California Labor Law: Harassment Led to Suicide Attempt
Steve (not his real name) worked four years as a company mechanic until he couldn't take any more harassment. Steve's co-workers, who were much younger than he, thought it was all "fun and games," but not for Steve - he tried to commit suicide.
"My co-workers and supervisors tormented me with ridiculous questions, usually of a sexual nature," says Steve. "They asked if I would have sex with a 12-year-old for a million dollars; Would I have sex with the owner? They also accused me of being a child molester and deliberately trying to get me upset - maybe so they would feel better? They wouldn't let up and continued to antagonize me until I answered."
Steve eventually went to HR, complaining that this kind of behavior was not correct for employee relations. The HR manager then brought it to the attention of Steve's supervisors.
"Apparently about nine co-workers were told not to say anything more to me," says Steve, "but that got ridiculous. They wouldn't even respond to a 'good morning' from me, and three of them were told not to talk to me at all (a co-worker told me). My supervisors tried to put me on as many solo jobs as possible, but when I did have to interact with others, important information I needed wouldn't be given to me. 'I guess I will just make it up,' I said to them once…
"The pressure got to me and I called in sick on Monday, August 17, 2009. I called in sick again Tuesday and tried to commit suicide Tuesday night. I also called my parents and good friends and told them I was taking my life. I took a bottle of pills and hoped I would die on my bed. My sister somehow got me up but I told her I was going to get in my truck and drive into a tree. As I tried to open the garage door, my sister kept closing it. Eventually I was able to drive my truck through the door, drove as fast as I could - about 150 yards about 7:30 pm at night so all the neighbors saw - and drove into a pile of rocks. I don't remember any of this; I don't remember anything until I woke up in the hospital…
"My truck rolled and landed on top of me; luckily the paramedics were called immediately. They performed CPR all the way to the helicopter pad and I was flown to hospital, where I spent several days in a morphine state. I was not expected to survive.
"After my 12 weeks of family medical leave was up, I was terminated - on December 1, 2009. I didn't get disability insurance until March 2010. I am still on unemployment but recently got hired back with the same company for less than half of my wages: I was making $20 per hour and now I am making $9.25.
"Apparently, they were legally able to terminate me, but I'm going to hear what my California labor law attorney, Morris Nazarian, says. He is working on a contingency basis and is in the process of filing a harassment and hostile work environment lawsuit against the company. I am hoping to get justice from this lawsuit.
"I have 30 years of experience in this industry and what they allowed to happen is not right; people should not be allowed to say things about your sexual orientation. I think I was picked on because I tend to be more sensitive and I am also old enough to be their fathers, most of them anyway. And I think a lot has to do with my experience and management training - these young supervisors (my immediate supervisor was 31) didn't know how to deal with these situations and I warned them that they could be held liable.
"Since this happened, I've become very guarded when it comes to trusting people. Some of my friends and family have suggested that I drop this case because of the stress it will cause me, and it is very unlikely that it will settle right away. But it's a matter of principal more than anything else."
Steve is right, and he is standing up for his rights. Employers - and anyone for that matter - should be aware of the California labor code and they shouldn't get away with these violations; they have no idea how a hostile work environment, harassment and wrongful termination can destroy people's lives.