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Sexual Harassment as a Result of Visual Displays of Sexual Materials
California law protects employees from hostile working environments due to sexual harassment. California Government Code § 12940(j)(1). Sexual harassment may take place when an employee is shown sexually explicit photos or videos, which may cause a hostile working environment. There are several manners in which these sexual materials may be displayed. In Lipsett v. University of Puerto Rico, the court found that the display of pornographic pictures and other visual displays of sexual materials may contribute to a hostile working environment. Lipsett v. University of Puerto Rico (1988) 864 F.2d 881, 887.
After completing her medical studies, Lipsett entered a five-year general surgery residency training program. For the first year and a half, her evaluations were either “very satisfactory” or “satisfactory,” with most of the ratings being “very satisfactory.” However, she was having trouble gaining acceptance and respect in the program, because the predominate view was that surgery as a medical field was appropriate only for men.
During her first year of residency, the chief resident made it clear to Lipsett that surgery was a male preserve not hospitable to women. He warned Lipsett not to complain about the situation, giving as an example how a previous female resident was dismissed from the program after complaining. The inhospitable environment for women was expressed in various ways. The chief resident commented in Lipsett’s presence that he wanted to sleep with a nurse who was walking by. On another occasion, as Lipsett was about to perform a rectal examination, the chief resident announced to the patient that Lipsett was about to give him “pleasure.” He told Lipsett that women could not be relied upon while menstruating or, as he put it, "in heat." She was told women should not go into surgery because they needed too much time to bathe, to apply makeup, and to get dressed.
During her second year of residency, the new chief resident announced to Lipsett that he was instituting a "regime of terror" aimed at eliminating all women as residents. Visual displays of sexual materials became a key element of the ongoing sexual harassment. The men plastered the walls of their rest facility with Playboy centerfolds, and posted a list of sexual nicknames for all the female residents on a bulletin board. Lipsett’s nickname was "Selastraga," which meant “she swallows them.” A sexually explicit drawing of Lipsett was posted on a wall. Because these materials were placed in an area where Lipsett and other female residents had to go for meals and meetings and to read posted notices, they were confronted by the visual displays of sexual materials every day. Several of the doctors conspired to harass Lipsett, referencing “how they were going to get rid of Dr. Lipsett and all her little friends.”
Lipsett was eventually discharged from the program and she filed a lawsuit soon thereafter for sexual harassment and sex discrimination. After several years of litigation the First Circuit ruled that there was sufficient evidence for Lipsett to have made out a prima facie case that she was subjected to sexual harassment. A jury later returned a verdict in favor of Lipsett. Lipsett v. University of Puerto Rico (1991) 759 F.Supp. 40.
An example: A female employee went out on a few dates with one of her co-workers. During one of those dates they had an intimate encounter. However, the female employee then decided that she wanted to keep her personal life and her work life separate. Hence, she told her co-worker that she did not want to go out with him anymore. The male employee seemed to take the news well. A few days later, however, the male employee began talking to his fellow co-workers about the encounter that he had with the female employee. Besides talking about it, he began sending other employees adult videos, which according to him displayed the different positions that they had tried during their encounter. That same day, the male employee began sending texts to the female employee that contained messages that expressed a desire to try different positions with her the next time they got together. The messages even contained adult pictures and adult videos. The female employee was intimidated by these acts. She felt ashamed that her co-worker would send these messages to her and that he would also share them with other male co-workers. She even complained to her manager, but nothing changed. Each person’s experience is unique. If you find yourself in a similar situation, contact our office.
Another example: A male employee has been receiving pictures from a female supervisor. The pictures sent by the female supervisor display herself wearing only her underwear. When she first sent the pictures, the employee thought it might have been a mistake, so he deleted the pictures and talked to her the very next day about the likely mistake. The female supervisor said to him that she intentionally sent those pictures and asked him whether he liked them. The male employee immediately explained to her that he had a girlfriend and asked her to stop sending him these kinds of pictures. The female supervisor did not listen to him and continued sending him these inappropriate pictures, which made him very uncomfortable and distracted him to the point that he could not perform his work. Your situation may not be exactly like this, but if there are similarities, contact our office.Contact Us
If you have experienced sexual harassment at your workplace, contact the sexual harassment lawyers at Kokozian Law Firm, APC.