LOS ANGELES: Straight Sanitation Worker Awarded $17M In Anti-Gay Harassment Suit, City May Appeal

The Los Angeles Times reports:

A Los Angeles jury has awarded a former city sanitation worker $17.4 million after finding that he endured repeated harassment by his supervisors, who falsely perceived that he was gay.

Jurors deliberated for about two hours Wednesday before unanimously deciding that James Pearl of L.A. was subjected to verbal abuse, hazing and a bullying campaign in which his portrait was photoshopped to show him in a same-sex relationship with a subordinate. The images were then circulated among city employees, Pearl’s attorney said.

When a colleague alerted a manager in the highest ranks of the Bureau of Sanitation about the mistreatment, the supervisor failed to take action, according to court papers. Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the L.A. city attorney’s office, said that the city had not decided whether to seek an appeal and that the office was “reviewing our options.”

  • Pollos Hermanos

    Sexual orientation laws protect everyone.

    The city needs to move on.

    • That_Looks_Delicious

      Agreed, but the $17M amount is wildly, ridiculously out of the ballpark.

      • RoFaWh

        May be, but throughout municipal governments in LA, mayors are writing letters to their top level managers saying “No more! Justice is too expensive.”

      • Goodboy

        Glad to finally know where my taxes are going though.

  • netxtown

    Until such time that “gay” is disconnected from ridicule – good for him.

  • Do Something Nice

    Scumbag homophobes – and now the taxpayers will be paying.

  • Skokieguy [Larry]

    Anyone think $17 million is excessive? (Yes I know it will likely be appealed and reduced). But in some of the killings of unarmed, often black citizens, families are given only a couple million. For example, Sandra Bland’s family’s settlement was $1.9 million.

    • i’m a little disturbed by the amount, given that innocent taxpayers will be the ones paying it, twice. in the sense that they not only will pay it, but also lose $17M in city services, as city budgets are usually already stretched to the extreme.

      • Skokieguy [Larry]

        That’s my point. And in the instances of police shootings, its the taxpayers, not the police, who pay the settlement. I’d like for some sort of penalty, perhaps 10% of the settlement come from a pension fund, so that it hurts those that committed the offense and creates an incentive for the (many) good cops to no longer cover up for the bad ones.

        • yeah, i was trying to think of a good way to punish the actually guilty and the pension fund idea is a nice one. taxpayers should not be held accountable for these kinds of things.

          • Skokieguy [Larry]

            There currently is zero incentive for cops to report on bad actors. And the few times that its happened, it seems like there is almost guaranteed retribution.

          • Sporkfighter

            Taxpayers vote for mayors, city council members, county sheriffs, etc., who set the tone for those who work under them. Are you sure they shouldn’t be held accountable?

        • bzrd

          maybe it’s time for all government employees be bonded so the tax payers do not have to pay for the crime

        • bambinoitaliano

          Termination without pension should be the ultimate punishment and depending on the case, criminal prosecution as well. The complication arises when you involved with the union with collective bargaining power. It has blanket rules that protect its members so you can’t target one rogue employee without violating the agreement.

          • Sporkfighter

            You can target one rogue employee for that one rogue employee’s behavior. I’m a union member, was a treasurer, contract negotiator, and represented teachers in trouble for eight years. We protect the process and the employee’s right to due process. Fuck-ups have rights just like accused criminals, but they do get fired regularly.

            It doesn’t make the news because the district can’t talk about personnel matters, and the fired idiot doesn’t choose to brag about his idiocy.

          • bambinoitaliano

            I do not believe all unions are created equal. The fraternity within the government institution is very much like a political party. They will circle their wagons regardless of any justification of wrong doing.

          • Sporkfighter

            My union works for a government entity. We’re teachers, and there are many reasons we’ll wave goodbye to colleagues who prove themselves unfit for the job. Get caught drinking on the job? You get a hearing and your final check. Sexual harassment of any kind? You get training and a letter in your file. Next offense, you get a hearing and your final check. Get caught with drugs on campus? You get a ride in the back of a county sheriff’s car to jail, a hearing, your final check, and your credential will be revoked. All the union does is make sure you get a hearing and representation to help you present the facts.

            On the other hand, if you honor the president of the school board’s nephew a well-earned D in citizenship, your hearing and your representation can save your job.

      • Goodboy

        Yeah, I live in LA so I’m the one the bitch that will end up paying for the sensitive straight mans new life.

