The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles upheld an $860,000 award for a former AutoZone cashier on her sexual harassment claim. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on November 19, 2011, that Marcela Fuentes testified that assistant store manager Melvin Garcia physically grabbed her to spin around and display her buttocks to some customers, in order to sell merchandise. After Fuentes developed a fever blister on her lip, Garcia and one of the parts sales managers, Gonzalo Carrillo, had spread rumors that she had gotten herpes from oral sex with a co-worker. According to the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, Garcia and Carrillo also told Fuentes she could make more money working as a stripper or being photographed for a magazine in a bikini than she did working at the store.
Fuentes worked part-time as a cashier for AutoZone locations in Florence and Normandie between 2002 and 2005, and sued the company, Garcia and Carrillo after receiving right-to-sue letters from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Her lawsuit alleged sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and slander, according to the News-Enterprise.
The Chronicle noted that AutoZone could still appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. The company had tried to liken Fuentes’ case to other cases California courts had rejected harassment claims based on sex talk in the workplace, such as a 2006 Supreme Court ruling dismissing a suit by a writer’s assistant on the television show “Friends.” In that case, the court found the comments in question “may have been offensive but were not directed at the assistant or at women in general,” but found that the remarks and behavior of Fuentes’ supervisors was aimed at her and created a work environment that was “objectively hostile and abusive, and thus unlawful,” the Chronicle said.
A hostile working environment is one of the types of harassment that occur in a workplace. The other is quid pro quo sexual harassment where an employer conditions promotions or employment on intimate relations. Both forms are illegal and can apply to men as well as women.
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