Brennan v. Townsend & O’Leary Enter., Inc., 199 Cal. App. 4th 1336 (2011)

Stephanie Crowley Brennan sued her former employer and a manager who was not her supervisor (Scott Montgomery) for sexual harassment. A jury awarded Brennan $200,000 against the agency and $50,000 against Montgomery, but the trial court granted defendants’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and entered a judgment in their favor. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that insufficient evidence supported the jury’s finding that Brennan had been subjected to severe or pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace. Specifically, the Court held that an email that Montgomery sent but did not direct to Brennan (referring to her as “big-titted” and “mindless”) did not constitute “severe” sexual harassment. The Court also reviewed the trial evidence as to the nature, timing, frequency and context of each of the incidents Brennan claimed supported a finding of “pervasive” sexual harassment and found there to be a lack of substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict. Specifically, the Court noted that Brennan saw the email only after Montgomery inadvertently sent it to another employee who was leaving the agency and that employee in turn forwarded it to Brennan. The Court also found insufficient to prove pervasiveness, evidence of several sex-based comments and activities over the course of a number of years, as well as evidence of alleged retaliation following Brennan’s complaint about the email.