$168M Lawsuit Underscores Need for Preventing Workplace Harassment

Complaints about the high cost of medical care and insurance are commonplace. Our medical bills are often unpredictable and outlandish. And many Americans struggle to pay for the medical services they really need.

But this time, it’s a hospital and some raunchy doctors that are stuck with a bill that’s enormous and unprecedented.

A California jury on Thursday handed down a stunning $168 million verdict (possibly the largest single plaintiff verdict in U.S. history) in a sexual harassment and retaliation case. This jury sent an incredibly strong message to employers across the country—take sexual harassment and retaliation seriously or pay the price.

Harassment & Retaliation Destroy a Workplace

According to the Los Angeles Times article released last week, the hospital management for Sacramento’s Mercy General Hospital testified to its commitment to a safe and harassment-free work environment. But plaintiff Ani Chopourian (a Yale educated physicians assistant) and fellow workers told a very different story.

During the trial, witnesses described conduct that was not only vulgar and demeaning, but also stunningly arrogant and rife with intimidation and retaliation. The plaintiff testified to making more than 18 complaints (all of which were ignored) and claimed that she was ultimately terminated as a result of her complaints.

The harassers weren’t low-level employees—they were highly trained professionals, including doctors and surgeons. But their arrogance, sense of entitlement, and ability to engage in crude and demeaning conduct seemed to go unchecked by their employer.

Employer’s Pay For Lack of Vigilance & Commitment To a Safe Work Environment

Clearly, the working environment in the hospital was really bad. And it was that bad because the employer let it get that way.

I would really hate to be sitting on the defense side of the bench for this one. What a blow and what a lesson to learn – the hard way.

So what lessons should Mercy General and other employers take away from this case?

  • Words are not enough to protect your organization or its people. You cannot rely on a policy that cliams you organization is committed to a safe workplace that is free from harassment.
  • Your organization (and its managers) must actually follow through and act in a way that shows your commitment.
  • When an employee complains, the organization must document their concerns and respond immediately.

If you don’t live up to your words, a jury may hold you accountable.

Essential Steps to Protect Your Organization

What actions may have changed the situation for this plaintiff (making her life better) and for the hospital?

Here are a few—they are pretty basic, but clearly missed and clearly essential if you want to mitigate risk, establish legal defenses, and most importantly, truly create a culture that is safe for your employees and free from harassment.

  • Employers must take complaints seriously – no matter who the complaints are against, or how powerful or successful the alleged harasser is. Employers cannot turn a blind eye to misconduct just because the perpetrators bring in big dollars for their organization.
  • Employers must never assume that certain professional work environments are immune from harassment. All work environments can rage out of control when left unchecked.
  • Employers must vigorously enforce their harassment and retaliation policies. All employees (regardless of level) must be held accountable for their actions.
  • Employers must provide harassment training and retaliation training to all employees --including professional employees who often claim they don’t need it.

Protect Your Organization’s Culture & Reputation Today

At NAVEX Global, we know how to help protect your organization’s culture and reputation. Our programs also use legal engineering™ to help establish critical legal defenses. NAVEX Global’s online harassment training solutions include dedicated content on a wide array of harassment (such as sexual, national origin, and race) and vital information about retaliation and retaliation prevention.   Our eLearning solutions are engaging, vivid, and unlike any other programs on the market. Our courses use rich, character-based scenarios that:

  • Educate employees about your organization’s values
  • Teach employees about your policies and their obligation to report
  • Teach managers (the people in your organization who receive 82% of all complaints) about handling complaints and preventing retaliation
  • Help establish important legal defenses

So whether you are training entry-level employees, or senior professionals and leaders, our courses will resonate with and engage them all.  Our award-winning solutions have been used by more than 5,000,000 employees around the world.

Chat with a solutions expert to learn how you can take your compliance program to the next level of maturity.

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