Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Lorraine Pantoja v. Thomas J. Anton et al

August 9, 2011

LORRAINE PANTOJA, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
THOMAS J. ANTON ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Kern County. David R. Lampe, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. S-1500-CV-252471)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wiseman, Acting P.J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

In this employment discrimination case, we are asked to decide whether the court erred in not allowing the jury to hear "me too" evidence, that is, evidence of the employer's alleged gender bias in the form of harassing activity against women employees other than the plaintiff. Here, the "me too" evidence related to harassing activity that occurred outside the plaintiff's presence and at times other than when plaintiff was employed. At issue is whether the court properly excluded this evidence as propensity or character evidence under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (a), or whether it should have been admitted as evidence of a discriminatory or biased intent or motive under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b).

We conclude that the evidence should have been admitted and the failure to do so was prejudicial. Consequently, the judgment entered upon the jury's defense verdict must be reversed. In doing so, we fully recognize and agree that the FEHA is not a civility code and is " not designed to rid the workplace of vulgarity.'" (Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions (2006) 38 Cal.4th 264, 295 (Lyle).) Attempting to impose a civility code, human nature being what it is, would be an exercise in futility. The plaintiff's evidence in this case, however, if believed, would be more than "vulgarity" in the workplace.

Another issue is whether the court correctly instructed the jury with language from the Supreme Court's opinion in Lyle, supra, 38 Cal.4th at page 278. We conclude that the instruction given was a correct statement of the law. In the context of this case, however, giving it without other clarifying instructions that are also consistent with the principles and teaching of Lyle was error. We express no opinion regarding whether the particular proposed clarifying instructions requested in this case were appropriate.

In addition, we conclude that, by granting defendants' motion in limine to exclude evidence of plaintiff's supervisor's use of the word "Mexicans," and rejecting proffers of similar evidence during trial, the court in effect improperly granted relief equivalent to summary adjudication against plaintiff's claim alleging racial discrimination. Finally, we conclude the court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded evidence offered to rehabilitate one of plaintiff's witnesses after defendants impeached that witness.

The judgment is reversed.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORIES

Plaintiff Lorraine Pantoja filed her complaint in the trial court on March 11, 2004, naming as defendants attorney Thomas J. Anton and his professional corporation, Thomas Anton & Associates. The complaint alleged that Pantoja began working as an employee of Anton's firm in January 2002. It further alleged that, while Pantoja was working there, Anton slapped Pantoja's buttocks, touched her buttocks, touched her leg while offering her $200, and asked for a shoulder massage. He referred to his employees as "'my Mexicans.'" Finally, he called Pantoja a "'stupid bitch'" and fired her. It was later established that the firing took place in October 2002.

The complaint alleged violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.) (FEHA), wrongful termination in violation of public policy, battery, sexual battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The causes of action for battery, sexual battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress were dismissed by Pantoja during trial. The cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy was nonsuited. These causes of action are not at issue in this appeal. Only the FEHA claims remained. The complaint included a cause of action referring to FEHA violations in general terms and another cause of action referring to racial discrimination. It was clear at trial that Pantoja was also claiming sex discrimination (Anton fired her because she was a woman) and sexual harassment in the form of a hostile work environment created by Anton's words and behavior.

Defendants filed several motions in limine. Two of these are at issue in this appeal. In motion in limine No. 1, defendants sought to exclude evidence of racial bias on Anton's part. Specifically, Pantoja had claimed in a deposition that on one occasion she heard Anton use the word "Mexicans" in a way she considered derogatory. Defendants' motion argued that the "court should exclude any reference to the term 'Mexicans' in any context in this case." They contended that, because Pantoja had only said she heard Anton use the word once, its use was occasional or sporadic and therefore could not establish a racially harassing environment. They also argued that the evidence would be substantially more prejudicial than probative and should be excluded under Evidence Code section 352.

In motion in limine No. 2, defendants sought exclusion of all evidence of acts of discrimination and harassment unless Pantoja "personally witnessed such acts" and the acts "adversely affected her working environment." Defendants argued that this would be improper character evidence and would be substantially more prejudicial than probative under Evidence Code section 352.

