Employee Claims Supervisor Solicited Co-Worker Complaints Against Her For Rejecting His Sexual Advances
Having represented sexual harassment victims for more than two decades, our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County, Florida know that sexual harassment victims are often targeted for termination after rejecting a supervisor’s sexual advances. In far too many cases, our sexual harassment attorneys in Ocala, Florida have learned, sexual harassment victims who reject a supervisor’s sexual advances are subjected to negative performance evaluations, performance improvement plans, and disciplinary action which are ultimately used to justify their termination. In some cases, supervisors even target their sexual harassment victims for termination by soliciting complaints from other employees regarding their sexual harassment victims. In this article, our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County, Florida explain how the decision in Gonzalez v. Spitzer Autoworld Homestead, Inc., Case No. 22cv-21590 (S.D. Fla. May 8, 2023) demonstrates that federal employment discrimination law protects sexual harassment victims who are targeted for termination because they rejected a supervisor’s sexual advances.
Sexual Harassment Victims’ Rights
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of sex. In Meritor Sav. Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII. As the Meritor Court explained, Title VII does not require employees to run a “gauntlet of sexual abuse in return for the privilege of being allowed to work and make a living.” To violate Title VII, sexual harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile working environment. Sexual harassment is severe when it involves touching of intimate body parts. Sexual harassment is pervasive when it is continuous or ongoing.
Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
In Gonzalez,a woman named Gonzalez brought a sexual harassment claim against her former employer, Spitzer Autoworld Homestead, Inc. (Spitzer), pursuant to Title VII. Gonzalez contends that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor and that the sexual harassment culminated in her termination because she rejected the supervisor’s sexual advances.
In July 2020, Gonzalez began working for Spitzer as an Office Manager. In this position was supervised by the dealership’s General Manager. Gonzalez alleges that the General Manager began to “ask her out” “not even a week after” she started working at Spitzer and that the General Manager continued to ask her out “almost every single day.” Gonzalez asserts that she “kept telling [the General Manager] no” and “figured [the General Manager] would leave [her] alone.” Gonzalez did not report the General Manager’s conduct before September 2020.
Gonzalez claims that on September 22, 2020, the General Manager bit her breast and slapped her buttocks “several times.” On September 23, 2020, Gonzalez reported the General Manager’s alleged sexual behavior to the Human Resources department. Gonzalez also told Human Resources that the General Manager had “previously touched [her] hand—called her baby,” told her that he had a dream about her and told her “to go there,” asked about going to a couples’ message, and other sordid advances. Gonzales rejected the alleged sexual advances by the General Manager. On October 9, 2020, Human Resources assigned Yakich to be Gonzalez’s “new direct-report supervisor.”
After Gonzalez rejected the sexual advances and lodged a complaint with Human Resources, the General Manager took away Gonzalez’s use of a company car. From October 1, 2020 through November 4, 2020, the General Manager also sent numerous emails to Human Resources regarding purported problems with Gonzalez’s demeanor and performance. In many of those emails, the General Manager solicited other employees for feedback on Gonzalez’s demeanor and performance. In one email, dated October 1, 2020, a Spitzer employee told the General Manager that “this message is intended to document today’s incident with [ ] Gonzalez.” In another email, dated October 6, 2020, a Spitzer employee stated the General Manager had requested that the employee make a complaint against Gonzalez in writing.
On November 5, 2020, Human Resources informed Gonzalez that her employment was terminated. The HR Separation Form states that Gonzalez was terminated for “performance” by “Yakich.”
Targeted For Termination
Spitzer filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Gonzalez’s sexual harassment claim. In moving for dismissal, Spitzer argued that Gonzalez could not establish that she was fired for rejecting the alleged sexual advances of the General Manager because the General Manager was not involved in the decision to fire Gonzalez and Gonzalez was fired due to her deficient work performance. The trial court denied Spitzer’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Gonzalez was entitled to proceed to a jury trial on the issue of whether she was fired because she rejected the General Manager’s alleged sexual advances.
In denying Spitzer’s motion for dismissal, the trial court found that Gonzalez had presented sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between her rejection of the General Manager’s alleged sexual advances and her termination. In support of its conclusion, the trial court pointed out that the General Manager had sent emails to Human Resources documenting Gonzalez’s purported performance issues and that the General Manager’s email communications “would form the basis of Gonzalez’s termination.” The trial court also pointed out that the General Manager “prodded other employees for feedback on Gonzalez’s demeanor and performance.” The trial court also noted that there was no evidence of performance complaints against Gonzalez prior to the September 22, 2022 incident. The trial court reasoned that this evidence “supports the inference that [the General Manager], feeling slighted by Gonzalez’s rejection of his aggressive sexual conduct, responded by targeting her employment for termination by collecting complaints against Gonzalez and communicating those complaints to Spitzer’s [ ] Human Resources Department.” In other words, the trial court explained, the General Manager “weaponized complaints about Gonzalez’s performance issues after she rejected him.”
Marion County Sexual Harassment Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual harassment attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of sexual harassment victims. If you have been sexually harassed at work or have questions about your rights as a sexual harassment victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes sexual harassment cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.