On October 15, 2019, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and law firm partner Covington & Burling LLP filed an amicus brief in California state court in support of an appeal by two African-American women who had sued their employer, the Ventura County (California) Superior Court, for sexual harassment, failure to prevent or investigate discrimination, and retaliation under the California Fair Housing and Employment Act.
The claims arose from sex harassment of the two women by a court security guard who had targeted them, based on their sex and race, for inappropriately sexual wanding and other harassing behavior during the security screening process. Court employees are required to undergo these security screening procedures every time they enter the courthouse. The court found against the plaintiffs and, in reaching its conclusion, discredited almost all the ‘MeToo testimony’ – testimony by women who had witnessed and experienced harassment by the same security guard – and, in many cases, explicitly stated that the women, including the African-American plaintiffs, were not credible because they appeared angry about the harassment.
NWLC submitted this brief in order to help the court to understand how few women, particularly women of color, ultimately report sexual harassment; the barriers to reporting sexual harassment; and the consequences of reporting sexual harassment. NWLC further sought to help the court to understand the reasons, including gender-based stereotypes, that employers may disregard sex harassment where it involves conduct that is motivated by a woman’s gender and race but does not include obvious coercion or unwanted sexual attention.