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

November 29, 2017 | 7:00 am


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.

— Neil Gehlawat is a partner with the Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, where he focuses on civil rights, employment and wrongful death cases.

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If you feel that you’ve been sexually harassed or abused by an authority figure, it’s important to contact an attorney. The lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles take an aggressive approach to sexual abuse and harassment cases. You may be entitled to lost past and future wages and benefits if it’s a case of sexual harassment at work, and emotional distress damages, among others. For more information on sexual harassment and sex abuse cases, visit our specialized website here.

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

CCS takes on wrongful termination, discrimination case against Bakersfield business

October 24, 2014 | 10:11 am


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 CCS 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.

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If you feel that you’ve been discriminated against, sexually harassed, or fired unfairly from your job, it’s important to contact an attorney. The Kern County wrongful termination lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles take an aggressive approach to employment discrimination and wrongful termination cases. You may be entitled to lost past and future wages and benefits, and emotional distress damages, among other things. For more information on wrongful termination, sexual harassment, or discrimination cases, visit the specialized website here.

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