Labor 411: Ask The Expert | Steven Kronenberg (July 2016)

I am a female who was seriously hurt at work while using a nail gun with a defective trigger. My foreman said that I got what I deserved - everyone knows that nail guns are dangerous, and like he always says, a woman's place is in the kitchen. Can the tool manufacturer avoid responsibility by blaming me for my injuries? And do I have to put up with these sexist comments?

The bad news is that you are not the only one who's been treated like this, even in this day and age. The good news is that you may be able to do something about it.

California workers have the right to a safe workplace. And regardless of fault, worker's compensation may provide benefits to help you recover from your personal injuries.

You may also have product liability claims against the companies that manufactured or repaired the nail gun or its component parts. They may have defectively designed, assembled, or inspected them. Perhaps they did not adequately warn you about the risks of using the tool in certain ways. And even if they can prove that you did something wrong, you may still be able to hold them accountable based on how much they are at fault for causing your injuries.

You also have a right to a workplace that is free from harassment based on gender or another protected status, like race, religion, or sexual orientation. Has your foreman done this before? Did you promptly report it in writing? What was the response? (Note that it is unlawful for an employer to demote or fire an employee for reporting sexual harassment.)

Standing up for your rights may help prevent these things from happening again to you or someone else. However, your potential claims require that you comply with strict deadlines. You should consult with attorneys who are knowledgeable about your potential worker's compensation, product liability, and employment matters as soon as possible.