In recent years, California lawmakers have taken on sexual harassment and assault with a series of changes to state law. In the wake of revelations about how institutions and companies keep sexual misconduct and abuse under wraps—from the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal to Harvey Weinstein—the California legislature has largely taken confidentiality agreements surrounding sexual misconduct off the negotiating table. The legal developments aim to shed light on sexual harassment and violence by preserving the ability of victims to speak about their experiences, despite a settlement. Here is what you need to know:
1) California law prohibits confidentiality in settlement agreements in civil cases where the underlying conduct could be criminally charged as a felony sex offense. The prohibition applies not only to cases related to workplace sexual assault, but to all civil cases. Sexual conduct that could prosecuted as a felony includes (among other acts): rape, and sexual assault where the perpetrator used violence, restrained the victim, or fraudulently deceived the victim into believing the touching was for a professional purpose.
Where the conduct you allege rises to the level of felony sexual assault, your attorney could be subject to professional discipline by the California State Bar for demanding confidentiality or advising you to agree to confidentiality in a settlement agreement.
2) California law limits provisions in settlement agreements that prevent disclosure of allegations related to sexual harassment, sexual assault, sex-based discrimination, and retaliation. If you have filed a complaint in court or with an administrative agency (such as California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing), the company cannot require you, as a condition of settling your claims, to stay silent about the facts described in your complaint.
An exception may be made where the survivor of sexual harassment wishes to maintain the confidentiality of their identity. At the survivor’s request, the settlement agreement can shield the survivor’s identity and facts that could lead to discovery of her identity. It is also permissible for settlement agreements to require the parties’ confidentiality about the dollar figure of the settlement.
If you have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace, contact us today for a free consultation.
Teukolsky Law filed a new lawsuit yesterday on on behalf of a female housekeeper at the boutique Freehand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles alleging that she experienced sexual harassment while she cleaned the men’s restrooms located next to the hotel bars. According to the complaint, the hotel's rooftop bar is a “destination for partygoers,” which features loud music and the smell of marijuana smoke. On Friday and Saturday nights, according to the complaint, the bar takes on a “raucous ‘party’ atmosphere” where guests are often visibly intoxicated and stumbling into the bathroom.
Plaintiff Edith Gutu is a 44-year old woman who has worked as a housekeeper at the Freehand since March 2018. She frequently cleans the men’s restrooms near the hotel bars on Friday and Saturday nights. She has repeatedly asked management to allow her to close the men’s restroom while she cleans, but they have refused. As a result, Ms. Gutu alleges that she has regularly been exposed to men’s genitals as they use the urinals while she cleans. She also alleges that she feels trapped inside the restroom stall when men enter and start urinating. Ms. Gutu alleges that she has been subject to unwelcome conduct from male guests, including being called a “fucking bitch, fucking Mexican,” or words to that effect, by a male guest she asked to wait outside the restroom until she was done cleaning.
Ms. Gutu alleges that she has repeatedly asked Freehand management to let her transfer to the day shift, but they have refused. Even though there are other male staff who could be assigned to clean the men’s restroom, the complaint alleges that Freehand management has not permitted Ms. Gutu to change shifts with them, nor allowed her to close the restroom while she cleans. Instead, after she complained about being exposed to inappropriate guest conduct, management allegedly told her it was “part of [her] job.”
Teukolsky Law also represents Leticia Vallejo, a Marriott housekeeper who similarly alleges that she experienced sexual harassment from male guests while she was required to clean the men’s restroom next to a hotel bar. Like the Freehand Hotel, the Marriott allegedly refused to allow Ms. Vallejo to close the men’s restroom while she cleaned. Ms. Vallejo’s lawsuit is pending in Superior Court in Orange County and is in the discovery phase.
Under California law, employers have an obligation to protect their employees from sexual harassment by third parties, including customers. If you believe that you have been sexually harassed, contact us today for a free consultation.
Earlier today, Teukolsky Law filed a new sexual harassment lawsuit on behalf of Joey Dalla Betta (pronouns: they/them) against Flaunt Magazine, its CEO Luis Barajas and Editor-in-Chief Matthew Bedard. Barajas founded Los Angeles-based Flaunt in 1998 after a 10-year stint running Detour, a well-known fashion and entertainment magazine. Flaunt covers have featured many high-profile actors and musicians such as Beyoncé, Brad Pitt and Kanye West. Barajas, who is in his mid-50s, hired Dalla Betta as his executive assistant in July 2018. Dalla Betta alleges that Barajas and Bedard ran the magazine based on a culture of fear and intimidation, where advancement was based on a willingness to submit to repeated sexual advances and endure a non-stop barrage of sexual banter. Young aspiring writers like Dalla Betta were scared to complain or quit because jobs in the magazine industry are so rare. (Joey Dalla Betta, pictured left. Photo credit: Lucy-Bleu Knight.)
VICE News ran a piece covering the filing of the lawsuit. As described in the piece, "At first, Dalla Betta thought that the expectations and behavior at Flaunt were normal in the journalism industry. They poured themselves into Flaunt, often working through weekends. At times, it felt like even the boundaries between Dalla Betta and the magazine itself had dissolved, because they felt the successes and failures of the magazine so intimately."
If you have experienced sexual harassment, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
The Los Angeles Times has quoted Teukolsky Law founder and owner Lauren Teukolsky discussing the firm's latest sexual harassment lawsuit against Marriott Hotel. The case highlights an employer's duty to protect employees from customers who sexually harass them.
Bloomberg's Labor and Employment blog quoted Lauren Teukolsky discussing non-disclosure agreements ("NDAs") in sexual harassment settlements. Employees often agree to keep quiet about the settlement terms in exchange for the settlement amount. Sometimes, the employee will even agree not to discuss the underlying facts of the sexual harassment. There is currently a bill pending in the California Legislature that would ban all NDAs in sexual harassment settlements, even if the employee is willing to accept an NDA in exchange for a higher settlement amount. Plaintiff-side employment lawyers are torn about whether a complete ban on NDAs is in their clients' interests. As Ms. Teukolsky stated in Bloomberg: “I think it’s important for my clients to be able to decide whether they’re willing to sign an NDA in exchange for more settlement money." Also - sexual harassment clients themselves sometimes do not want the facts underlying their claims to be publicly discussed, particularly when their cases are settled before a lawsuit has been filed. We will see whether the California Legislature ultimately bans NDAs or not. California law already prohibits NDAs in settlement agreements in civil cases where the underlying conduct could be charged as a felony sex offense.
TIME Magazine has published an article reporting that Teukolsky Law client Sandra Pezqueda, named a TIME "Person of the Year" in 2017, settled her case against Terranea Resort and the staffing agency that placed her there for $250,000. Lauren Teukolsky is quoted extensively in the article. As reported in the article:
“I think one has to assume that the #MeToo movement has altered every employer’s calculations over whether to resolve a case or not,” Teukolsky told TIME. “I think that employers, generally speaking, are going to be much more cautious about going to trial now that women are being believed about their sexual harassment allegations, and every potential juror knows somebody who has had a #MeToo moment.”
Lauren Teukolsky is the founder and owner of Teukolsky Law, A Professional Corporation.