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Sexual Orientation Discrimination/Harassment

Case: Deborah Hardison v. Hinkle Automotive Management Company, Inc., Poway CJ, Inc., Wes Hinkle, individually and Steven Ausencio, individually (Case No. 37-2009-00082050-CU-OE-CTL)
Court: Superior Court of San Diego County, San Diego
Judge: Luis Vargas
Arbitrator: Thomas Neal Thrasher
Date: July 8, 2010
Result: The parties agreed to a global settlement whereby for $135,000.

Facts & Allegations

Plaintiff, Deborah Hardison, a lesbian in her late 40s and parts driver, worked in the parts department at the Poway Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership in Poway, CA, that was owned and operated by Hinkle Automotive Management Company, Inc. During her employment, she claimed she was subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination by her supervisor, Steven Ausencio, and other employees of the parts department. She was then terminated from her position in February 2008.

Hardison and other witnesses testified that Ausencio regularly called her, “pussy-eater” and “carpet-muncher” and would refer to her as “dyke,” “lesbian,” “man,” “dude,” and “that dude over there.” Hardison claimed Ausencio would flick his tongue up and down suggestively and that he also admittedly simulated masturbation by rubbing his neck and spitting spastically at her feet.

Hardison recounted that Ausencio told her he could “switch her to the other side” if she would just “blow him,” and, “[t]his is a man’s world; if you don’t like it, I can give you your walking papers.” Hardison testified that Ausencio showed her his penis on two occasions and grabbed her from behind in a bear hug and thrust his genital area into her back and buttocks. She alleged other misconduct as well.

Hardison claimed she complained to the general manager about some of the misconduct and that he told her that he would handle the situation and that the very next day, Ausencio ordered Hardison never to go over his head again “or else” and reminded her that everyone in the parts department had his back. Hardison claimed the harassing treatment escalated at that point, and Ausencio issued multiple write-ups to her and eventually terminated her.

Hardison sued Poway CJ, Ausencio, Hinkle Automotive Management Company, Inc. and Wes Hinkle all for sexual harassment and discrimination, based on her sexual orientation, as well as wrongful termination.

Defendant, Poway CJ filed bankruptcy and stayed the action. Hogue & Belong successfully lifted the bankruptcy stay. The case was eventually ordered to arbitration.

Defendants’ denied all of Hardison’s allegations, claiming that she had an attendance problem, and was a poor performer.

Plaintiff Attorney(s): Hogue & Belong
Defense Attorney(s): Christopher C. Hoffman & Megan C. Winter, Fisher & Phillips, La Jolla, CA (Hinkle Automotive Management Company, Inc., Poway CJ, Inc., Wes Hinkle); and Jerrilyn T. Malana, Littler Mendelson, PC, San Diego, CA (Steven Ausencio)