On May 20 and 21, 2009, the court granted both motions. On motion in limine No. 1, the court cited cases holding that proof of racial harassment requires evidence of a continuously or pervasively hostile environment. The court acknowledged, however, that a single racial slur can be actionable if accompanied by other conduct. Pantoja's counsel made an offer of proof of accompanying conduct, specifically that Pantoja would testify that Anton "called her bitch, used other expletives, harassed her, berated her, and ultimately terminated her." The court stated that this offer of proof did not persuade it to deny the motion, but that it would be willing to "readdress the matter" during trial if Pantoja actually presented evidence supporting the claim of racial discrimination or harassment.

Regarding motion in limine No. 2, the court stated that witnesses other than Pantoja would be permitted to testify about discriminatory or harassing events they witnessed only after presentation of foundational evidence that those events took place while Pantoja was an employee and that she perceived or was affected by them. It stated that this ruling was preliminary and could be revisited during trial "if foundational matters or other evidence establishes the need to go into areas [that] would otherwise be precluded by the ruling on the motion."

Witness testimony began on May 26, 2009, and Pantoja called Anton as her first witness pursuant to Evidence Code section 776. He testified that he had handled sexual harassment cases, representing both plaintiffs and defendants, and had taught seminars on sexual harassment. Pantoja's counsel asked Anton a series of questions about whether he ever engaged in sexually harassing conduct: "[Y]ou've never touched anybody's buttocks at the workplace, correct?" "[Y]ou've never made comments about anybody's breasts at the workplace, correct?" "[Y]ou've never put your hand inappropriately on any female at the workplace, correct?" Anton answered affirmatively each time. Defense counsel objected, saying that it was irrelevant whether Anton ever did these things, and "may be an issue in regard to one of the Court's orders," presumably its in limine order barring testimony about harassment and discrimination that did not affect or take place in Pantoja's presence. The court sustained the objection and instructed the jury to disregard the testimony.

Pantoja's counsel asked whether Anton had ever called Pantoja a bitch. Anton said no. Counsel then asked whether Anton ever called anyone a bitch. Defense counsel's objection was sustained. Pantoja's counsel asked whether Anton had touched Pantoja's buttocks on a certain occasion. Anton said no. Counsel asked whether Anton had touched the buttocks of his other female employees. Anton said no as defense counsel objected. The court sustained the objection after a sidebar.

When Pantoja's counsel asked similar questions limited to the time of Pantoja's employment in Anton's office, Anton answered and his counsel did not object. In response to these questions, Anton denied that he touched female employees' buttocks or legs during that time; admitted he may have touched female employees' shoulders; admitted he adjusted an employee's bra strap that had fallen off her shoulder on one occasion; and denied that he often called women at the office bitches during the time of Pantoja's employment. When asked whether Anton had a "practice of prohibiting any type of sexual harassment" during the time Pantoja worked for him, Anton also answered affirmatively, with no objection from Anton's counsel. He said: "[W]e just didn't do it, period. And if I found out somebody was doing it, I would put an end to it. If somebody came and complained to me or to anyone else in the firm, I would put an end to it."

Anton also said he had a process in place by which employees could make complaints about sexual harassment. When Anton again denied he touched Pantoja inappropriately on a certain occasion, Pantoja's counsel asked, "And you don't think so because that's something you'd never do, correct?" Anton answered, "That's exactly right." Again, there was no objection.

The following day, May 27, Pantoja filed a supplemental trial brief again arguing for admission of "evidence of Defendant Anton's sexual harassment and racial discrimination against employees other than Plaintiff ...." The brief argued that the evidence was admissible for several purposes, including to impeach Anton's testimony from the day before that he would not tolerate harassment or discrimination in the office. The court did not make a ruling that day.

