Employment Law Daily Disabled receptionist sexually assaulted by coworker awarded over $95K against unsympathetic hotel employer
Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Disabled receptionist sexually assaulted by coworker awarded over $95K against unsympathetic hotel employer

By Lorene D. Park, J.D.

A hotel employee who was sexually assaulted by a coworker and marked no-call-no-show the next day, despite her request for time off and for workers’ compensation to recover from the assault, was awarded backpay, front pay, and compensatory and punitive damages totaling over $95,000. The federal district court in Pennsylvania also awarded her $14,680 in attorneys’ fees. It noted that the hotel employer’s attorney appeared at the hearing on damages but submitted no evidence and did not move to set aside a default judgment, which was entered after the court independently concluded that the employee’s proposed findings of fact were “generally accurate” (Napold v. Parvatishver, LLC dba Quality Suites, February 28, 2018, Fischer, N.).

Taking the allegations in a former hotel employee’s complaint as true, she has a bachelor’s degree in history and humanities, but due to a brain aneurysm suffered at the age of 21, she has memory loss, vision problems, difficulty concentrating on tasks, and suffers from anxiety. She has received disability benefits from governmental agencies. In July 2014 she moved to Pittsburgh to complete her master’s degree project and through a vocational rehab office, was hired by the hotel, which received a benefit for hiring her due to her disabled status.

Sexual assault. On June 14, 2015, while working the 3pm to 11pm shift as the receptionist, the employee was assaulted by a coworker who also lived at the hotel. She called 911 and he was arrested (and later convicted) of sexual assault. She told the hotel owner and the supervising manager that night by sending them text messages.

Requests time off but asked to work anyway. The next morning, the employee was called by the manager of a different hotel owned by the same individual. That manager indicated he was calling at the behest of the owner, who was standing beside him. During the call the employee requested time off to move and to ensure she was safe before returning to work, the manager agreed and said he would speak to the owner. Nonetheless, later that day, the employee’s supervising manager texted her asking her to cover the shift that night. The employee was taken aback and did not respond.

On June 16, the employee asked to speak to the owner, who agreed but said he wanted her supervising manager to be there as well. She responded that she was not comfortable with the supervisor due to the request that she work the night after her sexual assault. The owner then advised her that the coworker who assaulted her would not return to the premises because the owner had locked the room where that individual had been living.

Supervisor calls police on employee. The next day the employee called the Center for Victims of Violent Crimes, which advised her to get workers’ comp information. She called the hotel but the person working the front desk could not find the information. On June 18, the employee went to the hotel to speak to the owner about time off and workers’ comp. While there, she noticed she was marked as a no-call, no-show for the day after the sexual assault. When she asked her supervisor for an explanation and asked about workers’ comp, the supervisor told the employee to ask the owner because as far as she was concerned, the employee no longer worked there. The supervisor said to leave or she would call the police. Others standing nearby expressed displeasure at this treatment. Nonetheless, the supervisor called the police and allegedly joked with the officers when they arrived; the same officers who responded to the employee’s 911 call.

Default judgment. The employee filed suit under Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The court granted a default judgment against the hotel owner in October 2017. It accepted the factual allegations in the complaint as true and independently concluded that the employee’s proposed findings were “generally accurate.” Based on those, the court found that the owner discriminated and retaliated against her and that he wrongfully terminated her and engaged in the intentional infliction of her emotional distress. Before awarding damages, the court held a hearing, at which the owner’s attorney appeared but did not offer evidence and did not move to have the default set aside.

Damages. On the day of her termination, the employee was earning either $8.25 or $8.55 per hour and typically worked between 30 and 40 hours per week. She was unemployed from June 18 until the following December, when she sought employment with a temp agency. She has had difficulties with work and put her education on hold due to emotional distress. She also was evicted several times due to financial issues.

Backpay and front pay. Noting that back pay is routinely awarded to successful Title VII and PHRA claimants, the court found that, absent the hotel owner’s discrimination, the employee would have earned $30,576 from June 18 through the date of the order. Deducting $15,250 she earned from other employment, the court awarded $15,325 in backpay. The court also awarded front pay to compensate for damages the employee could reasonably expect to suffer going forward from the date of judgment as a result of the hotel owner’s discrimination. Considering the nature of her work, whether she would be able to find comparable work, her life expectancy and, whether the evidence showed she would continue to work until the age of 70, the court found a period of two years reasonable, which would allow her to relocate to Florida where she had family. Accordingly, the employee was awarded $30,576 in front pay.

Compensatory and punitive damages. The court further determined that the employee was entitled to compensatory damages of $40,000 because the discriminatory conduct caused her emotional pain, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and fear. In addition, given that the owner ignored the employee’s plight and failed to respond appropriately to the sexual assault, the court found that the employee was entitled to $10,000 in punitive damages.

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