#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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit on behalf of third victim sexually abused by Kern County juvenile corrections officer

October 5, 2016 | 9:14 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles and the Law Office of Thomas C. Seabaugh have filed yet another lawsuit in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who was sexually abused at juvenile hall.

This is the third case this team of attorneys has filed on behalf of a survivor of sexual abuse by corrections officers at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall, and the second case allegedly involving officer George Anderson.

“The fact that we have three girls over the course of about six months, who have come forward to report sexual abuse by corrections officers, points to systemic problems at juvenile hall, and not just a few bad apples,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat said.

The victim, identified as “Jane Doe,” alleges that the sexual abuse violated her rights as protected by the U.S. Constitution as well as California law. In addition to seeking damages, the victim is alleging that she was failed by the deficient oversight, training, and practices at Kern’s juvenile hall, which provided the perpetrator with opportunities that he was able to exploit.

“The purpose of these victims’ stay at juvenile hall was to help them to get back on the path towards a normal life. Instead, law enforcement officers exploited their power and authority over these girls, who already represent some of the most vulnerable members of our society, with devastating consequences for the survivors and their families,” Seabaugh said. “This lawsuit is in the public interest, because it involves accountability and consequences for those who were responsible.”

The victims in these cases are represented by attorneys Gehlawat and Seabaugh. They filed two claims against the County of Kern in 2015 on behalf of two females who were sexually assaulted in separate incidents by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while the girls were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall.

In one of the cases, Jane Doe 1 was housed at James G. Bowles Juvenile Hall from June 2014 through February 2015. While there, she enrolled in the Pathways Academy commitment program. Throughout September 2014, Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar allegedly sexually assaulted her. When she reported the incident, supervisors initiated an administrative and criminal investigation. On Oct. 30, 2014, Navejar was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Jane Doe 1.

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If you or someone you know if sexually abused by someone in power, contact our lawyers right away. Call 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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