Fact Pattern: When Work, Family and Business Collide
Note: For this issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer, instead of choosing a theme and asking attorney members to write about it, the guest editors created this fact pattern and asked attorneys in different practice areas to provide their insights.
Family Co. began in 1974 in the San Ramon garage of Family where classic cars and motorcycles were lovingly refurbished. Over the years, Family Co. has grown into one of the largest classic car and motorcycle refurbishing companies in the great U.S.A., employing just Family to well over 150 people in their state of the art Concord, California warehouse facility.
Veronica is the 38-year-old female employee of Family Co.’s who has worked at Family Co. since high school in shipping/receiving as well as reception. Albert is a 40-year-old male who began working for Family Co. two years before Veronica joined. They were married shortly after Veronica graduated from high school, though they have been divorced since January 1, 2016. After the divorce was final, Albert moved from Family Co. and began working full time with Family Co.’s long- time vendor Vendor Co. Though Albert worked for the vendor, Albert was assigned to service the relationship between Vendor Co. and Family Co. thus Albert is at Family Co. nearly every day for significant periods of time, often in the shipping and receiving office with Veronica.
Family Co.’s manager, Blanch, is best friends with Veronica. Blanch has worked at Family Co. for nearly 20 years and is the daughter of the founder.
Albert was not happy when Veronica decided to separate, and although the proceedings are finalized, he continues to attempt to rekindle their relationship. While at Family Co., he is hanging out near her desk and constantly asking her out on dates. She has always said “no” and lately he has felt embarrassed by getting “shot down” by her in public. He began to corner her in the workplace to hug/kiss her, grab her buttocks or grab her by the waist and slam his pelvis into her backside telling her he cannot stop thinking about her and having sex with her/that she will then regret the separation, etc. She has told him repeatedly not to do that and she has even asked several co-workers never to leave her alone with him.
Albert also engages in a barrage of emails and text messages (to her work email and work cell from his work email and work cell), all conveying the same message. Veronica is alarmed at the escalation of his behavior, but believes that if she ignores him, maybe he will get the message and stop.
In early 2018 Veronica began dating a new man. Although she thought maybe Albert would get the message and stop, in fact he became extremely upset and far more aggressive with his actions, including threatening communications and physical aggression in the workplace. Veronica was becoming increasingly afraid of Albert. One night in February, when they were out for “ladies night”, Veronica told Blanch what was going on. Blanch was appropriately empathetic and offered moral support. She did not, however, recommend any action.
On Wednesday, June 6, 2018 Albert followed Veronica to her car after work. This time, he became violent, pushing her to the car, choking her, touching her in a sexual manner, causing Veronica to fear that she was going to be raped. She screamed for help and a warehouse worker pulled Albert off Veronica. Albert was allowed to leave the premises. Veronica immediately sought urgent medical care but no police report was filed. She called two people: her mother, who urged her to get some sort of protection; and Blanch, who met her at urgent care, held her hand while she cried, and gave tips to cover the bruises with make-up. Like a true friend, Blanch called and yelled at Albert telling him, “I know what you did! You stay the F away from Veronica!” However she did not report the matter to Family Co. or Vendor Co., nor did she suggest a police report or a TRO.
Veronica took a few sick days thereafter, Thursday June 7th and Friday June 8th – too afraid to go to work with bruises, etc. On Thursday June 7th Veronica contacted her doctor for a follow-up urgent care appointment, wherein she was given contact information for a domestic violence clinic. When Blanch called to see how she was, Veronica told Blanch about the doctor’s referral and told her that her mother was worried about her safety as well, and she asked Blanch if she should do something about Albert. Blanch told Veronica not to worry, that she called and yelled at him, “I always got your back girl!” This did not make Veronica feel safe.
After suffering from panic attacks at the thought of going back to work, being unable to sleep and having nightmares all weekend, Veronica called in sick again on Monday, June 11th. Veronica then called her doctor who ultimately placed her on Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave for one month, ordered her to mental health treatment, prescribed medication and completed the state disability leave form. Veronica notified Blanch by text and phone call on June 11th. Blanch immediately called and started to lightly tease her friend, saying, “Come on girl! Get yourself to work, it will make you feel better!” But after hearing her cries, Blanch appeared to appreciate it was more serious and commented she would get the forms going and get back to her. Veronica has tried for several weeks to contact Blanch, who has not returned her calls and has instead responded via email with short responses.
Veronica’s month of FMLA leave is almost over and she must decide what to do.