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Top California judge vows to clean up the courts

fter more than $500,000 in payouts, California’s top judge has ordered a review of harassment, discrimination and inappropriate conduct in the state judicial branch.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye ordered the review after it was revealed earlier this year that the court system has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle five sexual harassment complaints.

The figure does not include any allegations or settlements involving county courts, which resolves cases on their own.

New California laws

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, California has enacted several lawsaddressing sexual harassment, including:

  • A law that prohibits secret settlements and non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases. Although the victim can choose to keep his or her name private, the perpetrator must be named
  • A law that allows sexual harassment victims up to a decade to seek civil damages
  • A law that prohibits companies from requiring workers to sign releases of liability.

In a related event, Gov. jerry Brown recently enacted a law that creates a new investigative unit to handle sexual harassment complaints in the state Legislature. The unit will look at complaints and interview witnesses, then hand over the results to outside experts who will recommend consequences, although the final decision will remain with either the Senate or the Assembly. The new unit replaces the old system where each chamber handled complaints separately.

What employees face

Although details in the settlements were not released, sexual harassment usually falls into these areas:

  • The employee faces unwanted touches or is assaulted
  • The employee is offered benefits in exchange for sexual favors
  • The employee is threatened with retaliation after rebuffing sexual advances
  • The employee is subjected to sexual pictures, objects or gestures
  • The employee hears sexually explicit or degrading comments or abuse

California law offers protection against sexual harassment not only to employees but contractors, applicants and unpaid interns.

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