The 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.
In 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
If you just found out that you are pregnant let me be the first person in the Internet world to say, “Congrats!” There is nothing more exciting that expecting a child. I know this from experience. My wife and I just had our first daughter and I want to jump for joy. I couldn’t be happier.
But if you’re a working woman this might be daunting. What does your pregnancy mean for your job? It obviously means you must take time off for doctor visits, pregnancy classes, labor, and recovery. But how much time can you take off? What protections does California law afford?
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA) are the laws at issue. The FMLA, in combination with the CFRA, provides California working mothers with the best maternity leave rights in the nation.
Read more after the jump…. Continue reading
This 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.
My wife is 5 days overdue with our first child. Once the baby is out my wife wants to breastfeed our daughter. Although my wife no longer works, I couldn’t help but wonder, what are a new mom’s rights in the workplace? Can you breastfeed on the job? What if your boss doesn’t let you? Can you use a breast pump at work? Does your boss have to provide you with a private room, or do you have to do it in a bathroom stall?
In 1998, California’s legislature resolved to improve the life of Mom’s in the workplace. It passed a series of statutes, including California Labor Code § 1030-1033. The most important is § 1030:
Every employer…shall provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate an employee desiring to express breast milk for the employee’s infant child. The break time shall, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee. Break time for an employee that does not run concurrently with the rest time authorized for the employee…shall be unpaid.