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Males Win Harassment Case Against Male

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In one of the first sexual harassment cases of its kind, jurors awarded $215,000 Thursday to three South County men who contended they were sexually and verbally harassed by a male supervisor.

Richard Solorio was a groundskeeper for the Capistrano Unified School District in 1994 when he allegedly sexually harassed two workers. When a third worker tried to intervene on their behalf, he was also subjected to verbal abuse, according to court testimony.

Solorio was eventually fired, but the victims filed suit against the school district, contending officials did not follow their own guidelines to halt the unwanted behavior.

“I feel very, very happy that I finally got somebody to believe me,” said one of the victims, Jerry Peacock, 41, of Lake Forest.

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The Orange County Superior Court jury of eight women and four men deliberated nearly a week before finding that the school district mishandled the situation.

Jurors awarded $215,000 to Peacock and Octavio Gonzalez, 28, of San Juan Capistrano, who contended they were sexually harassed, and Mickey Romero, 36, of San Clemente, who said he was forced to work in a hostile environment.

The award is small compared to the millions the plaintiffs had sought, but it sheds light on an issue that “society just doesn’t see,” attorney Michelle Reinglass said.

Others interpreted the verdict differently.

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Attorney Gregory Bergman, who represented the district, said the jury’s award amounted to “peanuts.” Bergman said jurors sided with the district on two key issues, including whether officials retaliated against the victims.

School officials contacted Thursday declined to comment. Solorio, 38, of Northern California, could not be reached for comment.

Loyola Marymount University professor Marcy Strauss, who has analyzed sexual harassment cases, said the judgment is one of the first granted to men in a same-sex case and promises to usher in “a new era of sexual harassment lawsuits.”

Peacock was working as a groundskeeper when the first incident took place: Solorio fondled himself while making crude comments, according to testimony.

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When Peacock complained, he was transferred to another crew and told to “keep his mouth shut.”

“Nobody believed me. My co-workers [were] alienated,” he said.

Solorio continued to pursue Peacock with unwanted, suggestive talk, Reinglass said. When Gonzalez came forward with similar accounts, the district investigated and Solorio was fired.

Peacock said the case was about power, not sex.

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“He used his authority to humiliate people,” Peacock said. “I just hope that if this happens to someone else, that other employers take it seriously.”


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