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It’s All About the Type of Workplace

The Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a legal secretary that complained about sexual harassment at the Century City law firm that employed her. Jeri Elster filed suit after being sent numerous emails containing pornographic material and references of a sexual nature from the attorneys she was assigned to work for at Finestone & Richter, APC. Her repeated complaints to the office manager were ignored, leaving her no choice but to commence legal action.

Hostile working environment

One of the elements of sexual harassment is that the offending behavior must be so severe that it creates a hostile working environment for the subject of the harassment. The Los Angeles Superior Court had originally ruled that the emails that Ms. Elster received did not amount to a hostile working environment. In doing so, it based its decision on the ruling of the Supreme Court of California in Lyle v Warner Bros. In Lyle, a female comedy writer’s assistant on the set of the popular sitcom Friends had complained of sexual harassment on the basis of the constant sexual and vulgar language used by the comedy writers at work. The Supreme Court rejected her claim on the grounds that she had been forewarned that the job would entail hearing and writing jokes of a sexual nature, and therefore it could not be said that the sexual language used by the writers created a hostile working environment.

Context is important when defining “hostile”

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the decision of the Los Angeles Superior Court, distinguishing between a job as a legal secretary and a job as a comedy writer’s assistant. Ms. Elster could not reasonably be expected to be exposed to sexual and pornographic language, images and footage while employed in a law firm – as a result, the emails created a hostile and abusive work environment.

Whether you work at a law firm or in a carnival, you have the right to be free from harassment. If you think your employer has stepped over the line, speak to a dedicated Los Angeles sexual harassment attorney for advice on filing a lawsuit.

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