Meeks v. AutoZone, Inc., 2018 WL 3062555 (Cal. Ct. App. 2018)

Natasha Meeks worked as a store manager for AutoZone and claimed that she had been sexually harassed by Juan Fajardo, another store manager. Among other things, Meeks testified that Fajardo would comment on her body and clothes; ask her to go out with him; suggest that they have sex; send her text messages with sexual content, including images and video; forcibly attempt to kiss her; and suggest he could facilitate her advancement and promotion through his position as one of the “favorites” of the district manager. Fajardo also threatened to get Meeks fired if she reported his conduct. Meeks reported Fajardo’s conduct to the district manager who failed to take action, and it was not until 10 months later that the human resources department investigated the matter, which resulted in Fajardo’s termination.

Meeks sued AutoZone and Fajardo for sexual harassment-hostile work environment, failure to prevent harassment, retaliation and sexual battery. The trial court granted summary adjudication against Meeks on the retaliation claim; Meeks dismissed the sexual battery claim; and the jury returned defense verdicts on the remaining claims. The Court of Appeal affirmed dismissal of the retaliation claim because there was no evidence that AutoZone retaliated against her (in fact she remained employed by AutoZone at the time of trial), but the Court reversed the judgment on the remaining claims based on the trial court’s exclusion of certain evidence. Among other things, the trial court erroneously excluded: Detailed testimony from Meeks regarding sexually explicit text messages and a pornographic video that Fajardo sent to her; testimony regarding Meeks’s knowledge of another employee who had reported harassment; and “me-too” evidence of Fajardo’s alleged sexual harassment of other employees. (Note that in 2014, a federal court jury in San Diego awarded another AutoZone manager, Rosario Juarez, $185 million in a case involving pregnancy-related harassment, discrimination and retaliation – which may very well be the largest single-plaintiff verdict since the fall of the Roman Empire).