Any business that takes on employees also takes on responsibilities to those employees. In addition to standards regarding wages and hours of work, employers must make reasonable efforts to maintain a workplace that is free from unlawful discrimination and harassment. Throughout California, workplace harassment remains a serious problem. The technology industry of Silicon Valley and San Francisco has received attention for multiple recent accounts of sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based discrimination. A lawsuit filed earlier this year asserts several causes of action under California employment anti-discrimination statutes, including harassment and hostile work environment. Scott v. Upload, Inc., et al., No. CGC-17-558730, complaint (Cal. Super. Ct., San Francisco Cty., May 8, 2017).
Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Many state laws and city ordinances go further. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), for example, addresses discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and more. Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940(a). Under both federal and state laws, sexual harassment is considered a type of unlawful sex discrimination. The FEHA expressly provides that both harassment and failure to prevent harassment violate its anti-discrimination provisions. Id. at § 12940(j).
The plaintiff in Scott states in her complaint that she began working for the defendant in May 2016. The defendant is a San Francisco-based business that “focuse[s] on the virtual and augmented reality industry.” Scott, complaint at 1. The plaintiff’s position was “Director of Digital and Social Media.” Id. at 3. She describes the “atmosphere and work environment” of the defendant as “marked by rampant sexual behavior and focus.” Id. at 4. Male employees and managers, including two individuals identified by the plaintiff as founders of the company, allegedly spoke openly about “sexual exploits” and made overtly sexual comments about women in the office, often right in front of them. Id. Work-related emails, the plaintiff claims, were similarly explicit.
In addition to alleged ongoing sexual remarks and sexual conduct, the plaintiff states that the defendant allowed drug use in the office. She claims that the two founders and others used marijuana and “microdosed,” a practice that involves using small amounts of psychedelic drugs like LSD. Female employees, the plaintiff alleges, “were further ostracized by the male employees” if they refused to participate. Id. at 5. She also describes numerous ways the defendant allegedly excluded women from full participation in the business, and how it allegedly underpaid female employees and failed to reimburse them for business expenses. The plaintiff was terminated, she claims, five days after complaining about these issues.
The lawsuit asserts multiple claims under the FEHA, including sex discrimination, harassment and hostile work environment, failure to prevent harassment, and retaliation. It claims violations of the California Equal Pay Act, Cal. Lab. Code § 1197.5; and failure to reimburse employees, id. at § 2802. The complaint also asserts several common law claims, including intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
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