Can a female employee working in the “sexually charged atmosphere” of a company that sells pornography and sex toys sue for being fired in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment?
Yes, but it is not as strange as it sounds. Even though the woman did not find the company’s business objectionable, working for a sex toy company is not the same thing as being sexually harassed by a co-worker and then fired for “blowing the whistle” by complaining about it.
In Longo v. Pleasure Productions Inc., (August 15, 2011), a New Jersey appeals court upheld a $650,000 jury verdict to a saleswoman who claimed she was fired after four years at East Coast News Corp., a wholesaler of adult sexual products, in retaliation for complaining to management about her co-worker’s misconduct. Ms. Longo testified she was not offended by the workplace environment until co-worker Marc Kercheval joined the company. It was his harassing conduct that she claimed violated the law, leading to her complaints to management and to her retaliatory firing. Longo alleged that Kercheval called her a c**t, expressed his desire to have sex with her on her desk, told her that she would give oral sex to anyone to make a sale, and suggested that she engage in oral sex with a customer to secure lucrative business.
Longo said she complained verbally and writing to her boss but he found her claims unbelievable after a shallow investigation. A short time later, the defendant fired her for allegedly poor sales. The defense attacked Longo’s credibility at trial by arguing that she never complained about Kercheval until after a dispute with him which showed she was comfortable with the environment and could not claim harassment. The jury found the employer violated New Jersey’s whistleblower law (CEPA) and awarded Longo $120,000 for lost pay, $30,000 for emotional distress, and $500,000 in punitive damages.
August 20, 2011 – Paul Castronovo – Castronovo & McKinney