Jury Awarded $440 Million in Harassment Lawsuit Against Edison
A Los Angeles jury awarded $ 440 million in punitive damages to two men who alleged they were forced out of their jobs at Southern California Edison after complaining about repeated sexual and racial harassment at a South Bay office.
That decision came after jurors awarded $ 24.6 million in compensatory damages to plaintiffs Alfredo Martinez and Justin Page on Wednesday, bringing the total to more than $ 464.6 million.
These two men had the courage to stand up and report the harassment.
Martinez said he witnessed sexual and racial harassment and abuse during the 16 years he worked at Edison. His lawsuit states one such complaint: Two female workers approached him in March 2017 to complain of sexual harassment. They told Martinez because he was “just about the only supervisor” who could be trusted and had not participated in the harassment.
Martinez alleged that after 16 years at Edison, he had been pushed out of his supervisor job in April 2017 by constructive termination — a claim accusing the employer of creating or permitting intolerable working conditions in order to force out a worker — after reporting widespread sexual harassment and racist language.
SCE’s and Edison’s response was to pretend the problem was limited to a handful of bad actors, ignoring the culture of tolerance for harassment and discrimination that was bred in the South Bay office.
During the eight-week trial, lawyers for Martinez and Page presented evidence they said showed Edison’s South Bay office had a fraternity-like culture in which racial and sexual harassment was widespread, common, and sometimes ignored.
“These two men had the courage to stand up and report the harassment,” one attorney said. “SCE’s and Edison’s response was to pretend the problem was limited to a handful of bad actors, ignoring the culture of tolerance for harassment and discrimination that was bred in the South Bay office.”
Edison’s management did not take the harassment seriously.
The jury award was unusual in that the $ 440 million in punitive damages exceeded by $ 140 million, the amount that their attorney suggested to the jury. The jury awarded punitive damages of $ 400 million to Martinez — $ 100 million from Southern California Edison and $ 300 million from parent company Edison International. The jury awarded Page $ 40 million in punitive damages — $ 10 million from SCE and $ 30 million from Edison International.
The $ 22.37 million in compensatory damages for Martinez is believed to be among the largest in California history for a Fair Employment and Housing Act case.
Edison officials said they would seek a new trial to overturn the verdict.
“The jury’s decision is not consistent with the facts and the law and does not reflect who we are or what we stand for, and we intend to challenge it and seek a new trial,” an SCE spokeswoman said.
In a trial brief, Edison’s legal team argued that the two men had attempted to exploit the “plight of their former female coworkers to create liability where none exists. ” Edison acknowledged in court papers that Martinez and Page reported supervisors ” at the location where they worked were engaging in sexually inappropriate conduct toward female employees. ”
But Edison’s lawyers alleged that Martinez ” violated multiple SCE policies when he falsified the time records of an employee who reported to him. ” In the trial brief, they noted that Page, while reporting the harassment of female colleagues, did not say he was also a victim until later.
Martinez’s lawyers allege that within about 30 days of his reporting the harassment, six retaliatory complaints came in against him. They allege that Edison conducted a sham investigation and used the complaints to push him out of his job.
In court filings, Page alleged that he was threatened with retaliation after he anonymously reported the harassment. Page, who began working for Edison in 2015, transferred out of South Bay to a Fullerton office, but the threats followed him to that location, and he took a leave of absence from which he has yet to return, according to court filings.