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Winery Gets Crushed for $11 Million in Harassment Case

Published Thursday, January 31, 2019
by Gail Cecchettini Whaley, Esq.

Grapes at VineyardLarge sexual harassment awards are not going away anytime soon, as demonstrated by a recent verdict out of Los Angeles. A jury awarded over $11 million dollars to two winery employees. The employees alleged they were sexually harassed by the General Manager, and retaliated against after they complained.

The two employees, Amber Brown and Meagan Meadowcroft, alleged a pattern of harassment by the winery’s general manager, Carlos Pineiro including:

• Sexually explicit comments
• Attempting to block Brown’s Path
• Screaming at Brown while he was intoxicated, threatening to harm her if she complained, and grabbing her wrist causing her to fall down the stairs
• Sexual gestures
• Sexually inappropriate touching, including touching Meadowcroft’s rear and genitals from behind while she was bent over getting dishes
• Taking photos of Meadowcroft’s rear
• Pushing Meadowcroft against a wall and telling her he would make her manager if she had sex with him
• Harassing Meadowcroft at home with numerous phone calls at night

Both employees were removed from future work schedules after complaining—Brown even had to obtain a restraining order against Pineiro. Pineiro was initially fired after the complaints but was then rehired to the same position.

Brown reported suffering from panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the misconduct. Meadowcroft similarly reported symptoms of PTSD.

The trial lasted over a month. Several witnesses testified that Pineiro engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct toward Brown, Meadowcroft and other employees and customers.

The jury awarded $11 million dollars to the two women. Each woman received $1 million for past emotional distress; $1.5 million for future emotional distress and $3 million in punitive damages. In addition to the $11 million dollars to the women, their attorneys will also receive their attorneys’ fees.

Stopping Harassment

California employers are legally required to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment in the workplace and retaliation against those who complain is strictly prohibited.

CEA recommends that employers:

• Provide mandatory harassment prevention training to all employees (one hour) and all supervisors (two hours). A new law for 2019 requires all employers with five or more employees to provide harassment prevention training (SB 1343). Check out our training options.
• Provide all employees a copy of the employer’s anti-harassment policy. We can help you with your employee handbook.
• Make sure your required anti-harassment/anti-discrimination poster is up-to-date. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) made a mandatory update to its discrimination and harassment poster for 2019. Our up to date all-in-one poster includes this and the 2019 state and federal labor law postings that meet business requirements to protect employers from posting fines and employee disputes.
• Consider adding CEA’s Employee Action Hotline to reduce your liability and to provide another outlet for employee concerns.

The Employee Action Hotline provides your business with an 800 number that employees can call anytime, from anywhere, 24/7. In addition to reporting harassment or discrimination, employees can also report workplace violence, safety issues, retaliation, fraud, or other misconduct. A third-party interview specialist will capture all information provided by the caller—the caller can choose to remain anonymous. CEA will deliver a report to the employer’s designated contact the next business day. Hotlines can help an employee feel safer coming forward with their concerns and allow employers to be proactive in handling any issues raised before they escalate into an actionable claim. A hotline can also act to deter employees from engaging in misconduct in the first place.


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