Secretary says hugs and touching distressed her, claims sexual harassment by high-ranking sheriff. $60K. San Diego County.
Assistant Sheriff hugs and touches administrative secretary in an unwanted fashion. He retires before any discipline.
- Case Name: LaFoy v. County of San Diego, et al.
- Court and Case Number: San Diego Superior Court / 37-2018-00029453-CU-OE-CTL
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, April 26, 2021
- Date Action was Filed: Thursday, June 14, 2018
- Type of Case: Employment, Sexual Harassment
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Katherine A. Bacal
Plaintiffs: Louise LaFoy
Defendants: County of San DiegoRichard Miller
- Type of Result: Bench Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $60,000
Award as to each Defendant:
$50,000 against defendants County of San Diego and Richard Miller, jointly and severally, as to Ms. LaFoy's cause of action for Sexual Harassment in Violation of Government Code §12940(j).
$10,000 against defendant County of San Diego as to Ms. LaFoy's cause of action for Failure to Prevent Sexual Harassment from Occurring in Violation of Government Code §12940(k).
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 3 1/2 days
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Plaintiff will be filing a Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs.
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Haeggquist & Eck, LLP by Alreen Haeggquist and Jenna Rangel, San Diego.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Office of County Counsel by William Songer, San Diego.
Plaintiff’s Medical Experts:
Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Calvin Colarusso, M.D., psychiatry, La Jolla.
Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
Plaintiff has worked for the County of San Diego's Sheriff's Department since 2006, and since 2014 as an Administrative Secretary. Defendant Richard Miller joined the Sheriff's Department in 1992 and was ultimately promoted in 2014 to Assistant Sheriff, third from the top in the chain of command of the Sheriff's Department. Miller retired on March 2, 2018 during an Internal Affairs investigation into plaintiff's complaint of sexual harassment against him.
Plaintiff did not work in the same office or building as Miller, but she was required to travel to his office building (Sheriff's headquarters) to hand-deliver confidential documents to various departments. Plaintiff never worked directly or indirectly for Miller, never had any telephone or email correspondence with Miller, never hand-delivered documents directly to Miller, and never had any relationship or friendship with Miller inside or outside of work. Plaintiff only occasionally saw Miller when she was delivering documents.
Plaintiff alleged she was sexually harassed by Assistant Sheriff Miller in the fall of 2014 when, for the first time, Miller initiated a hug with plaintiff and patted her buttocks when no one else was around. Plaintiff reported the 2014 incident to her former supervisor and friend, a commander in Miller's unit, who did nothing in response. Plaintiff did not report this incident to any other supervisory employees for fear of retaliation. Plaintiff also took affirmative steps to avoid being alone with Miller, taking alternate routes to make her deliveries and bringing a coworker with her when she had to go to headquarters.
By taking these precautions, plaintiff was able to avoid any interaction with Miller until February 2017, when Miller came to her office for a meeting. This was the first time plaintiff had ever seen Miller in her office. Plaintiff alleged that she was again sexually harassed by Miller when he initiated a second hug with plaintiff and patted her buttocks. Plaintiff did not immediately report this second incident for fear of retaliation, but after reporting to her boyfriend, a sergeant, plaintiff filed a formal complaint with Internal Affairs.
The five-month long investigation revealed two other female employees who reported inappropriate hugs by Miller. During the investigation, the Sheriff's Department issued Miller a "no hug" order. Internal Affairs eventually found that Miller engaged in "conduct unbecoming" based on his frequent hugging of female employees among other things, but did not substantiate a finding of sexual harassment.
Because Miller retired days before the investigation closed, he was never disciplined. Plaintiff alleged both instances of hugging and touching her buttocks were unwanted, offensive, and made her feel uncomfortable. Plaintiff alleged she has suffered from stress, anxiety, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, and other emotional distress since 2014. Dr. Colarusso opined that plaintiff suffered from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of defendants’ conduct.
Assistant Sheriff Miller admitted that he hugged plaintiff one time in 2017. Although he could not recall ever hugging her before, he conceded it was possible. He denied that he patted her buttocks.
The County denied that plaintiff reported the 2014 incident with enough specificity to give rise to the commander's mandated duty to report sexual harassment; she never claimed that she felt offended or intimidated. The two hugs occurred in very public areas within the Sheriff’s Department. For both incidents, Miller opened his arms and stopped; plaintiff “closed the gap,” walked into his arms and embraced him. Each hug lasted less than two seconds. For the second hug (which was captured on video) plaintiff’s co-worker was less than 5 feet away in position to have a clear view of the pair as they hugged. She did not pay attention to the hug or observe the defendant’s hands. Defendants contended that the two, brief incidents roughly 30 months apart were too trivial, sporadic, and isolated to constitute sexual harassment as a matter of law.
Injuries and Other Damages
Defendants made no formal settlement offers.
Per defense counsel:
Plaintiff’s final demand sought $250,000. (Inclusive of attorneys’ fees and costs.)