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California law prohibits harassment of employees of contractor companies

California courts continue to extend sex harassment protections to all categories of workers, most recently employees of contractors working at employer job sites. In Hirst v. City of Oceanside, an employee of a phlebotomy company working for the Oceanside Police Department was harassed by the police officer who supervised her work. The phlebotomy company, American Forensic Nurses (“AFN”), had a written contract to provide blood collection services to the Oceanside Police. The contract specifically said that AFN and Oceanside were in a contractor relationship, not employment. California law says that only employees and those providing services to an employer “pursuant to a contract” can sue for harassment. Oceanside argued that only AFN could sue it for harassment, since it did not have individual contracts with AFN’s employees. But the court disagreed, holding that California law should be interpreted broadly to prohibit workplace harassment, no matter who the victims are. At trial, the plaintiff won a $1.5 million verdict against both Oceanside and the police officer who harassed her, but the judge ordered a new trial on grounds that the damages were too high. The main lessons from the case? That pretty much anyone who is harassed in a California workplace can sue for harassment, and that there is such a thing as doing too well with a harassment verdict. Without supporting evidence, the higher a money judgment in an employment case, the more likely the case will be re-tried, and/or the damages will be reduced.