Category Archives: FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act

California Labor Law Update: Sexual Harassment Protection

Every year, the California legislature passes new employment laws or amendments to already existing laws. These new laws and amendments directly impact the employer-employee relationship as well as impacts the way an employer conducts business in California. There were dozens of new labor laws and changes to existing laws passed in California in 2014.

Sexual Harassment Attorney – Free Consultation

One such amendment to an already existing law, Government Code 12940, clarifies the definition of sexual harassment in the workplace. Prior to 2014, due to a 2013 appellate decision, there was some confusion within the California courts as to whether there needs to be sexual desire of the perpetrator to establish a legitimate sexual harassment claim. Senate Bill 292 directly addressed this issue.

Senate Bill 292 was passed by the California legislature in 2013 and went into effect January 1st, 2014. Senate Bill 292 holds that sexual harassment is prohibited under California law without regard to the sexual desire of the perpetrator. The legislature reasoned that like other forms of harassment, sexual harassment does not always need to be motivated by desire, but more often can be motivated by hostility. In addition, by passing this bill, the California legislature effectively suppressed the confusion within the California courts as to whether sexual desire is needed to establish a legitimate sexual harassment claim.

Sexual Motive Not Necessary for Sexual Harassment Cases in California

However, before Senate Bill 292, California courts have long recognized that a sexual motive or desire is not required for legitimate sexual harassment claim. For example, in Pantoja v. Anton, a former employee brought an action against the employer for sex discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The Court held that a plaintiff “need not show that the [sexual harassment] conduct was motivated by sexual desire.” Again, more than two decades before Senate Bill 292 was passed, in Mogilegsky v. Superior Court, in which an employee brought action against the employer for same gender sexual harassment by a supervisor, the Court held that “the focus of a cause of action [for sexual harassment] is whether the victim has been subjected to sexual harassment, not what motivated the harasser.”

Ultimately, Senate Bill 292 clarifies what has already been recognized by California courts, that sexual harassment under the Fair Employment and Housing Act does not require proof of sexual desire towards the plaintiff. At the end of the day, this is a great result for plaintiffs seeking damages due to sexual harassment in the workplace, especially if that harassment is caused simply by hostility and not sexual desire.

4 Comments

Filed under FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, Harassment, Sexual Harassment

Woman Gets Fired for Having Premarital Sex – Is this Pregnancy Discrimination?

Employment Attorney – Generally, employers across California cannot fire an employee because of their sex. Nor can they fire an employee because she is pregnant. However, there are some exceptions for religions institutions. In the below CNN video, San Diego Christian College fired Terri James for having premarital sex.

Link to Terri James Pregnancy Discrimination Video

The school may argue that the lawsuit is barred because FEHA’s definition of “employer” does not include a non-profit religious corporation.  The school may also argue that James could not allege a common law wrongful termination action either in this situation, whether it is based on FEHA or the California Constitution.  If the court behaves like it did in Henry v. Red Hill Evangelical Lutheran, James may be out of luck. In that case The court held that the ministerial exception to FEHA set forth in section 12926(d) of the Government Code barred the claim and that the California Constitution did not support the lawsuit either.

4 Comments

Filed under Christian, FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, Pregnancy, Sex Discrimination

Mixed-Motive Employment Discrimination

Harris v. City of Santa Monica Employment Lawyer Pregnancy DiscriminationThe California Supreme Court just came down with a big decision regarding employment discrimination. Employment lawyers across the state are describing Harris v. City of Santa Monica as a compromise between employee rights and business’ freedom to terminate employees. I find the decision fair, despite the fact that I was rooting for Ms. Harris.

Fair Employment and Housing Act – Pregnancy Discrimination

The facts of the case are relatively straight forward: a bus driver alleged that she was fired by the City of Santa Monica because of her pregnancy in violation of the FEHA. The City claimed that she was fired for poor job performance. At trial, the City argued that if the jury found a mix of discriminatory and legitimate motives in Harris’ termination, the City could avoid liability by proving that a legitimate motive alone would have led it to make the same decision to fire her. The trial court denied the City’s argument, and the jury awarded her $177,905 in damages and more than $400,000 in attorney fees. The Court of Appeal reversed, and the Supreme Court granted cert.

.