        • Sporkfighter

          But you could be the bitch in LA who never suffers harassment because HR is kicking asses out of fear of this happening to them. If so, you’d never know it.

          In the US, we keep score in dollars. Taking away dollars is what gets attention, what gets people and organizations to do the right thing. I “fair” settlement to the victim would not accomplish this.

    • Rambie

      Agreed, it seems too high for what happened. It wasn’t the tax payers who photoshopped the picture, so the innocent is paying for the crime.

    • bambinoitaliano

      I think that is the problem with the judicial system. There is no financial guidelines for the juries to award the appropriate amount. From case to case I bet we can see evidence of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and age bias base on the amount the victims were awarded.

      • Skokieguy [Larry]

        And how much money the person suing has and what kind of legal team they can afford. Often in the unjust police shootings, it can be a public defender, unless the case gets lots of publicity and one of the celebrity attorneys steps in to offer counsel.

    • Daveed_WOW

      The message is that a straight white man is worth 32 times a black woman.

      • Sporkfighter

        That isn’t news to anyone. The world does still suck in many ways. I’m a middle aged white man, and the privilege I’ve lived with is undeserved and embarrassing.

        • Daveed_WOW

          I drove around for months, after Midnight, on a street lined with bars, with a busted tail light and a broken headlamp. Never pulled over despite crossing paths with several patrol cars every night.

    • Mike Rasor

      Thats the difference between a settlement and a jury award. Settlements are inherently less than jury awards because they represent a negotiated compromise between the parties.

    • Shy Guy

      Doesn’t it always get reduced by an order of magnitude on appeal, so you have to award something ridiculous to start with, otherwise they’ll end up with a pittance?

    • Sporkfighter

      Is it more than the victim deserves? Yes.

      Is it enough to get the attention of city and county governments throughout the state? Let’ hope so. If it does, it isn’t too much.

  • bambinoitaliano

    I can’t help but think if he is gay would the juries award him as much.

    • Todd20036

      He was further denigrated for being perceived as “one of THOSE people”

    • Boreal

      Exactly. Does the jury think it is worse because a straight man was slurred as being gay? Would a gay man harassed by bigots be treated as fairly by a jury?

      • Rambie

        In LA, I’d like to think yes but….

      • bambinoitaliano

        My feeling is the juries reaction to “it’s worst for a straight man to be mistaken as gay”. Though I did not read the transcript of the trial not knowing how bad the victim was being treated through out his ordeal.

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      • That_Looks_Delicious

        It is L.A., so I think the jury would have decided for the plaintiff whatever his orientation. Then again, it’s kind of discouraging that this kind of thing still goes on in L.A. nowadays.

        • RoFaWh

          I watch the Youtube videos of Dr. Sandra Lee, aka “Dr. Pimple-Popper”. One thing I note is the ethnic diversity of her patients. It’s certainly not a city for the Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip crowd.

      • One of the jurors

        The matter of whether he was actually gay or not, or whether anti-gay harassment was worse for a straight man, actually never came up once during jury deliberations. The main issues were that mgmt picked on him while thinking he was gay, got him fired under false pretenses, retaliated against him when he won reinstatement by setting him up for failure, and further did not take action after a whistle-blower complaint.

    • AJ Drew

      Exactly correct, IMHO. Would, actually *could* a gay man sue for being perceived as hetero? Nope.

      • Goodboy

        Can we do a class action suit against the judge and jury for defamation? Say to a tune of 17 million.

      • Sporkfighter

        Was the city sued because he was harassed as a gay man or because he was sexually harassed, fired, won his case to be rehired, then suffered retaliation?

        There’s lots of cause here that doesn’t depend on “gay” in any way. The result should have been the same had he been gay, and might have been. This is LA, California, not Montgomery, AL.

  • Nic Peterson

    17 mi? Was he beaten? Denied opportunity? No? He wasn’t forced into the lie of a closet? He didn’t bury his dead and soldier on during the AIDS crisis? So he got 17 mil to put up with what most of us call everyday shit.

    I’d call him a Pussy, but cats would be insulted.

    • AJ Drew

      Yup. This seems to reinforce the idea that being perceived as gay is the worst fate ever.

      • Spongebob CrankyPants

        This is about work place harassment. Nothing more, nothing less.

