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¡No Se Deje!
A Federal jury in New York awarded Moises Méndez 3 million dollars in his case for unlawful retaliation by his employer, Westin Hotels. Mr. Méndez had worked at the hotel as a baker for 7 years. He complained to his supervisors verbally, and in writing, of being harassed and discriminated against by his coworkers. Mr. Méndez accused his coworkers of insulting and humiliating him and making fun of him because he is a Latino and of punching him in the face.
Mr. Méndez’ retaliation claim was based on the fact that his employer secretly installed a camera in his work area just 3 weeks after he complained of the harassment and discrimination. His employer testified that the camera was installed to protect him, and to determine the identity of the alleged harassers. Mr. Méndez’ attorney effectively pointed out that all of the film was directed only on Mr. Méndez working in his area and that he already knew and reported the identity of the harassers. Mr. Méndez’ lawsuit also contained a claim of harassment because his work place was an unlawful “hostile environment”.
Mr. Méndez’ employer never made any offer to settle the case. A total of 22 witnesses testified in a trial that lasted 3 weeks. The Federal jury awarded Mr. Méndez 1 million dollars for pain and suffering and 2 million dollars in punitive damages to punish his employer for unlawfully retaliating against him after he exercised his right to complain of harassment and discrimination.
THIS CASE WAS DECIDED UNDER FEDERAL LAW WHICH APPLIES IN EVERY STATE. CALIFORNIA, LIKE EVERY OTHER STATE, HAS SIMILAR STATE LAWS TO PROTECT EMPLOYEES FROM EMPLOYER ABUSE.
Unlawful employer retaliation includes any adverse action taken against an employee for filing a complaint or for supporting another employee’s complaint of a violation of rights. Like Mr. Méndez’ lawsuit, the most common claim is that the employee was first the victim of harassment and discrimination and that the employer then changed his employment situation to punish him for complaining. The illegal retaliation often includes a change in job duties or location, a change of title or position, a reduction in salary or even permanent dismissal.
Unlawful employer retaliation is considered a serious violation of an employee’s civil rights. In fact an employee is entitled to compensation for retaliation even if the actions he originally complained of were not illegal. The law does not prohibit simple teasing or other common insults that are not serious. The actions must be serious enough to change the conditions of the work environment. Nonetheless, retaliation for complaining about such conduct is still illegal.
Latinos should take notice of this case and many others which demonstrate that employees in this country have powerful rights regardless of their immigration status. They are of no benefit however unless the victims promptly take action by consulting an attorney and cooperating in the preparation and presentation of the case. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.