Many of you will remember the case. Janet Orlando sued her employer, Alarm One, due to the company’s conduct during “team building” exercises. The company, allegedly, would pit sales teams against each other and the winning team was permitted to make fun of the losers, throw pies at them, feed the losers baby food, make them wear diapers and swat them on the buttocks. Ms. Orlando sued for sexual harassment and sexual battery. A jury found she suffered $500,000 in damage. In addition, the jury award $1 million in damages to punish her employer and deter future conduct. These type of damages are referred to as punitive damages. Alarm One appealed contending that the jury was not instructed on a key element of a sexual harassment claim, namely that the conduct was directed toward her because of her gender. The appeals court agreed and sent her case back to the trial court for a new trial. Click here to see the video interview of Ms. Orlando.
The Bottom Line:
One word folks, “Hello!!!” I don’t know enough about the evidence presented at trial to offer an opinion as to whether this conduct was directed at Ms. Orlando based on her gender. Never the less, if you are an employer that condones conduct in which an employee is humiliated or hit, you will find yourself getting “spanked” by a jury. Alarm One may have been successful in getting this case reversed due to an error in the jury instructions, however, it may find itself in the same predicament if this case is tried again. Even if a jury does not find this was sexual harassment, a jury could conclude that the conduct was an assault (battery) and/or that, by allowing employees to be treated in this fashion, the company engaged in intentional infliction of emotional distress. If this case arose in Washington, Ms. Orlando could have also sued the managers that allowed these practices to occur.