The end of 2021 was marked by a decisive victory for California women complaining about sexual harassment. The huge LA-based video game maker Riot Games agreed to pay $100 million to settle claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation against female employees. The case started in 2018 when 2 women employees accused the company of fostering a ‘bro culture’ in which female employees were persistently belittled, discriminated against and harassed. Over the next three years, thousands of other female employees and contractors brought charges against the male-dominated company.
This landmark case perfectly illustrates what Los Angeles sexual harassment laws describe as a hostile work environment.
How is sexual harassment defined in Los Angeles?
Both federal and California laws prohibit any form of sex-based discrimination in the workplace. The laws define two types of sexual harassment, quid pro quo and hostile work environment cases.
Quid pro quo refers to those situations when an employee is harassed by a supervisor or manager asking for sexual favors in return for a pay raise or under the threat of termination.
Hostile work environment is described as a situation when an employee is constantly the subject of sexist jokes or comments or is physically harassed by coworkers. In order to prove a case of hostile work environment, the plaintiff must show that the sexual harassment was of a pervasive nature, causing them mental anguish and impacting their capacity to perform their job duties. This is exactly what happened at Riot Games.
According to court documents, the women working at Riot Games were constantly belittled during staff meetings with comments like ‘She should speak less’ or ‘She speaks louder than she should’. At the same time, the women described how their male coworkers made fun of them and sexually objectified them. For instance, the guys at Riot Games had an email chain focused on the hottest women employees.
How do you file a sex-based discrimination complaint in California?
Under California law, employees in both public and private companies have the right to file a complaint with their supervisor or a designated representative from the HR department. All companies are encouraged to have an internal complaint mechanism in place so that any employee knows who to speak to if they are sexually harassed. The laws guarantees that any employee can file a discrimination complaint without fear of retaliation. Other employees helping with such an investigation are also protected against retaliation.
The employer must investigate each discrimination complaint promptly. The employee at the origin of the complaint can be represented during this stage by a union representative or by a Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyer.
If the employer dismisses the complaint and takes no measures to stop the harassment, the victim has the right to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
An experienced California sexual harassment lawyer can be of great help, making sure the complaint is supported by enough evidence demonstrating the employee was discriminated against.
Either of the agencies mentioned above can negotiate a settlement between the two parties. If an agreement cannot be reached, the investigating agency can file a lawsuit on behalf of the victims. However, most complaints are settled before going to court as the employers usually prefer to pay damages rather than face the bad publicity of a public trial.
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