        • AJ Drew

          No, it’s not. As a gay man, do you think I could sue and get a 17M settlement because my co-workers thought I was straight and kept insisting that I date their daughters, put up posters insisting that I do so? Would that ever happen?

    • BrandySpears

      You’re either against sexual orientation harassment or you aren’t.

      • Nic Peterson

        Yeah. One time an entire department that I oversaw perceived me as straight. Some associates even postulated about my dating life. I was so distraught about the whole goddamned thing, I sued the organization and got a 17 mil payout.

        Now I work for the internet and drive a Range Rover or some stupid shit like that. Were you trying to make a point about something?

        • Mike Rasor

          Reality – Being LGBT is a disfavored status in our society. If a gay man is percieved as straight he wouldn’t be harassed for it. He would’t suffer negative consequences. Nothing about the terms and conditions of employment would change.

          You’re position completely ignores the fact that no one gets harassed for being straight but people get harassed for actually being gay. Similarly no one gets harassed for being perceived to be straight but people get harassed for being perceived to be gay.

          • Nic Peterson

            Please, for the love of imaginary god, tell me that you aren’t trying to school me on the difficulties faced by gay men and women in the workforce.

            SFJ

          • Mike Rasor

            Lose the attitude pumpkin. I’m telling you that the law covers perceived sexual orientation as well as actual orientation and all of your outrage seems to about the fact being perceived straight is never going to be a grounds for discrimination. You’re arguing the same bullshit as conservatives who call anti-discrimination laws “special rights.”

          • Goodboy

            You’re analogy is apples to oranges. Joking about someone is not akin to denying them rights.

          • Mike Rasor

            Hostile work place harassment is considered discrimination because anti-discrimination laws cover all the “terms and conditions” of employment. If someone is facing harassment on the basis of a prohibited classification, they are working in an environment where there workplace conditions are worse than other employees.

            Calling this joking is dismissive. If you haven’t, I highly suggest you read the source article. People left “objects suggestive of or related to homosexual sex” on his desk, circulated seven photoshopped photos “suggestive of a same sex relationship,” referred to him using derogatory terms, placed him on lower paying shifts when he complained, and attempted to fire him.

            Read between the lines here people. The objects left on his desk were most certainly sex toys. I think we can al imagine the derogatory terms used for a gay man.

            Additionally, the images were circulated for the express purpose of working up a rumor he was sleeping with a subordinate in order to fire the man. When that failed because state regulators found the firing baseless, they returned him to work for the same supervisor.

            This wasn’t a guy suing because his employers knew he was straight but chose to make fun of him by calling him gay. The supervisor legitimately believed the guy to be gay and thought that made it okay to harass him, try to fire him and then cut his pay when that wasn’t successful. On top of all this, the acts were reported to higher ups who chose to do nothing.

          • One of the jurors

            You summarized the case quite well. The objects left on his desk at work included a butt plug, corn cob, and other inappropriate items. It actually was, to their credit, the Los Angeles Civil Service Commission that overturned the termination.

          • Stev84

            He should have been awarded something. But 17 million is just ridiculous.

        • Goodboy

          I’m so sorry that happened to you. I hope you got good counseling and drugs to help you get through it.

      • Goodboy

        This is no different then Tom Cruise suing anyone accusing him of being gay. Unless you consider that to be sexual harassment too.

        • BrandySpears

          If Tom Cruise is harassed by LA city employees for his sexual orientation, he should sue, too.

    • That_Looks_Delicious

      I think there is a vast, systemic problem in America with juries decided awards. They seem to have no concept of financial equivalence. It’s weird for me when I read about people winning lawsuits in Europe or the UK for sometimes pretty reckless behavior and they get awarded, say, £35k (perhaps the cost of a vehicle rental, hospital bills and lost income), and you think, “Oh wow. In America the jury would have given them $50 M.”

      • Stev84

        Continental Europe has the huge advantage of either not having jury trials in the first place or only in specific circumstances (like very serious crimes). Universal jury trials are a common law thing.

        Also the laws are simply different and the maximum damages possible aren’t anywhere near as high. Even if a judge of jury thought that more should be awarded, they can’t.

      • Diogenes Onionpants

        Yes, though to some extent the greater payouts are understandable: we here in the US have to consider financially devastating medical bills as part of the settlement in relevant cases, because we’re barbarians who think that normal people do not deserve medical treatment.

