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Harassed Worker Wins Suit

June 14, 2001|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Fernando jury has awarded $576,000 to an Automobile Club of Southern California employee who said she reported workplace sexual harassment to her supervisor but was ignored by management, attorneys said Wednesday.

Cheryl Parker, a 34-year-old insurance sales agent in the Auto Club's Northridge office, was repeatedly groped and subjected to "unrelenting attention" over a two-year period by a 35-year-old male co-worker who was so persistent that he twice followed her into the women's restroom at work, said her lawyer, Marcus Petoyan.

In the courtroom of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt, Parker testified that she reported the harassment in writing to a female supervisor. But no action was taken, and the harassment continued--distressing Parker so much that she had to be hospitalized, Petoyan said.

The supervisor denied ever seeing Parker's letter and testified she didn't know about any harassment by the co-worker, who was also a sales agent. But several other co-workers testified that they knew about the man's behavior--and Petoyan argued that the supervisor probably knew about it too.

"The perpetrator was the top seller of the office, so the company turned a blind eye," Petoyan said. "The verdict sends a strong message to employers that juries will not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace."

The Auto Club of Southern California believes the supervisor did not know about the harassment and maintains that the company's management has not done anything wrong, a spokeswoman said.

When Parker verbally complained about the harassment to a subsequent supervisor, a man, he took immediate action, said company spokeswoman Carol Thorp. The Auto Club management launched an investigation, and the harasser received a disciplinary warning, was given sensitivity training and was transferred to another office, Thorp said.

The jury found that Parker suffered $720,000 in damages for her suffering and emotional distress, Petoyan said. But the jury in its Tuesday verdict also found the Auto Club 80% at fault while Parker was 20% responsible for her own injuries, and it reduced the total award by that amount.

"The jury felt she should have done more to follow up" on her initial complaint, Petoyan said.

Parker, a married mother of three from Northridge who has worked for the Auto Club for 10 years, is still employed there. She declined to comment.

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