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  • Old Enough to Know: Teenager Files Sexual Harassment Suit

    Rachel Martinez wants other teens to know that workplace sexual harassment should not be tolerated.

    The 17 year-old started working at a Jimmy John’s sandwich restaurant in 2009. After about a month, the general store manager started making comments. Martinez was subject to a barrage of sex-based remarks. But like any other employee, this teen needed her job. Martinez had bills to pay; she was driving, paying for car insurance and for her cell phone.

    To Martinez, the store manager would lick his lips, make sexual references, and talk about masturbation. He also referred to her as “Special Ed,” implying that she was incapable of doing her job correctly; and he would hit her behind the head and act as though it was funny. Martinez didn’t find it funny and spoke to a night manager about the treatment. Nothing was done.

    The straw that broke the camel’s back led to a State investigation, however. Martinez went to work with sunburned arms in June, 2010. She was told to refill the ice machines, which was painful for her to do. When she requested a different assignment, her supervisor said: “You can’t lift your arms, but you can lift your legs all night?”

    The public statement humiliated her. She called the owner of the store, Jason Rupp, ceased working at the store, and then called the police. Despite being treated like she was incapable, Martinez was resourceful enough to take the proper actions.

    The Colorado Civil Rights Division conducted an investigation and determined that Martinez’ story was credible, and that despite numerous complaints to the CEO of the franchise, the owners refused to take corrective steps.

    To make a successful claim of sexual harassment in the workplace, a person must show that they were subject to harassment conduct based upon their sex. Generally speaking, workplace harassment is governed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; but state’s laws also forbid similar conduct.

    Harassment can include, and did in Martinez’ case, unwelcome comments and conduct of a sexual nature. It can also cover offensive comments about a person’s sex that are not sexual in nature. But the conduct must be so pervasive as to create a hostile work environment or be done by a supervisor and culminate in an adverse employment action. Employment lawyers in Los Angeles can help you to evaluate your own case.

    For Martinez, the outcome was a good one. The owner of Jimmy John’s has been ordered to stop any discriminatory conduct, offer Martinez her job back, and to pay her back wages of over three thousand dollars.

    As for the supervisor, he was suspended for two weeks but was allowed to keep working at the store. Eventually he was fired, but not for his harassment conduct. Apparently, he was attempting to do the unthinkable: take an unapproved vacation.

    If you or someone you know is suffering harassment in the workplace; consult an employment lawyer in Los Angeles, they can help.