Anton's testimony continued. He denied that in 2002 (the year Pantoja worked for him) he would allow any employee to call another employee a bitch. He said he did not know whether he had ever directed profanities at employees during the time Pantoja worked in the office, but did not think he had done so. Counsel asked whether Anton used the word "Mexican" in an "angry tone" during the time when Pantoja worked in the office. Defense counsel objected without stating grounds (presumably relying on the in limine ruling) and the court sustained the objection. Anton again testified that, during 2002, when Pantoja worked for him, his policy was "we don't allow sexual harassment." He also denied, without objection by his counsel, that he ever commented on the way women's breasts looked at any time. He testified that if, during the time Pantoja worked for him, anyone had reported sexual harassment to him, he would have conducted an investigation.

Lydia Dunton, an accountant who had worked for Anton, testified out of order for the defense that day. During her testimony, a key theme of the defense emerged. Without any limitation with respect to time, Anton's counsel introduced the subject of Anton's use of profanity. He asked whether Anton ever used "a cuss word"; when Dunton said yes, counsel asked for examples of when he did so. Dunton explained that he did so when he was "recounting something," such as a "funny story." Then Dunton said that sometimes he used profanities angrily, but did not direct them at individuals: "[E]ven if he was upset about something, he might say that so and so, you know--I mean, he didn't say so and so--SOB, you know, talking about someone who had, you know, done something, whatever." Dunton expanded on this point during cross-examination, responding to a specific question about Anton's behavior toward Pantoja by making a general statement that it was not characteristic of Anton to direct profanities at individuals:

"Q. Were you ever present in a room when Mr. Anton directed profanities directly at [Lorraine] Pantoja?

"A. No. That's not his style.

"Q. When you say that's not his style, you're talking about Mr. Anton?

"A. Yeah. He didn't generally direct profanities at people. He might say, that GD so and so, you know, and he'd, you know, talking about some work that was done, or this blankety-blank file is not correct or not complete or whatever, but he never directed it at the person that he was talking to. It was always the situation or the thing or--you know, it wasn't like, you so and so, it was always like this so and so."

Defendants emphasize the same idea in their appellate briefs, saying, for instance, that their "theory of the case was that [Anton's profane] behavior and language was not directed at any particular person."

Pantoja's counsel was not permitted, however, to ask Dunton whether she ever heard Anton use the word bitch during the time Pantoja worked at the office. The court sustained the objection that the question was "lacking in foundation." After a recess and before the jury returned, Pantoja's counsel argued that defense counsel had opened the door to Dunton's testimony on this point. He also argued that it was admissible to impeach Anton's own testimony, to show a pattern and practice of harassment, and to show a company policy of condoning harassment. The court then said it would allow Pantoja's counsel to ask Dunton whether she had ever heard Anton use that word in Pantoja's presence. When Pantoja's counsel attempted to do so, however, after a long series of questions about where Dunton and Pantoja were sitting and what could be heard from which positions, the court again sustained a defense objection based on lack of foundation. During her direct examination by defense counsel, Dunton also testified that, although Anton sometimes touched and hugged employees, the hugs were one-armed and were done in an "avuncular manner." "Uncle like?" defense counsel asked. "Like an uncle, yes," said Dunton.

On the next day of trial, June 1, 2009, Pantoja filed a second supplemental trial brief arguing for admission of evidence of Anton's harassing or discriminatory conduct that was witnessed by other employees but not experienced by Pantoja. This time, Pantoja included a detailed offer of proof. She stated that Stefanie Pumphrey (formerly Escudero) would testify that she worked for Anton from April 2002 to September 2003. Pumphrey would testify that Anton put his arm around her shoulders; daily "yelled words such as 'fuck, shit, bitches' in the office"; told Pumphrey "'monkeys could do your job better than you'"; called her 5 to 10 times while she was on vacation and left "angry obscene messages, such as 'You fucking bitch, you fucked everything up'"; fired her and hired her back; stared at employee Erica Garcia (formerly Pitts) while Garcia stood on a ladder and said, "'I could see right through that skirt'"; put his arms around other employees; used obscene language in speaking to other employees; told other employees they were monkeys and stupid; yelled, "Why can't I get a competent staff?"; and fired and rehired his entire staff.

