Sexual harassment is a prevailing problem among both genders. Most people think of it as an issue that happens at work but it can occur anywhere people are together. Sexual harassment is any type of unwanted sexual advance, obscene remark, or illicit carnal innuendo. It doesn’t matter if it happens in the workplace, another professional environment, or in a social context. Unwanted sexual content of any nature during a human encounter can be considered sexual harassment. We like to think our little slice of heaven here in Sacramento and our beautiful surrounding area is impenetrable by such evils of the world but, unfortunately, sexual harassment happens even here.
The 2012 case of Lisa Beauchamp, who sued her boss at the Teamsters Union for maintaining a sexually charged environment, is particularly interesting. She sued her boss, Tim Tobin, and the Teamsters Union 150 and won. The strange turn this case took was that she filed her lawsuit after the statute of limitations ran out. So, even though she won, she was not allowed to collect any money for her pain and suffering. The Teamsters representative made a statement to the effect that the judgment meant nothing and his client was exonerated although he had been found guilty of having party girls sit on his lap, massage him, and consistently make lascivious commentary. The verdict required no punishment simply because too much time had passed. There is no protection for future workers at the Teamsters Union 150.
Another most unusual local harassment case happened at the Yahoo headquarters where a female employee, Nan Shi, accused a female executive, Maria Zhang, of sexually harassing her in 2014. Her complaint explains how the female executive promised a bright and successful future in the company for her if she was to provide her with sexual favors both physically and virtually. The female employee complained to authorities but no investigation ever took place. She was given unpaid leave instead. The unpaid leave eventually turned into termination of her employment. She also noticed that her previous performance reviews were changed to show poor work performance. Yahoo vehemently denied any wrongdoing on the part of the executive.
One very successful sexual harassment lawsuit happened when Ani Chopourian, a 45-year-old former cardiac surgery physician assistant, sued Mercy General Hospital in 2012. She was awarded $3.5 million in lost wages and benefits, $39 million for mental anguish and $125 million for punitive damages. Her claim was that from 2006 to 2008, she was sexually harassed by medical staff and surgeons. She was stuck with needles, berated and bullied before she began to file complaints. Witnesses corroborated her story by saying one surgeon repeatedly introduced himself by saying “I’m Horney” and then detailing his lack of sex with his wife. After filing repeated complaints, she was fired. She won her lawsuit but the hospital stated it was severely disappointed in the jury and planned to appeal. They stood by their actions in firing Chopourian.
A 2015 sexual harassment lawsuit against Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto was dropped by rule of a federal court judge. Deputy Robin Gonzalez sued Prieto for sexually harassing her over several years, however, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller found holes in the grievance that would not permit her to let the issue go forward as feasible litigation. She ruled that since the incidents Gonzalez described happened before March 2012, they fell outside the legally delegated boundaries period. She also ruled that she found no sexually charged innuendo in any of the instances she had heard about. Gonzalez, 44-years-old, is still employed by the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office.
This is the third time that Prieto has been absolved of accusations that he created a hostile work atmosphere in the Sheriff’s Office. The three lawsuits were filed on behalf of two current employees and a former employee by Sacramento lawyer Johnny Griffin III.
The highest profile of all of Sacramento’s sexual harassment cases is probably that of former Mayor Kevin Johnson. Estrellita Ilee Muller, 32-years-old, alleged that Mayor Johnson had beckoned her to his private area via his security officer, advanced to feeling her up, and then tried to kiss her. She claims she made attempts to get help from authorities but all complaints were deemed insufficient. She was seeking $200,000. The mayor denied all allegations unequivocally. Authorities failed to find enough evidence to prosecute although in 2015 a video surfaced of police agreeing he most likely was guilty.