Fact that employer accepted liability in WC case is evidence in harassment suit
Case name: Dufresne v. City of Hayward, No. A116737 (Cal. Ct. App. 03/25/09, unpublished).
The California Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court did not err in allowing the jury to hear evidence concerning the city's acceptance of liability in a workers' compensation proceeding arising out of a sexual harassment case.
What it means:
In California, when an employer accepts a claim as compensable and pays benefits related to a former employee's allegations of sexual harassment, a jury may consider this evidence in deciding whether to award the employee monetary damages for her mental injuries.
The employee sued her employer for sexual harassment. She was the only female building inspector for the city. She experienced sexual taunts, demeaning comments, and other sexually derogatory behavior throughout her tenure. The city accepted her workers' compensation claim for stress, depression, anxiety and paranoia due to prolonged discrimination and harassment. She also began seeing a psychologist for her extreme stress. After feeling dizzy and disoriented while at work, she left and never returned.
The city appealed a jury verdict awarding the employee $472,400. It argued that its acceptance of the workers' comp case should have been excluded from evidence because workers' comp is a no-fault system. It further argued the employee failed to show her psychiatric state was caused by her work conditions.
The court reasoned that the employee presented sufficient objective evidence of sexual harassment and persecution to establish her psychiatric injury. It held that by admitting that the workers' comp claim was compensable, the city had acknowledged that the employee presented sufficient objective evidence of harassment and that the harassment was the predominate cause of her injury.
The court rejected the city's assertion that the employee's injuries were caused by her inability to take criticism and a mistaken subjective perception of harassment and held the trial court did not err in allowing the evidence to go to the jury. The court affirmed the jury's verdict.
May 11, 2009
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