Jan Humecky, who did contract work for Anton for three years, would testify that Anton went though a lot of staff because of his bad treatment of them; mistreated female employees, including Pantoja, by yelling and saying obscene and insulting things, including, "'Why can't I fucking get a good staff?'"; "What the fuck is wrong with you?"; and "Bitch, stupid, idiot, incompetent"; and frequently caused the female staff members to cry by behaving in this way.

Lisa Wilbanks, who worked for Anton from August to September 2003, would testify to all of the following: Anton daily leered at his female employees, especially at their buttocks. He yelled angrily at staff on a daily basis and made obscene remarks, including, "'Why can't I fucking get a good staff?'"; "'What the fuck is wrong with you?'"; "'Are you a fucking idiot?'"; "'You are fucking worthless'"; "'Stupid!'"; and "'Why can't I get a competent staff?'" He asked Erica Garcia what was written on the elastic band of her underwear and then pulled the band out to see. He stared at Garcia while she stood on a ladder and said, "'You should wear see-through dresses more often and get up on the ladder.'" He told Garcia, "'You have your head up your ass.'" Daily, he made inappropriate comments to an employee named Leanne about her clothes and body. He told Wilbanks, when she needed to take her son to the orthodontist, "'Don't you ever put your family before this office.'" He swore at Wilbanks for forgetting to tell Garcia to pick up Anton's dry cleaning, and then slammed money down on a desk and told Wilbanks, "'Why don't you fucking get the pants?'" He grabbed Wilbanks's arm after Wilbanks gave notice because of this incident, saying, "'You'd better think about this.'" He caused Wilbanks to have panic attacks with his daily outbursts. He yelled at a woman and threatened to have her arrested because she "parked her car where [he] thought a trash can should be.'"

Erica Garcia worked for Anton from June 2003 to May 2004 and would testify that Anton suggested Garcia was less competent than Leanne because of her race (Garcia was Hispanic); separated Garcia from Leanne because of her race; said, in the presence of employees, "[I] have three Mexicans working for me. I've never had that many working for me before. Usually you hire Mexicans to do your maid work"; said Garcia "'has her head up her ass'"; said, "'If you don't get your head out of your ass, I'll stick it up my ass and see how you like it'"; made comments to Garcia and Leanne about their bust sizes, including the comment that, "'[i]f we get T-shirts for the office, we'd have to get extra large because both of your chests are so big'"; patted Garcia and Leanne on their buttocks and thighs at least three times, in the presence of other female employees; three times became suddenly enraged, fired Garcia, and rehired her as she was packing to leave; gave Garcia a raise for good work, gave her a warning letter a week later, and then decided to shred the warning letter, saying he was having a bad day because "his wife was on his case"; called or had an employee call Pumphrey every day while Pumphrey was on vacation to demand to know when she would be back; told Pumphrey by phone during this vacation, "You'd better fucking hurry up and get back or else you'll be fired"; fabricated 30 performance-evaluation letters accusing Pumphrey of poor performance after Pumphrey gave notice; told Pumphrey to "'get the fuck out'" and refused to give her her final paycheck; slapped Leanne on the legs and buttocks and made inappropriate comments during a dinner with a Mr. Lewis; called Leanne a "'stupid idiot'" after Leanne said she was returning to school; and told Leanne, "'You'll never amount to anything.'"

At the beginning of the day on June 1, the court tentatively stated its conclusions on the supplemental trial briefs. It began by discussing Johnson v. United Cerebral Palsy/Spastic Children's Foundation (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 740 (Johnson), which Pantoja had cited. The trial court acknowledged that Johnson held that me-too evidence--evidence of harassment or discrimination experienced by employees other than a plaintiff and of which the plaintiff was not aware--could be admissible under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b). It was relevant to show a defendant's discriminatory intent and to rebut the defendant's proffered innocent explanation for his conduct, and therefore might not be inadmissible character evidence under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (a). The trial court, however, denied that its prior rulings were in conflict with this holding.

