sexual harassment and retaliation. The trial court dismissed his sexual harassment claims against his male supervisors and the City before the case was presented to a jury, and the City later prevailed at trial on the retaliation claim. On appeal, the Court reversed the lower Court's dismissal of the sexual harassment claims as to one of the male supervisors and the City.

The Court held that the evidence allowed an inference that the male supervisor's conduct was motivated by sexual interest. Further, the Court noted that “whether [the supervisor's] alleged conduct unreasonably interfered with [Plaintiff's] work performance is a relevant factor in determining whether a hostile work environment existed, but no single factor is required.”

For more information on the case, go here.

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