- A jury has awarded $5.4 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages to a former Jack in the Box employee who was fired in 2013, according to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
- A Los Angeles Superior Court found that Blanca Ramirez, a supervisor, was subjected to wrongful discharge, retaliation, hostile work environment harassment and age and disability discrimination, myNewsLA.com reported. Ramirez claimed that her boss mocked her and called her "grandma" because she moved in a guarded manner after a box fell from a shelf at work and injured her (Jack in the Box said the injury occurred while she was bathing her dog). Attorneys for the West Coast-based eatery said that she was fired for manipulating the restaurant's "speed of service" system, according to the news story. Ramirez also alleged she was injured at work for a second time after a fall, and that Jack in the Box failed to accommodate her and increased the harassment.
- Jack in the Box said in the papers it filed with the SEC that it "believes that it has no liability in this case and that the trial court committed reversible error on numerous grounds." It also claimed that punitive damages were not appropriate and said it would contest the verdict.
Employers should focus on efforts to keep workplace situations from snowballing into multimillion-dollar jury verdicts. "What we have done in the past to address harassment in the workplace has been focused on compliance and incident response," Elizabeth Bille, senior director of harassment prevention at EVERFI, said earlier this year while speaking at a Society for Human Resource Management conference. "What we haven't been focusing on as truly is prevention."
The EEOC has released a list of five "promising practices" for preventing and addressing harassment:
- Committed, engaged leadership
- Consistent and demonstrated accountability
- Strong, comprehensive harassment policies
- Trusted, accessible complaint procedures
- Regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization
When harassment is suspected or reported, HR should conduct an internal investigation, experts have said. Note that Ramirez alleged harassment by a supervisor. While the EEOC has said that "petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality," some courts view harassment by a supervisor in a harsher light.