Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Understanding what sex violence is, and how to report it

April 25, 2018 | 3:19 pm


Sexual assault happens in every community. Whether it’s harassment, online abuse, or unwanted sexual contact — including rape — it’s important to take these actions seriously, not blame the victim, and speak up against sexual violence.

April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States, a time when survivors and advocacy groups work to raise awareness surrounding the pervasive issue of sexual violence, as well as educate the public about ways to prevent it.

This year’s campaign comes during a watershed moment in history, as thousands speak out about their experiences through the #MeToo Movement that has sent shock waves through nearly every industry, revealing the indiscriminate nature of sexual violence. This year, National Sexual Violence Resource Center is leading the “Embrace Your Voice” campaign, encouraging people to speak up to “promote safety, respect and equality toward ending sexual violence.”

“It is important we all understand what sexual assault is, and how to report it,” said David Cohn, managing partner for Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “In fact, it’s up to all of us to speak up, show our support for survivors, quit the victim blaming, and dispel myths and misconceptions.”

Cohn continued: “At the same time, it is important for victims to know there is help out there, and where to turn when that help is needed.”

The U.S. Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This includes forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

Anyone can experience sexual assault, including children, teens, adults, and seniors. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 women in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape some time in their lives, and 1 in 67 American men have experienced rape or attempted rape. Those who sexually abuse can be acquaintances, family, trusted individuals, or strangers, with the first three being the most common.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has represented victims of sexual assault by teachers, law enforcement, coaches and others in position of authority. The law firm recently resolved several cases for victims of sexual assaults by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department deputies and detention deputies in juvenile hall.

Indeed, sexual assault persists, and the statistics are staggering:

  • One in three women will experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • One in six men will experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
  • More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
  • One in five women will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 51.1 percent of female rape victims reported being raped by an intimate partner.
  • 40.8 percent of female rape victims reported being raped by an acquaintance.
  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator.
  • 8 percent of rapes occurred while the victim is at work.

If you or someone you know experienced sexual assault and is seeking resources, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

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And if you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault at the hands of someone in authority, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

5 new California laws in 2018 call for safer streets and workplaces

December 27, 2017 | 9:17 am


The New Year also means new laws for California.

Several laws will take effect starting Jan. 1, including several transportation-related rules and changes. They include laws related to marijuana and driving, seat belts on buses, and a new blood alcohol concentration limit for Uber drivers.

Because Chain | Cohn | Stiles focuses on motor vehicle accidents and other roadway related injury cases, we wanted to share some of these changes as we start 2018. And since the Bakersfield-based law firm also represents victims of workplace harassment, we also share one new law related to employer supervisor training.

Learn a little more about these new laws below, courtesy of the California Department of Motor Vehicles:

Marijuana Use in Vehicles (SB 65): This law prohibits using marijuana or marijuana products while driving or riding as a passenger in a vehicle. This includes smoking marijuana and consuming edibles in vehicles. Similar to the “open container” laws, marijuana products must be locked away or sealed in a container. If you break this law, you’ll get a negligent operator point counts. The same goes for motorcycle riders. The new law will be implemented after officers pull motorists over for separate moving violations.

Commercial Buses and Seat Belts (SB 20): This law requires passengers on commercial buses to put on a seat belt. Kids over 8 years old but under 16 years old won’t be allowed to ride unless they are restrained by a seat belt; otherwise, parents and legal guardians will be fined $20 on the first violation, and $50 thereafter.

DUI, Passenger for Hire (AB 2687): This one begins July 1, 2018, and this law makes it illegal for anyone to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of .04 percent or higher if there is a passenger in the vehicle who has hired the driver — like Ubers or Lyfts. This is a higher standard than the current .08 BAC for all drivers. Punishment is a suspended driver’s license if convicted.

Motorcycle Training (AB 1027): This law authorizes the DMV to accept a certificate of satisfactory completion of any motorcyclist-training program approved by the California Highway Patrol in the place of a required motorcycle skills test. Applicants for an original motorcycle license or motorcycle endorsement under 21 years of age are still required to complete a novice motorcyclist-training program.

Harassment Training (SB 396): Especially relevant now during the “Me Too” movement, employers with 50 or more employees — who are already legally required to conduct two hours of sexual harassment training every two years — must include training for supervisors that includes harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

* Update: Chain | Cohn | Stiles is no longer accepting wrongful termination and sexual harassment cases *

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If you or someone you know is injured in a vehicle accident at the fault of someone, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000 or visit the website chainlaw.com.

#MeToo: How to protect yourself from sexual harassment, assault and abuse

November 29, 2017 | 7:00 am


* Update: Chain | Cohn | Stiles is no longer accepting wrongful termination and sexual harassment cases *

Recently, the United States has seen an uprising of women (and men, too) who have gone public with their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and systemic sexism, particularly in the world of Hollywood.

The “Me Too” campaign has spread virally to denounce sexual assault and harassment in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein. Millions of people throughout the world have used the #MeToo hashtag to come forward with their own experiences.

