Articles Posted in emotional distress damages

Friedman & Houlding LLP represent an account executive for iHeart Media in Harrisonburg, Virginia alleges he was subjected to racial harassment and stereotyping by his supervisor the Market President, followed by retaliation when he complained.

iHeart Media is a mass media corporation, and is the nation’s largest owner of radio stations, including several in the Harrisonburg area. Leon Bowen, an African-American man, worked at iHeart’s Harrisonburg location selling radio advertising to local businesses. Bowen was the only African-American staff member. Right away, Bowen noticed that iHeart’s local client base was almost entirely white, even though the local community was racially diverse. Bowen’s successful efforts to bring black-owned businesses on as clients appeared to anger his supervisor, the Market President. And Bowen saw that the office highlighted numerous holidays throughout the year, but did nothing to celebrate Juneteenth. During the Olympics, when staff members were given countries to represent, Bowen’s coworkers were all assigned “non-black” countries – while he was assigned Jamaica.

As reported in local media, during a team meeting video call, the Market President looked at Bowen, who was wearing a hoodie, and told him “oh, you look cozy.” There was no dress code for team meetings. By way of explaining his hoodie, Bowen simply responded that it was cold that day. In front of his coworkers, the Market President responded: “Well, I hope you’re not going to see clients like that.” Bowen told her he did not plan to. Following the call, she kept Bowen on the line, asking him if she was “sensing some attitude.” Bowen politely but firmly defended himself as a good employee. Bowen immediately reached out to the Area and Regional Presidents to report his supervisor’s mistreatment. In response, the Market President falsely claimed that Bowen had called her a “bitch”—employing stereotypes of black men as aggressive or angry. The Area President directed Bowen to work from home until after the holidays. Bowen complained again to an Employee Advisor for iHeart, who claimed the company would conduct an investigation.

As reported in Local Press, a Redmond, Washington-area carpenter for BNBuilders was threatened with a noose bearing his name at a Meta (formerly Facebook) worksite, after being subjected to the n-word, “jokes” about picking cotton, and other racially derogatory remarks and conduct from his supervisor and coworkers. Friedman & Houlding LLP represents the carpenter, James Myers.

Employer BNBuilders was the general contractor on Meta’s Building X construction site in Redmond, Washington. Press reports that carpenter James Myers, an African-American man, endured racially offensive comments from early in his employment with BNBuilders. Multiple times employees called him “black boy” when asking him to complete tasks. His supervisors made extremely racially offensive “jokes”: an Assistant Superintendent repeatedly told Myers “I’m woke” in a derisive manner, then asked Myers’s Lead, “are you woke?” His lead replied, “I ain’t racist– n***** n***** n*****!”–repeating the N-word several times. The Assistant Superintendent and Lead then laughed, while Myers watched in shock.

More than once, his Assistant Superintendent racially harassed Myers using “cotton”: in front of multiple employees in the field. His AS walked up to Myers and told him: “James, I got something for you.” Myers saw that something was clasped in his AS’ hand. Conscious of all the tradesworkers watching, Myers told him “no,” and tried to deflect him. His AS insisted, “open it!” He then took and opened Myers’s hand, and handed him a ball of “cotton”–the white fiber from cottonwood trees, resembling that of agricultural cotton plants. His AS told Myers, “I picked it for you!” and laughed uproariously.

Passed 50 years ago in June, Title IX has had a profound and widely-recognized impact on girls’ and women’s sports. But Title IX did not only offer parity in sports. It has been instrumental in compensating victims of discrimination and harassment by teachers, coaches, professors and other students. Until now. The Supreme Court quietly eviscerated this right just before Title IX’s anniversary, with little fanfare or public outrage. In a decision superficially limited to the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act, the Court eliminated damages under Title IX – and Title VI — for emotional distress.

Victims of sex and gender-based discrimination and harassment have successfully used Title IX to obtain relief when recipients of federal funds have failed to enforce the law. In Hawaii, for example, a jury awarded $810,000 after a ninth-grade girl with the intellectual ability of a second grader was raped by an older boy from her class. The girl’s mother previously had expressed concerns to the school about this student. In California, a male student was alleged to have pressured a middle school girl into sending nude pictures and used those pictures to blackmail her into performing oral sex; students then posted pictures on social media of the female student performing oral sex. She obtained a $2 million dollar settlement. In Florida, a jury awarded a single plaintiff $6 million dollars after a teacher sexually abused her during her junior and senior years in school. The abuse included child pornography and forcible kissing and touching. The school had previously received reports of sexual abuse but failed to investigate. In Colorado, a school district settled a claim for $5 million dollars. A teacher was alleged to have sexually abused a student when she was nine years old. The school knew the teacher had a history of inappropriate conduct but failed to act to prevent the abuse. Based on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Cummings v. Keller Premier Rehab, were claims like those brought today under Title IX, there could be no award for their depression, their suicide attempts, their eating disorders, their missed classes, their trauma.

In 1972, Congress enacted Title IX so that federal funds would not support discriminatory practices. The law bars educational programs or activities that accept federal funds from engaging in discrimination on the basis of sex. In other words, schools must take action to prevent and address sexual harassment and discrimination. Failing to do so could lead to the loss of important federal dollars (although in reality, that rarely if ever happens). Title IX was patterned after Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by funding recipients with respect to race, color and national origin. Although neither statute expressly provides victims of discrimination with the right to sue in court, in 1979, after a female student alleged she was denied admission to medical school because of her sex, the Supreme Court held in Cannon v. University of Chicago, that Title IX (and Title VI) allowed her to sue in court. Over a decade later, in 1992, when a high school student sued alleging her teacher had sexually harassed and abused her, the Court confirmed that the right to bring suit included the ability to obtain money damages. This apparent expansion of rights may have peaked in the mid-90s: soon after, in its 1998 decision Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District,, the Court restricted when schools could be held liable for harassment.

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