You know that inappropriate comments or behavior in the workplace can put you on the hook for big sexual harassment damages. But in a new twist, a law firm employee has won more than a quarter-million dollars because her boss used her to help keep his out-of-the-office, extramarital affair a secret. The jury’s award shows that entangling workers in a supervisor’s personal life isn’t just awkward-it’s bad business and can create serious legal perils.
Employee Forced To Arrange Romantic Encounters
Jeanette Mirjanovic worked as a paralegal for two Sacramento attorneys, Richard Lewis and Michael Bowman. Mirjanovic claimed Lewis regularly required her to act as a liaison between him and his mistress and to lie to his wife and clients about his whereabouts when he was with the mistress. On one occasion, Mirjanovic said she had to reserve a hotel room for Lewis and shuttle the paramour to and from her rendezvous with the boss.
What’s more, Mirjanovic said Lewis showed up unannounced at her apartment with his girlfriend, gave Mirjanovic $50, and told her to take her children out for pizza. When she returned, she said her bed was undone and wet towels were hanging in the bathroom.
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Boss Talks About Sex Life
Mirjanovic’s attorney told CEA that Lewis also regularly discussed his sex life with Mirjanovic, often in graphic detail. Despite her repeated complaints, her attorney said, Lewis’ behavior did not change.
Instead, Lewis reduced Mirjanovic’s hours and pay and then fired her. Mirjanovic sued Lewis and his law partner for sexual harassment and retaliation. At the trial, Lewis denied Mirjanovic’s charges and claimed she was terminated for excessive absenteeism-not for complaining about his behavior.
Attorney Gambles And Loses
The case was initially heard in a nonbinding arbitration where Mirjanovic was awarded $14,000 in damages, which she was willing to accept. But Lewis rejected the arbitration award and insisted on a full trial before a jury. The gamble didn’t pay off, however, and the jury awarded Mirjanovic $260,000, including $75,000 in punitive damages against Lewis alone. She is also entitled to recover her attorneys’ fees, which her lawyer told CEA will exceed $100,000. Lewis’ attorney refused to comment on the case.
Take Preventive Action
The jury’s award shows the importance of keeping employees’-especially managers’-personal lives separate from work. If you learn that an employee has been discussing sexual encounters at work or-even worse-requiring a subordinate to help facilitate them, put a stop to it immediately. You can’t delve into an employee’s personal life, but you can insist they keep it out of the office.