Protected Speech in Quicken Loans’ Workplace and the Creation of Hostile Work Environment Awards Choked Worker $7.4M

A recent case involved the termination of an employee after another employee overheard him swearing in the bathroom while discussing client matters.  Specifically, a Quicken Loans representative was speaking to another in the restroom when he was overheard by another employee who was in one of the stalls.  That employee then informed management and the complaining employee was terminated. The ruling required Quicken to re-hire the terminated employee, pay him for lost earnings, as well as change the workplace rules that unduly burdened employees’ rights to discuss workplace matters.  The judge held that such speech was considered concerted activity which is protected under the National Labor Relations Act.  Moreover, employees should be free to discuss pay and working conditions.  Finally, the ruling struck the confidentiality provision and the requirement that the employee return all of the company property because that would prevent employees from submitting unlawful employee handbooks to government enforcement authorities for investigations.

In another related case, a federal jury awarded $7.4 million to a help desk technician named Yowan Yang after he was wrongfully terminated for an office altercation where he was choked by a coworker.  Of the final amount, $5 million was for punitive damages and $2.4 million was for past and future lost earnings plus emotional harm.  The court held that Mr. Yang’s company ActionNet, Inc. fired him without investigating, causing him psychological harm and whimsically altering his career trajectory.  ActionNet was also found to have negligently hired, retained and supervised the belligerent coworker, and permitting an unsafe work environment to persist when they were aware of the workers’ history.

As the complaint provided, Mr. Yang was involved in several verbal altercations with the coworker who shared a cubicle wall with him.  The coworker threatened Mr. Yang, cursed, pounded his fist against his cubicle, and after the employees individually met with their supervisors and returned to their cubicles, the coworker grabbed Mr. Yang by the neck and threatened his life.

Many of our hostile work environment attorneys report that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (as well as the federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ADEA, and the ADA) have swung in the direction of protecting the employee when the company had knowledge of a hostile workplace environment.  The most common type of scenario is when the employee is harassed under unsafe work conditions which create an intimidating, harmful, oppressive or offensive atmosphere created by another coworker.  Furthermore, such atmosphere is viewed as hostile when it interferes with the Plaintiff’s ability to perform his job. See these blogs for other examples.

If you believe that you, or another employee, suffered an employment law matters related to employee rights or know of possible hostile workplace environment, age or disability discrimination, prompt action to preserve your rights is crucial. Contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates for a free consultation to discuss your circumstances and legal options.