While stories of sexual harassment at large companies tend to generate headlines, the truth is that employment discrimination occurs just as frequently at smaller businesses throughout New York. In fact, discrimination at a family-owned business is often more pervasive and severe. After all, if you accuse the boss' son of harassment, your claim is unlikely to be handled in the same manner as it would by a human resources department at a publicly traded company.
Preschool Teacher Repeatedly Victimized by School Owner and Her Son
Consider this recent case from Brooklyn. The plaintiff worked as a preschool teacher for the defendant's privately owned school. The school's assistant director was the son of the owner.
From the beginning of her employment, the plaintiff said the son sexually harassed her. For example, he routinely entered her classroom to “leer” and make “inappropriate comments about her appearance and clothing.” He also asked her out on dates several times despite knowing she was married.
The plaintiff complained to her supervisor, who dismissed the son's behavior because he “does this to everyone.” As the harassment continued and escalated, the plaintiff finally reported his action to the owner–i.e., his mother. She said “this is how my son is,” and that his harassment was merely a sign that “he likes you.”
At this point, the plaintiff said she was repeatedly punished for objecting to the son's harassment. On one occasion, the mother intentionally withheld the plaintiff's wages. She was also transferred to another classroom. The owner then started to harass the plaintiff personally, calling her a “bitch” and publicly humiliating her in front of the staff. The son also told one of the plaintiff's co-workers that he planned to murder her for attempting to hurt his mother's business.
The plaintiff finally filed an employment discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This only led to her getting fired. The defendant then claimed the plaintiff hit a student, which made her unemployable in the childcare industry. The EEOC eventually told the plaintiff she was free to sue the defendant for illegal discrimination and harassment, which she did.
The defendants–the school, the mother, and the son–failed to answer the plaintiff's complaint in a timely manner. This led a federal magistrate to enter a default judgment for the plaintiff. Several months later, the defendants appeared in court and tried to set aside the default. The magistrate rejected this effort, noting the defendants “had failed to present a meritorious defense.”
On September 14 a district judge, adopting the magistrate's final recommendations, ordered the defendants to pay damages of including $19,000 in back pay, $75,000 for causing the plaintiff “emotional distress,” $50,000 in punitive damages against the son, another $50,000 in punitive damages against the school and the mother, $25,000 for the “reputational harm” sustained by the plaintiff, and approximately $45,000 in statutory damages and related costs.
Need Help Fighting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Obviously, it is relatively easy to win a sexual discrimination lawsuit when the defendant does not bother to show up in court. The case above describes a particularly egregious level of misconduct. Before things ever get that far, you should speak with a qualified New York employment law attorney who can advise you of your rights under city, state, and federal law. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today to schedule a consultation so we can discuss your case.