In spite of its belief that it had conformed to the holding of Johnson, however, the court went on to say that the problem with the offer of proof was that it did not state that the witnesses would testify that the facts about which they had knowledge happened during the time when Pantoja worked for Anton or affected Pantoja's experience. The court also rejected Pantoja's argument that Anton opened the door to the me-too evidence or could be impeached by it because it contradicted his claims about not tolerating harassing or discriminatory behavior. It stated that a defendant could not open the door in this manner under questioning by a plaintiff, and that Pantoja's counsel had violated the in limine order by eliciting from Anton general answers about what he would never do or tolerate, since those answers were not limited to the time period when Pantoja worked in the office. After hearing argument, the court reaffirmed these views. The court also indicated that its rulings really concerned the order of proof, and that the problem with Pantoja's proffer was that it was not the actual evidence. The court commented, "This isn't a court of appeal. It's a trial court, and I can't try the case on paper. It has to be done by witnesses, and it has to be done by evidence."

A fair reading of the court's ruling, in the context of the offer of proof and the parties' arguments, is that the court believed the me-too evidence was inadmissible either to prove Anton's intent under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b), or to impeach Anton, because it did not concern facts that took place while Pantoja was an employee or have an effect on Pantoja's experience as an employee.

The court specified that the testimony of Wilbanks and Garcia could not come in because they were not employed at Anton's firm at the same time as Pantoja. It stated that the offer of proof did not make clear whether Pumphrey and Humecky worked for Anton during Pantoja's tenure. As will be seen, Pumphrey and Humecky did work for Anton while Pantoja was an employee, and they were allowed to testify about events that happened in Pantoja's presence. Wilbanks and Garcia did not testify.

Pantoja continued presenting her evidence. Besides Anton's testimony under Evidence Code section 776, Pantoja's case consisted of her own testimony and that of other former Anton employees discussing Anton's behavior, limited to the time when Pantoja worked in the office and also limited to circumstances by which Pantoja was affected, for instance, because she was present.

Pantoja testified that she was hired by Anton as a receptionist and a secretary, but that, in addition to those duties, Anton often also required her to prepare his lunch and run personal errands for him, including taking his laundry to the cleaners and taking his car to be washed. Anton frequently castigated her about her performance in all these responsibilities, and often called her demeaning names and addressed her in foul language:

"He would say 'fucking' a lot. He would say--I don't like these bad words. He would say 'stupid bitch,' 'dumb bitch,' 'incompetent bitch.' He used other words like 'motherfucker.' [¶] ... [¶] He called me stupid bitch. 'Can't you do this right?' Or 'Can't you cut this fucking cheese thinner? Why are you so fucking incompetent? Can't you find a fucking address?' [¶] ... [¶] ... 'You put too much fucking dressing.'"

According to Pantoja, "bitch" was a name Anton frequently called her, but there were other profane and belittling expressions he often directed at her:

"I was called a stupid bitch almost all the time. Whenever something wasn't done right in his office, he'd call me a stupid bitch or a fucking bitch. He [also] always used the word[s], 'You have your head in your ass.'"

One day, Pantoja said, she was working when Anton passed behind her. As he passed, "he said, 'Fucking' c-u-n-t." Pantoja spelled the word in court, but Anton had spoken it. She did not know whether this epithet was directed at her. She found it hard to believe he had really said it, but later believed it when she heard him use the word again a couple of weeks later, referring to someone as "'[t]hat fucking' c-u-n-t."

Anton ridiculed Pantoja in intimate terms any time he saw her sweating from nervousness because of his verbal abuse. Pantoja said:

"I would sweat when Mr. Anton would yell at me because I was embarrassed. And I used to sweat a lot when--because of my embarrassment. At one time I was sweating, he--every time I would sweat, he would ask me if I was going through menopause. Not every time I was sweating. Every time he would see me sweat, he would ask me if I was going through menopause."

Pantoja found these remarks to be humiliating.