Sadly, these types of cases are all too familiar in Kern County as well. In fact, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has represented dozens of victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, and sex assault and abuse at the hands of law enforcement officers, employment supervisors, and others in roles of power.

Earlier this year, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat contributed an article to the Kern Business Journal that outlined how sexual assault and harassment victims could fight back, specifically in the workplace. That article below has been re-purposed here:

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Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, still a prevalent occurrence in the workplace.

According to a recent study conducted at the South by Southwest conference in 2016, two-thirds of women reported having experienced “unwanted sexual attention” at work. Moreover, a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine revealed that one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work. Sexual harassment is evidently more prevalent in the service industry, where a 2014 survey by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that 90 percent of women feel forced to “curry favor” with their customers when working for tips.

Even worse, 70 percent of women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace do not report for fear of repercussions, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is a disappointing statistic, because there are laws in place both in California and in the United States to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, applies to both public and private employers and prohibits sexual harassment against employees, applicants, volunteers, unpaid interns and even contractors in the workplace. You can file a complaint online by visiting the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) website, but it is recommended that you contact an attorney before making such a complaint. The statute of limitations in California requires employees to obtain a right to sue notice letter from the DFEH within one year of the alleged harassment. The employee then has one year from the date of the right to sue notice letter to file a lawsuit.

Moreover, the FEHA requires employers of 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training to supervisory employees. The FEHA department permits employees to submit complaints if they have reason to believe that their employer has not complied with this requirement.

Sexual harassment is also prohibited under federal law. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person’s job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment can range from inappropriate sexual jokes, to inappropriate touching. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically protects employees from sex-based discrimination, which includes sexual harassment, in the workplace and applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

I advise victims of sexual harassment to take the following steps.

  • First, tell the person harassing you to stop. You may do so in person, but you should also put your request in writing; for example, in the form of an email.
  • If this does not work, or if you are uncomfortable about taking such action, consult your employment manual. You need to follow the protocol laid out in the employment manual, if it exists.
  • If it does not exist, you should notify your human resources department or a supervisor, and inform them – in person, and in writing – about the sexual harassment. If the harassment persists, even despite taking the above steps, then you should contact an attorney immediately to weigh your options.

It is illegal under both state and federal law for an employer to retaliate against an employee for making a sexual harassment complaint. If you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, document your complaints in writing, take action, and always remember that the law is on your side.

* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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Contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website Chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles takes on wrongful termination, discrimination case against Bakersfield business

October 24, 2014 | 10:11 am


* Please note: Chain | Cohn | Stiles is no longer accepting wrongful termination cases *

For several years, Adam Rendon worked at Bakersfield’s Best Pawn on Chester Avenue. There, he was subjected to derogatory remarks from his supervisors and coworkers.

At one point, when he ignored the comments, his coworker pointed a gun at him and pulled back the hammer. The gun was unloaded. On another occasion, his colleague told him, “I don’t like me no queers,” and then fired a nail gun on concrete to make a loud “bang.” Rendon, believing that Jimenez had fired an actual gun, experienced heart palpitations and shortness of breath and was admitted to an emergency room at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.

Then, in June 2011, Rendon published a book that detailed his difficult upbringing and revealed he was gay. From that point, he was continuously subjected to severe and pervasive harassment from his coworkers because of his sexual orientation that included employees firing guns at a picture of Rendon attached to a wall at the back of the store.

In February this year, Rendon was fired.

The Bakersfield wrongful termination lawyers at Chain | Cohn | StilesMatt Clark and Neil Gehlawat — have filed a lawsuit against pawn shop owner Donald Younger, manager Jose Santoyo and employee Richard Jimenez for harassment and discrimination. The Bakersfield Californian highlighted the case in its Oct. 24 edition, which you can read here. See the article in the newspaper here.

“The bottom line is that everyone is entitled to work in an environment free of hostility and discrimination,” said Chain | Cohn | Stiles lawyer Neil Gehlawat. “Unfortunately for Adam, he was denied this basic right. After self-publishing his book about his difficult upbringing, in which he disclosed his sexual orientation, he was subjected to an array of homophobic remarks, slurs, and even violence by his co-workers. And to make matters worse, when he complained about this behavior to the owner of the store, he was subjected to even more hostility, retaliation, and was ultimately terminated.

Gehlawat continued: “By filing this lawsuit, Adam wants to send a message to Bakersfield’s Best Pawn, and to all employers, that every employee deserves to work in a hostile-free environment, regardless of their age, race, gender, or in his case, sexual orientation.”

Rendon, with the assistance of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, is seeking compensatory damages from Bakersfield’s Best Pawn including lost wages, bonuses and retirement benefits as well as general damages for mental pain, anguish and emotional distress. The lawsuit also demands punitive damages to punish the pawn shop’s owner and employees who either engaged in the harassment or didn’t do anything to stop it.

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *