Straight man wins $17 million payout in homophobic discrimination lawsuit

A heterosexual man has been awarded $17.4 million after filing a lawsuit over homophobic discrimination.

The city of Los Angeles was this month ordered to pay the eight-figure sum to a former city sanitation worker who said he was subjected to homophobic abuse.

Former city employee James Pearl, who is heterosexual and in an opposite-sex marriage, had alleged that his employers failed to take action after he reported workplace bullying.

A sanitation truck
(Creative Commons photo by FaceMePLS)

Mr Pearl’s attorneys alleged he had been subjected to “insults, criticisms, demeaning comments, suggestive remarks, offensive posters, cartoons… concerning his alleged sexual orientation”.

As part of the bullying campaign, an image was circulated among city employees photoshopped to show him in a relationship with a male co-worker.

According to his lawsuit, the abuse left Mr Pearl, 55, with “physical and psychological damage”, leaving him relying on benefits.

The worker had been employed at the department from 2002 until 2011, when he was fired for falsifying documents.

He was employed again from 2013, after appealing the termination.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found in favour of Mr Pearl last week, ordering the city to pay out $17.4 million in damages and compensation.

A spokesperson for the LA city attorney’s office told the LA Times that the office is “reviewing our options” about a potential appeal.

The attorneys for Mr Pearl made clear repeatedly in court documents that he is not actually gay.

A filing says: “Plaintiff is heterosexual, however he was harassed and discriminated against because supervisors and managers in the department perceived him as being homosexual and these same supervisors and managers have a long history of discriminating and harassing homosexual employees.”

Mr Pearl told the LA Times that he feels “vindicated” by the ruling.

They told the newspaper: “He’s obviously vindicated… he’s just been stepped on, and to have the jury vindicate him, he was in tears.

“For the first time in a long time, he’s hopeful.”