On May 5, 2017, a Los Angeles jury found the Defendants Southern California Permanente Medical Group ("Kaiser") and Teodoro Mendoza liable for a combined $300,000 verdict in favor of Plaintiff M. Barber. The jury found Mendoza liable on claims of (a) sexual harassment hostile work environment, and (b) defamation. They also found Kaiser liable on a claim of (a) failure to prevent harassment, and it was necessarily found vicariously liable on the (b) sexual harassment hostile work environment claim. On December 1, 2017, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff against the Defendants in accordance with the jury's verdict. (Barber v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group, et al., Los Angeles Superior Court, Case No. BC598063)
The plaintiff had worked for Kaiser for approximately 4 years before the sexual harassment started. Initially the harassment began as sexual overtures or remarks. The employee defendant would say and do things to the plaintiff while at work in a fast paced emergency room environment, such as: (a) "You have really big arms. I wonder what else is big" while peering at the plaintiff's genitals. (b) "If your biceps look like that, I can only imagine what it looks like downstairs." (c) He would refer to the plaintiff - who is African American - as "chocolate" or "sexy chocolate." (d) The defendant employee would tell other employees that "I [Mendoza] want to hit it [the plaintiff] from the back." Mendoza would also occasionally try to brush up against the plaintiff with his body. One of the most egregious acts, however, occurred while the plaintiff was in the lunch room with several other employees. As the plaintiff was eating and talking with others, Mendoza slid a packet of "Organic Throat Coat" tea towards the plaintiff, and, within ear shot of everyone else, said, "You're going to need this when we're together," which everyone took as a reference to oral sex.
The plaintiff thought he could deter the defendant employee on his own by aggressively telling him the harassing comments and conduct were unwanted and not appropriate. When it became clearly obvious that the conduct would not stop, the plaintiff reported the conduct to appropriate managers. Kaiser then took up an investigation, but left the plaintiff and defendant employee to work amongst each other while the investigation was underway. This made it very uncomfortable for the plaintiff to work. When the investigation concluded, Kaiser's first investigator found that the defendant employee violated Kaiser's policy that prohibited sexual harassment conduct, which is a terminable offense according to Kaiser policy. Instead of firing the defendant employee though, Kaiser just suspended him for a day. After Mendoza got the notice of suspension, he drafted an email to numerous ER employees that also work with the plaintiff suggesting that he was being wrongfully disciplined for sexual harassment and that the plaintiff simply had a "personal vendetta" against him. That email set in motion additional hostilities against the plaintiff as the defendant employee's work friends took his side and started being cold to or distancing themselves from the plaintiff.
Although Kaiser found that Mendoza harassed the plaintiff, when Mendoza returned back to work, Kaiser allowed him to work with and around the plaintiff again making it unbearable for the plaintiff to work contributing to the hostile work environment that the plaintiff had to endure. Although the plaintiff continued to complain to Kaiser about this situation, nothing was done to alleviate the plaintiff's concerns for several more months increasing the plaintiff's emotional distress.
At trial, Kaiser's own doctors testified that the plaintiff experienced extreme emotional distress as a result of the sexual harassment and hostile work environment. The plaintiff's expert, Anthony Reading, Ph.D., and Kaiser's expert, James Rosenberg, MD, both agreed that the plaintiff suffered emotional harm as a result of the harassing conduct and hostile work environment, though they could not agree when the emotional harm started.
Trial in this case lasted almost a month from April to May 2017. After the verdict, post trial motions were filed by defendants' counsel as well as an appeal. Plaintiff's counsel filed motions for cost, prejudgment interest and attorneys' fees before the case was mutually and confidentially dismissed by the parties.
Plaintiff's trial counsel: Twila S. White, Esq. and Imran A. Rahman, Esq. of Law Office of Twila S. White; and
Iverson Matthew Jackson, Esq. of Iverson Matthew Jackson Law Firm, PC
Kaiser's trial counsel: Michael E. Wilbur, Esq. and Andrea Bednarova, Esq. of Foster Employment Law
Mendoza's trial counsel: Francisco Cabada, Esq. of Cabada and Hameed, LLP
Trial judge: Honorable Monica Bachner, Los Angeles Superior Court, Stanley Mosk Courthouse, Dept. 71