Pantoja testified that she witnessed similar behavior by Anton directed at other female employees. She heard him yelling at Linda Tesillo as he fired her. "He told her, 'Get the fuck out of my office. You're fired. You stupid bitch, get out of my office or I'll call the cops on you.'" "He said, 'Fuck all you employees.' He said, 'Why can't I get a fucking better staff?' He would slam the door. He cursed at other women, calling them 'little bitch.'" Speaking in Pantoja's presence, he referred to an employee named Diane Pesta as "little bitch" and one named Rhendia Brandenburg as a "'fucking bitch.'"

Pantoja also testified that on three occasions, Anton touched her on her buttocks or her thigh in a way she considered inappropriate. He slapped her buttocks one day as he passed her in the hallway, while she was standing in a doorway, speaking to another employee. She jumped, and was shocked. He then motioned to her to come into his office, where he told her to go out and get his lunch. She did not complain to Anton about this, because she believed he would yell at her, as he so often did. She believed she would be fired if she complained to anyone else. She was not aware of any policy or reporting procedure in the office for sexual harassment complaints.

On another occasion, Pantoja was assigned the task of driving Anton to Fresno for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new federal courthouse. On the way back, Anton was speaking to someone on his cell phone. "He said, 'I wouldn't mind getting into that bitch's pants.'" Pantoja thought the way he said this "sounded dirty." She testified, "He wasn't speaking to me directly, but I felt like if he was speaking to me." Anton then hung up the phone, rubbed Pantoja's thigh with his hand and asked her if she was okay. As he moved his hand on her leg, her skirt began to move up. She testified, "I was scared because we were in the middle of nowhere.... There was no houses on this side. There was nothing there. It was just fields of nowhere--nowhere to run. Just--I didn't want to provoke him yelling or doing anything, so I didn't say anything to him." After about a minute, Anton removed his hand from Pantoja's leg and said, "'I know you missed a week of work. I'm going to give you $200, but that's between me and you.'" Pantoja testified, "I thought he was offering me money to do something with him." Before they got back to Bakersfield, Anton told Pantoja to stop at a mall. They went in and Anton bought shirts and ties. Pantoja said to herself, "Why am I shopping with him? Why am I going places with him? I'm not his girlfriend. I'm not his wife."

The third instance of unwanted touching happened when Pantoja was in Anton's office, delivering the lunch she had prepared for him. He customarily asked to have his plate set on the floor. As she bent over to put it there, she felt Anton's hand on her buttocks. As he touched her, Anton said, "'Bring me some milk, Dear.'" Pantoja felt "dirty," "embarrassed," and "humiliated." She again did not complain because she thought she would get in trouble and Anton would scream.

Pantoja further testified that Anton once asked her to massage his shoulder. One evening as she and two other employees were about to leave for the day, Anton, sitting at his desk, called Pantoja over, said his neck or shoulder hurt, and asked her to massage it. She did so. She did not want to do it, but believed he would yell at her and maybe fire her if she refused. After a few minutes, he thanked her and she quickly left.

Pantoja saw Anton give Stefanie Pumphrey a hug that was inappropriate--it "wasn't the right kind of hug."

The cumulative effect of Anton's behavior on Pantoja was that she dreaded coming to work. "I felt I didn't want to come to work. I felt--I hated having to go to work. I dreaded having to see him. I always wished or prayed that he would be in court somewhere or not there at all, but I had to come to work. I would come to work because I had to." Pantoja further testified, "I felt embarrassed. I felt, of course, humiliated. I was depressed. I didn't want to work anymore. I felt ashamed. I felt belittled. I felt--I hated myself." She bit her nails until they bled and had frequent nightmares in which she was trapped in Anton's office with no windows or doors.

There was one occasion when Anton touched Pantoja in a way Pantoja did not find offensive. An attorney formerly employed in Anton's office died, and Anton patted Pantoja on the shoulder.

