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Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, and Bullying
Employment Law in California

Sexual Harassment Victim Prevails on Gender Violence Cause of Action Under the Ralph Act

Fencing-toppostIn the case of Ventura v. ABM Industries Incorporated (2013) 212 Cal.App.4th 258, the California Court of Appeal held that hate is not a necessary element to prove in determining whether one has violated Civil Code § 51.7, which prohibits threats or violence because of an individual’s gender.

The plaintiff in the case, Ms. Ventura, after suffering sexual harassment and intimidation by her supervisor, sued her employer for negligent supervision and hiring of the harasser, as well as violation of the Ralph Act (Civil Code § 51.7).  According to the Ralph Act, “All persons within the jurisdiction of this state have the right to be free form any violence, or intimidation by threat of violence, committed against their persons because of . . . ” certain protected characteristics, including sex.

The alleged harasser, among other acts, most egregiously walked into a bathroom Ms. Ventura was cleaning, closing the door behind him, and proceeded to grab her arms, rub himself against her, placed his arm around her neck to keep her from screaming, and at one point even bit her.

The jury found that these events constitutes “acts of violence” committed against Ms. Ventura because of her sex.  The jury also found that Ms. Ventura’s employer knew of the harasser’s conduct after Ms. Ventura complained about it and, after failing to address his misconduct, was guilty of ratifying the harasser’s acts.

The jury awarded Ms. Ventura $100,00 in compensatory damages, $550,000 in attorney fees and costs, as well as a $25,000 civil penalty afforded by the Ralph Act.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the jury’s verdict.

In sexual harassment cases involving acts of violence, use of a cause of action under the Ralph Act may be a helpful, particularly in cases where the statute of limitations under FEHA is at issue, because the Ralph Act has a longer statute of limitations.  There also is no requirement under the Ralph Act that the offending conduct satisfy the “hostile work environment” standard applicable to sexual harassment cases.

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