Supreme Court Decision – Employment Lawyers Say “Compromise”

“We hold that under the FEHA, when a jury finds that unlawful discrimination was a substantial factor motivating a termination of employment, and when the employer proves it would have made the same decision absent such discrimination, a court may not award damages, backpay, or an order of reinstatement. But the employer does not escape liability. In light of the FEHA‘s express purpose of not only redressing but also preventing and deterring unlawful discrimination in the workplace, the plaintiff in this circumstance could still be awarded, where appropriate, declaratory relief or injunctive relief to stop discriminatory practices. In addition, the plaintiff may be eligible for reasonable attorney‘s fees and costs. Therefore, we affirm the Court of Appeal‘s judgment overturning the damages verdict in this case and remand for further proceedings in accordance with the instructions set forth below.”

As most readers can tell, the court was trying to make employers and employees happy. This decision permits employees to still bring lawsuits when the employer has a mixed motive, however limits the damages attainable.

Some plaintiff attorneys question whether the court adequately defined when discrimination becomes a “substantial factor” in workplace discipline. The high court’s opinion concluded that “mere discriminatory thoughts or stray opinions are not sufficient to establish liability” under state law. The justices refused to offer a more specific definition “given the wide range of scenarios in which mixed-motive cases might arise.”

All in all, this is just another day in the life of an employment attorney.

________________________

Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who exclusively represents employees in workplace disputes. He focuses his practice on sexual harassment, wage & hour, wrongful termination, and retaliation. Visit his website at BRobertsonLaw.com or call his office at 949.667.3025.

1 Comment

Filed under Age Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, Discrimination, FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, National Origin Discrimination, Pregnancy, Race Discrimination, Religious Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Harassment and the “Continuing Violation Doctrine”

Sexual harassment lawyer california

Ongoing Sexual Harassment Tolls the Statute of Limitations

To sue for sexual harassment in California, you must bring your claim to the Department of Fair Employment & Housing or get your “right to sue” letter within one year of the alleged harassment. Your lawyer will obtain this for you. But what if the harassment regularly took place over the last couple years? What if some of the sexual harassment took place over the last 10 or 15 years? Are the instances of harassment that took place over a year ago barred from being brought in court ? Will your attorney have bad news for you? The answer is “no”…well…most of the time it’s “no.”

In 2001, the Supreme Court of California ruled on the scope of the “continuing violation doctrine” in Richards v. CH2M Hill, Inc.The doctrine “allows liability for unlawful employer conduct occurring outside the statute of limitation if it is sufficiently connected to unlawful conduct within the limitations period.” To determine this connection, the Supreme Court set up a three part test: if (1) the actions are sufficiently similar in kind; (2) they occur with sufficient frequency; and (3) they have not acquired a degree of permanence so that employees are on notice that further efforts at informal conciliation with the employer to obtain accommodation or end harassment would be futile.

If this test is met, the statute of limitations begins to run either when the course of sexual harassment has ended (such as when the employer fires the harasser) or when the employee is on notice that further efforts to end the unlawful conduct will be in vain.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, Harassment, Sexual Harassment

Tight Clothing & the Implications of “Leading the Boss on” in Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

Sexual Harassment Lawyer

Statistics show that most women fail to confront their bosses about sexual harassment. This is a mistake.

When a woman wears tight or provocative clothing at work, and is thereafter sexually harassed by a male manager or coworker, will that fact hurt her sex harassment case? This is an especially important question in Orange County, where California culture encourages working women to wear shirts that show a little cleavage and skirts that show off some leg.

Some men believe that when a woman wears tight clothing, revealing blouses, or a short skirts, she is seeking sexual attention. Many believe that she “asked for it” and that they should not be punished because she “led him on.”

California’s hostile work environment laws state that the harassment must be “severe” or “pervasive” and is evaluated on a “totality of the circumstances” scale. These legal constructs allows judges, juries, mediators, and arbitrators to evaluate just about anything they want in deciding whether sexual harassment has occurred.

As a result, society, judges, juries, and arbitrators, often blame the victim for encouraging the harassment. These decision makers have, on numerous occasions, decided against employees on the basis of conduct they see as encouraging the harasser such as, using sexual language & mannerisms around the person who allegedly harassed them, wearing tight & revealing clothing, failing to make complaints after harassment allegedly occurred, and initiating social contact with the harasser after the harassment has occurred.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, Harassment, Sexual Harassment

Employees of Franchises May Be Able To Sue The Deep Pockets

dominospizzalogoA great case came down earlier this year that I’ve been meaning to blog about. Employee rights attorneys’ like myself are hesitant to take cases against small employers. This is true even when the employer is a franchisee (e.g. your local McDonald’s). Generally, franchisor’s (e.g. McDonalds corporate) isn’t liable for franchisee’s labor practices. Attorney’s like myself fear that we might litigate a case for two years, win a trial, but be unable to recover the full judgment because the local franchise doesn’t have very much money.

