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Friday, March 9, 2018 – 02:30 p.m.
You have the right to a sexual harassment-free workplace. It has been alleged by several employees that there have been consensual sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates in the San Bernardino District Attorney’s office.
While the sexual encounters may appear to be consensual, it does not excuse the fact that encounters between supervisors and subordinates is an obvious power differential. The power differential may make it difficult for a subordinate to consent to a relationship with a supervisor because of the inherent pressure and influence of his or her advances. Even if consent is agreed upon, supervisor-subordinate relationships can hurt morale as the relationship can lead to claims of favoritism or cause other coworkers to feel uncomfortable and create a hostile work environment.
Sexual favoritism in a workplace can create a hostile work environment if employees can reasonably conclude that management views them as “sexual playthings” or that to receive favorable treatment they must engage in sexual conduct with their supervisors. This means that even if an employee is not directly propositioned, they might still have a claim. Under California law an employer can be liable for sexual harassment even if the offensive conduct was not directed at the person alleging harassment. Further, a mishandled sexual harassment complaint, such as one that was ignored and not properly investigated can constitute sexual harassment to the alleged target of the harassment as well as other employees who have knowledge of the mishandled complaint. An employer has to do more than pay lip service to its sexual harassment policy; rather they must enforce it.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex unreasonably interfere with an employee’s work performance or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. For example, unwelcome conduct includes unwanted touching, staring sexually oriented images, messages, jokes, obscenities, slurs, invading personal space and repeatedly asking someone out on a date.
Promotions and assignments may have been the result of favoritism related to sexual encounters. You may have witnessed certain individuals as immune from discipline for inappropriate behavior. The EEO Commission policy states: “if favoritism based upon the granting of sexual favors is widespread in the workplace both males and females who do not welcome that conduct may establish a hostile work environment claim, regardless of whether any objectionable conduct is directed at them and regardless of whether those who were granted favorable treatment willingly participated in the sexual conduct”. Whether specific alleged acts of favoritism occurred or whether some employees actually do receive immunity, “the perception that such is the case can negatively impact employee morale”.
Starting in May of 2009, District Attorney Ramos was publicly linked with women to whom he was not married. It has been publicly reported that Ramos has had liaisons with multiple women including subordinates in the District Attorney’s office. As a consequence of his known relationships you may have encountered or witnessed reprimands, or be the victim of being in a subordinate position that enabled the District Attorney to retaliate once news of his relationships became public. According to public records, Cheryl Ristow alleged that she had a relationship with District Attorney Ramos from 2003-2005. Additionally, District Attorney Ramos’ relationship with Mary Ashley, who was elevated to the position of assistant district attorney was questionable. Assistant District Attorney Ashley’s promotion bypassed a multitude of other more experienced colleagues who would have seemed to be the most logical candidate for promotion to an open assistant district attorney’s position. While still married, District Attorney Ramos openly cohabitated with Assistant District Attorney Ashley beginning summer of 2012.
California law makes employers strictly liable for the sexual harassment of a subordinate by a supervisor. Strict liability means the employer is responsible for the sexual harassment regardless of whether other management has been advised of the sexual harassment.
If you have questions, information or encountered, overheard or experienced sexual favoritism or harassment creating a hostile work environment at the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office, please contact James Hardin and the law office of Hardin & Lott, 4340 Von Karman Avenue, Suite 380, Newport Beach, CA 92660; (949) 337-4810 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to consult with a sexual harassment lawyer.