        Beyond that, the higher payouts are part of Americans’ ridiculous “get rich quick and take advantage of the system” mentality. We want the rich to pay less in taxes, because we might get lucky & get hit by a bus and join the elite!

    • Goodboy

      Best response Nic.

  • Todd20036

    How many millions did the 2 people who were actually gay bashed get in Key West?

    • northern_neighbour

      They were offered ONE ‘False Hug’ by the perp.

      Then he got a free get out of jail card for the train back to NC where he can polish his resume with some “community volunteer service.” Of course he has to keep his drinking secret now.

  • LovesIrony

    Consider this option: stop being fucking bigoted assholes

    • Daveed_WOW

      Trump never would have been elected without them.

  • Anastasia Beaverhousen

    Is anyone surprised? Look at the trash he’s working with.

    • I see what you did there (giggle)

  • northern_neighbour

    So…. does this as yet unreduced award … set a new precedent … as to what ball park figure those of us who are actually gay may be able to anticipate?

  • The Milkman

    If that’s what really happened, then the city should have lost. Honestly, why can’t people just behave professionally when they’re at work?

    • CanuckDon

      It is interesting….the Conservative/Republican types are usually the ones harping about keeping one’s personal problems out of the workplace. I guess ridiculing and harassing isn’t part of that.

  • TuuxKabin

    No one paying attention at the top.

    • Bj Lincoln

      I bet they will now.

  • Vinnie NYC

    The fish stinks from the head

  • Silver Badger

    How did he prove he was straight? For that matter what does his being straight have anything to do with the law suit?

    • Goodboy

      Fuck. For 17 mill I’ll be straight. Someone harass me now!! Pretty please. Just call me a dirty faggot care of…such and such department.

  • Hanwi

    I wonder why the article felt the need to point out he was straight? So if he were actually gay it would have been ok?

    • Westcoast88

      That is the point.
      Gay people get harassed all the time and it’s okay, but if it happens to a straight guy, it’s just terrible

      • One of the jurors

        Actually the jury did not once talk about the difference between being gay vs. wrongly perceived as being gay. Harassment is harassment, plain and simple. I was so pleased to serve with such an enlightened jury.

  • Dejerrity

    EDITED: Another straight white man feels like he’s losing his ability to get an erection and now it’s actionable.

    And really, 17 MILLION?? Unless he was raped the jury was insane.

    ADDENDUM: Does this mean that any gay man or woman who works for the public in LA able to sue for the anti-gay harassment, which is rampant? LA would be insolvent in minutes if they did. This stinks of a double standard.

    And since when did heterosexual men become an injured party? They run the whole damn planet.

    • Deviancy Behavir

      It’s called harassment, no matter if he would’ve been gay, having people mock you for being perceived to be gay is just as bad. Think about going to work every day worrying about what you’d have to face next. It’s not about his sexuality, it’s about the culture that created this environment. This is no different than if it were a woman who had to endure people sending her sexually explicit material and putting her face on it to mock her, that’s the point. He won’t get that much money, but he’ll get a decent payout. Nobody should have to endure that to make a paycheck, this is how workplace shootings occur, with this kind of stuff happening.

  • helenwheels74

    i hope he’ll donate a hefty chunk of that $17m to lgbtq+ non-profits, now that he’s had an unfortunate taste of what gay people so often go through.

  • JCF

    “In Anti-Gay Harassment Suit”

    Gotta say, I found this headline confusing: thought “Anti-Gay” went w/ “Suit”. By fighting anti-gay harrassment, I believe that this suit is pro-LGBT (regardless that the plaintiff is actually straight).

  • Gianni

    Don’t dream about the 17mil yet. Likely will be reduced on appeal.

  • Wynter Marie Starr

    I don’t care what this man’s sexuality is; the fact that he was bullied and harassed on his job is disgusting. I also agree that if he were gay, the jury might not have cared or awarded him this settlement.

    • One of the jurors

      Not true. The jury did not care whether he was gay or not. The City’s policy does not distinguish between those actually gay and those perceived to be gay. Harassment in any shape or form is wrong. Even more wrong is upper management not taking action to stop it once made aware of it.

      • Wynter Marie Starr

        I hope that would be true. It should be true. I’m just not convinced that it is true.

        My hatred of bullies is well known on this site, so I do agree that no matter the reason, harassment or bullying for any reason is wrong. I also agree that management bears most of the responsibility for not stopping this.