SANTA CRUZ – After a month-long trial, jurors awarded $2.6 million Wednesday to a Capitola man who was sexually harassed by a fellow truck driver at Aptos-based retailer Beverly Fabrics Inc. and reproached by the company for reporting it, according to court documents.
The Santa Cruz County Superior Court jury authorized the damages, of which $1.1 million are punitive, for sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation and failure to prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation, according to court documents.
Punitive damages, issued when conduct is grossly negligent or intentional, are rare: A U.S. Justice Department report found only 5 percent of trials, in which plaintiffs prevail, result in punitive damages awarded.
In this case, Cole Hudson of Capitola drove routes from the company’s Watsonville warehouse for eight years until he resigned in 2013, after years of bullying and harassment by a coworker, according to the court documents.
Former Beverly’s truck driver Dan Rangle, who was hired in 2007, repeatedly lied about Hudson’s sexuality to new and experienced employees, and pestered Hudson with sexual gestures and physical harassment at work for the five years the two men worked together. The problem remained unresolved after Hudson reported the behavior to supervisors, one of whom said there was no way to change Rangle, according to court documents.
Unwanted sexual advances, and physical, verbal or visual sexual conduct constitutes sexual harassment, according to California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
San Jose attorneys Robert Wilger and Justin Brown, of international employment and labor law firm Littler Mendelson P.C., represented Beverly Fabrics, Inc.
Wilger said it is possible that appeals will be filed but declined to comment further Wednesday night.
“Rangle’s conduct was not only relentless, but it degenerated in both frequency and substance over the next two years until (Beverly’s) laid him off from employment in July 2013,” attorney Elizabeth Peck wrote in a complaint she filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court almost three years ago.
Co-counsel Kevin Schwin also represented Hudson’s case.
Rangle referred to himself as “Big Swingin’ Dan” and often talked about his sweaty buttocks, which he asked repeatedly for Hudson to wash, Peck wrote. The comments escalated and Rangle started to lie to other workers, saying Hudson had been with male prostitutes named “Bubba” and “Bubbalicious,” she wrote.
Hudson, who is married with four children, was disgusted by the comments, Peck told the Sentinel on Wednesday.
Peck said the case is a rarity for having sexual harassment between two heterosexual men.
“It was not a matter of sexual desire,” Peck said. “It was using sexual innuendo and slurs to harass and bully someone.”
Rangle lied to other workers about seeing male prostitutes get into Hudson’s work truck, Peck wrote in the complaint. The story was repeated to newly hired workers and others the next few years, she wrote.
“These new employees would then go to Hudson and laughingly ask him to tell them about ‘Bubba’ and ‘Bubbalicious,’” Peck wrote.
Then, Rangle started to send sexual photos by text to Hudson’s work phone, Peck wrote. Hudson told Rangle to stop, but the man continued to send the photos for about two months, she wrote. On a route to Rancho Cucamonga to pick up materials from a vendor, a worker at the vendor asked whether Hudson was homosexual and said Rangle had misrepresented Hudson’s sexuality, she wrote. Other offensive comments continued as Rangle started to become physical: putting Hudson in a head lock while trying to act as if he was going to kiss him and, on another occasion, Rangle brushed the back of his hands against Hudson’s buttocks, Peck wrote. The behavior, including crude comments about Hudson’s wife, continued until Rangle was laid off, Peck wrote.
Efforts were made to report the behavior to supervisors, according to court documents.
“He finally stood up and said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Peck said. “Then, he was subjected to retaliation by the company for having made his complaint.”
After the company laid off Rangle, Hudson had to take over Rangle’s southern routes in California, drive Rangle’s truck and imposed “additional conditions” that were retaliatory, Peck said.
The impact of the harassment has been “immeasurable,” Peck said. He was unable to find comparable employment after his resignation, according to court documents.
She said Hudson has been “incredibly courageous” to withstand trial and pretrial proceedings.
“He is a strong and kind-hearted man,” Peck said. “He has been through the ringer and back. This has been three years coming.”
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