Pantoja testified that Anton fired her twice. The first time, Anton needed a large number of photocopies made. He loudly yelled, "'I don't give a fuck how you guys get this shit out. You guys need to get this motherfucking copy job done. And I don't care how it gets done, but it's going to get there.'" Two other employees and Pantoja started the task at about 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. Pantoja expected to stay late, but no one told her how late. At about 8:00, Pantoja told Anton she had to go home because the woman watching her children could not stay any longer. Anton said, "'Well, if you leave, don't bother coming back.'" Pantoja said, "'Okay,'" and turned to leave. "'Did you hear me?'" Anton shouted. "'Don't bother coming back.'" Pantoja left in tears. During the following weekend, an employee called Pantoja and told her Anton said he was sorry and wanted her to come back on Monday. She did. When she came in, she heard Anton call from his office, "'Is she here?'" An employee said she was. Anton called out to Pantoja, "'Come here, you motherfucker,'" and "'Get over here, you asshole.'" Pantoja testified, "He made it known that I was welcome back by calling me those names, I guess."

The second time Anton fired Pantoja, ending her tenure at the firm, was in October 2002. One Sunday, another employee asked Pantoja to copy a document for Anton and leave it out on a counter. According to her testimony, she did so. The following morning, a different employee called Pantoja at home and said the document was nowhere to be found. Then Anton got on the phone to yell at her:

"Mr. Anton grabbed the phone from [the employee] and started cussing and cursing at me, telling me, 'Where are these fucking documents, you stupid, incompetent bitch? You have shit for brains. Where are these fucking documents? You have your fucking head in your ass. Where did you put these fucking documents?' [¶] He goes, 'You're fired. Don't fucking bother coming back. You hear me? You're fired, you stupid, incompetent bitch.'"

Pantoja testified that Lydia Dunton offered Pantoja her job back on behalf of Anton. Pantoja declined.

Other former Anton employees who testified for Pantoja included Brenda Santamaria, Jan Humecky, Stefanie Pumphrey, and Linda Tesillo. Santamaria worked for the firm for about three months during the time when Pantoja worked there. She testified that one day in the office, while she was speaking with Pantoja, her bra strap fell down to the side of her shoulder. Anton, who was standing nearby, moved the strap back into position with his finger. Then he walked away. Santamaria laughed and said to Pantoja, "'This man--this sick man just pulled up my bra strap.'"

Humecky worked for Anton for a few years as a contract paralegal. She worked with Pantoja at the firm briefly. She heard Anton call Pantoja a "stupid idiot" and "incompetent," and make her cry by screaming at her. Several times, when Pantoja was present, Humecky heard Anton say, "'Why can't I fucking get good staff?'" She heard Anton say "bitch" in a loud voice when Pantoja was present. Humecky also heard Anton say "[s]hit," "damn," "hell," "fuck," and "ass" in Pantoja's presence. She saw Pantoja enter Anton's office and then heard Anton yelling at her. She heard Anton directing profanities at Pantoja.

Pumphrey worked at Anton's firm in 2002 as an office manager. Her time at the firm overlapped with Pantoja's by about a month. She saw no posters about sexual harassment in the office and received no training on receiving sexual harassment claims. She heard Anton call Pantoja a "bitch" and a "fucking bitch." She testified that he directed profanities at Pantoja often. "He would just, you know, use profanity. Whether it was to tell her to get a file, whether she did something wrong, he would use the word, you know, 'bitch,' 'shit,' 'goddam it,' 'fucking.'" Anton yelled at Pantoja daily, and sometimes caused her to cry. Every time he needed a file, for instance, he would demand it using profane language. He yelled at her about the salads she made for him. "Just like, you know, 'Shit. You fucking forgot this,' or 'Can't you do this right,' you know. 'Son of a bitch, you can't get anything right.' Those are some examples. Like I said, you know, she made salads every day." Anton routinely yelled profanities at other employees also, men as well as women. Like Pantoja and other employees, Pumphrey was once fired and rehired by Anton.

Tesillo worked as a legal secretary for Anton for a few months during the time when Pantoja was employed in the office. Often, while Pantoja was present, Tesillo heard Anton use profanities, saying, for instance, "'Get me that ... fucking file.'" When he did this, "everybody heard him because you could hear a pin drop in the office."

