Plaintiffs Megan Meadowcroft and Amanda Brown, two winery employees, alleged that they had been harassed on numerous occasions by their supervisor, General Manager Pinero. Specifically, Brown alleged that Pinero attempted to flirt with her, and physically made contact with her. Meadowcroft alleged that Pinero made sexually explicit gestures, sexually explicit comments, put his hands on her waist and under her buttocks as she was serving customers, and on at least one occasion told her that she could be a manager if she would have sex with him. Along with a claim of harassment, they filed claims of retaliation, failure to prevent harassment/retaliation, and negligent supervision, retention, and hiring.
After Meadowcroft complained to Silverton Partners and Essence Business Group, the owners and managers of the winery, about Pinero’s conduct, he was fired. However, Meadowcroft was not put on future work schedules.
After he was fired, Pinero reached out to Silverton and Essence and asked to be re-hired. After he promised additional sales, and better behavior, he was re-hired as General Manager.
Upon his return, Brown complained to Silverton and Essence about Pinero’s presence when he began his re-employment, and even obtained a temporary restraining order. However, Brown was placed on leave while Pinero was allowed to continue to work pending the final restraining order hearing. Even after the restraining order was granted, Brown was never put back on the schedule despite following up with the defendants multiple times asking to be placed back on the schedule.
A jury found in favor of Meadowcroft and Brown on all counts, awarding each plaintiff $1,500,000 in future emotional distress damages, $1,000,000 in past emotional distress damages, and $3,000,000 in punitive damages.
Lesson for employers: it is crucial for employers to understand and realize that after employees raise protected concerns about their employment, especially ones as egregious as those complained of in this case, that they avoid treating them differently in any way after complaining. Clearly the winery’s conduct of taking both employees off the schedule within weeks of their complaints gave the jury the impression that the change in hours was directly because of their complaints.
The case is: Meadowcroft and Brown v. Silverton Partners, Inc. and Essence Business Group, Inc., Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. BC 633239.