A recent case changes this in certain situations.  Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC held a franchisor can be held liable for alleged sexual harassment of an employee of the franchisee by a supervisor employed by the franchisee and for related claims.

The facts of the case are fairly common. Patterson was a teenage employee of Sui Juris, a Domino’s pizza franchisee. Renee Miranda was the assistant manager of that restaurant. Patterson claimed Miranda sexually harassed and assaulted her at work.

Patterson filed an action against Miranda, Sui Juris, and the franchisor Domino’s, alleging causes of action for sexual harassment in violation of Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation for exercise of rights, infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery and constructive wrongful termination. She claimed Sui Juris and Domino’s were Miranda’s employers and were vicariously liable for his actions under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, Franchise, Harassment, Independent Contractor, Retaliation, Sexual Harassment

Pregnancy Series #4 – Pregnancy Disability Leave in California – 10 Things You Should Know

Pregnancy Disability Leave, PDL, FMLA, CFRA, reasonable accomodationIn a previous post we covered what you need to know about maternity leave. But that is only useful if you have a typical pregnancy. What if it’s a hard pregnancy, and you need more than the usual amount of maternity leave? You are probably wondering:

  • What if I get put on bed rest and can’t work?
  • What if my labor is horrible and I need more than 12 weeks to recover?
  • How much disability leave can I take?
  • Can my boss refuse to let me take disability leave beyond my maternity leave?
  • Do I have the right to return to the same position afterwards? Same pay?
  • What else do I need to know?

Click through for ten critical pieces of information that you need to know about pregnancy disability leave….  Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under CFRA - California Family Rights Act, Disabling Injury and Illness, Discrimination, Family & Medical Leave, FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, FMLA - Family & Medical Leave Act, Maternity Leave, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Disability Leave, Sex Discrimination

Pregnancy Series #2: Pregnancy Discrimination Is Not OK – What You Should Know

pregnancy discrimination at work in CaliforniaThis article is for pregnant working women and new moms in California.

I understand that work is important. If you don’t make money, you can’t buy diapers, formula, or clothing for your children. Your boss knows that the paycheck is very important to you, and sometimes he takes advantage of this by forcing you to work extra hours, or making you perform dangerous jobs that are hazardous to your health. He knows you need the money so you probably won’t complain.

Some bosses are even worse.  They simply fire pregnant women because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of filling your position while you are on leave. Nor do they want to continue paying your health insurance. They usually claim “poor performance,” “absenteeism,” or some other excuse as the reason for the firing.

Other bosses know the law and permit their employees to take leave. But demand that the employee be back in only a few weeks, or when the employee returns, the employer has drastically reduced their responsibility and cut their pay.

Is any of this behavior legal in California? No, it’s not. To find out more continue reading below.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Discharge & Layoffs, Family & Medical Leave, FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, FMLA - Family & Medical Leave Act, Pregnancy, Retaliation, Sex Discrimination

Can I be fired for being fat? Is obesity a ‘disability’ in California?

Let’s be honest, obesity is an epidemic. According to California Health and Human Services, approximately three in five adults are overweight or obese in California. Although recent trends suggest leveling growth rates of obesity in the state, overall obesity rates remain extremely high.

Not surprisingly, some bosses view their obese employees as limited, incapable, slow, unhealthy, or expendable. More likely than not, an obese employee is granted fewer mistakes, fewer promotions, and fewer raises than a skinny employee. It is not uncommon for someone to get fired explicitly because of their weight.

There is no law in California that states that an employer cannot fire or discriminate against an employee because of their weight. However, there is law in CA that states than an employer cannot discriminate against an employee because of a disability.  That begs the question — is obesity a disability?

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under ADA, Disability Discrimination, Disabling Injury and Illness, FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act

I just got fired! I think it’s because I’m disabled…. Is that legal?

Discrimination is subtle. It’s never goes like: “We’re terminating your position because you can’t walk/have diabetes/have cancer/can’t hear….” No, no, no. Even stupid bosses usually aren’t that stupid.

It usually goes like this: “We’re letting you go.” That’s it.  Smart employers don’t give you a reason, they just fire. But it gets interesting when someone gets fired two months after being diagnosed with cancer, or after breaking major bones on their hand, after telling their boss that they’re depressed, get a serious back injury, or after major surgery.

The law in California prohibits disability discrimination. But what happens when you are fired, demoted, or refused a promotion for reasons seemingly unrelated to your disability? Do you just suck it up and try to find a new job? Well, yes, you should try to find a new job; but no, you shouldn’t put your tail between your legs and let your boss do that, especially if you suspect you were fired because of your disability.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Disability Discrimination, FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act