On June 4, 2009, after Pantoja had presented virtually all her other evidence, she again moved for admission of the me-too evidence. In support of the motion, she filed declarations by Wilbanks and another former Anton employee, Lisa Beatty. Wilbanks's declaration asserted the same facts as the offer of proof included in Pantoja's second supplemental trial brief, as described above. Beatty's declaration stated that she worked for Anton as an attorney for seven months in 2004 and 2005. While working at the firm, she "repeatedly heard Mr. Anton yelling and screaming at the female support staff and his male law clerk." He did not yell at Beatty. "Due to the intensity of the yelling and what was being said," she "always anticipated a physical escalation." She did not remember the specific profane words Anton used, but knew the language was offensive and demeaning. She told Anton she thought he might get sued and should stop, but Anton said he was doing nothing unlawful.

Beatty decided to quit working at the firm because of "all his yelling, screaming and abusiveness of the people in the office." Before telling Anton she was leaving, however, she wanted to finish a matter she was working on, which was going to trial. During the trial, she was riding in a car with Anton and some other people. She was in the back seat and Anton was in the front. Anton turned to face her and speak to her. As he spoke, he placed his hand on her knee, which was exposed because her skirt had moved up above it while she was sitting. She felt "shocked and repulsed." When the trial was over, she quit her job.

The court again ruled that Pantoja could not introduce evidence of harassing or discriminatory conduct by Anton toward other women when Pantoja was not present. It stated, first, that this evidence was not admissible under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b), or Johnson:

"Well, I haven't heard anything that changes my ruling with respect to the Johnson issue. I don't think we've reached any level of Evidence Code Section 1101(b). I don't find that there is any issue of identity, intent, or the other exceptions under 1101 that would apply. What we essentially have here is we have allegations of misconduct against Mr. Anton, which, if true, need no other explanation. They are actionable. They speak for themselves. Those behaviors have been categorically denied that they occurred; and, therefore, we're not in a Johnson situation where we have an innocent explanation that then needs to be--where the issue of intent has been put at issue. I just don't see it."

Pantoja's counsel argued that Anton opened the door to the me-too evidence by testifying that he never did the kinds of things Pantoja described; the evidence was admissible to impeach the testimony. The court repeated its earlier ruling that Anton's testimony could not be impeached in this way because the testimony was elicited by Pantoja's counsel through questions that violated the in limine ruling against admission of evidence of any conduct other than conduct that took place in Pantoja's presence. Pantoja's counsel replied that Anton testified under questioning by his own counsel, and outside the scope of Pantoja's counsel's Evidence Code section 776 examination, that he had and followed a sexual harassment policy. The me-too evidence was admissible because it controverted Anton's claims on that point. The court was not persuaded.

The court ruled that Beatty could not testify for the additional reason that she actually performed work as an attorney in the present case while employed by Anton. The fact that she claimed to have been sexually harassed by him was not a "compelling reason" sufficient to justify allowing her to testify. The work she performed, according to defense counsel, was the defense of Pantoja's deposition of Brenda Santamaria.

Anton testified briefly in his own defense, adding to the denials he made when testifying during Pantoja's case under Evidence Code section 776. He stated that he did not touch Pantoja's buttocks when she was setting a plate on the floor in his office and could not have reached her in the place where she was standing. He denied using any profanities the night Pantoja had to go home at 8:00 p.m. to take care of her children. He stated he did not know the reason why she was leaving until later and rehired her after he found out. He denied he called her profane names the day she returned.

Other defense witnesses included Gabriel Godinez, Jeffrey Wise, and Diane Godinez. Gabriel Godinez was an attorney who worked for Anton in 2002, when Pantoja was an employee, and also was working for him at the time of trial. He testified that, during the time he was working there, he often heard Anton yelling and using profanity. He heard Anton say "'damn it,'" "'son of a bitch,'" and "'fuck'" when "something [was] not going right," for instance, when a client failed to provide a necessary document or was slow in paying Anton's fees. Godinez claimed ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.