Fair Employment and Sexual Harassment
On April 29, 2014, in an unpublished California Court of Appeal decision in United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, successfully advocated for an employee’s right to be free from disability discrimination. The case arose from the Fair Employment and Housing Commission’s (Commission) administrative decision finding that the employer unlawfully terminated an employee based on a perceived disability resulting from a knee injury and, further, failed to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination from occurring, all in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The Court of Appeal held that the Commission’s findings were supported by substantial evidence. In its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded that the employer failed to meet its obligation to individually assess whether medical restrictions placed on the employee prevented her from performing her essential job functions or, alternatively, whether she was actually performing those functions. The Court agreed that the employer could not avoid that obligation on the grounds that the employer and employee had shared responsibility for the breakdown in the interactive process related to the separate issue of possible job-related accommodations.
In an unpublished California Court of Appeal decision issued on January 19, 2012, in Terra Linda Farms, Inc. v. California Fair Employment and Housing Com’n, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission), successfully defended a woman’s right to be free from retaliation in the workplace when reporting sexual harassment, as well as upheld an employer’s obligation to take reasonable steps necessary to prevent retaliation from occurring. The case arose from the Commission’s administrative decision finding that the employer retaliated against two employees who complained when they were subjected to inappropriate sexually harassing conduct. The Attorney General was also successful in prevailing over the employer’s assertion that the women’s claims were barred by federal law under the National Labor Relations Act.
In a decision published on July 15, 2009, by the California Court of Appeal in Sasco Elec. v. California Fair Employment and Housing Com’n (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 533, the Attorney General, representing the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission), successfully vindicated a woman’s right to be free from pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The case arose from the Commission’s administrative decision finding that the employer discriminated against the employee by terminating her when it learned about her pregnancy. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeal upheld the Commission’s decision finding that the employer had violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act by terminating the employee. The Court of Appeal also affirmed the Commission’s awards of emotional distress damages, an administrative monetary fine, and back pay between the date of the discharge and the date the employee’s child was born. With respect to the award of back pay, the Court of Appeal held that the employer had failed to prove that had the employee become disabled during her pregnancy, the employer could not have accommodated her disability by, for example, transferring her to a different position.
On September 29, 2004, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission), successfully obtained a published decision from the California Court of Appeal in California Fair Employment and Housing Com’n v. Gemini Aluminum Corp. (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 1004. That decision affirmed the Commission’s administrative decision finding that an employer had violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act when it refused to provide a religious accommodation to a Jehovah's witness who sought leave from his employment to attend a religious convention sponsored by his church, and thereafter, fired him after he attended the convention following the denial of his leave request.
On April 9, 2002, the Attorney General filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the California Court of Appeal in Salazar v. Diversified Paratransit supporting an employer’s liability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) for harassment of an employee by a client or customer. After the Court of Appeal initially rejected the argument that the FEHA applied to a client or customer’s harassing conduct, the Legislature enacted legislation clarifying that the FEHA intended to protect employees from such harassment. After the matter had been remanded by the Supreme Court to consider the legislation’s affect, the Court of Appeal, in a published decision (Salazar v. Diversified Paratransit (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 318), reversed its earlier decision subsequently holding that customer or client harassment of employees was actionable under the FEHA.
On March 21, 2002, the Office of the Attorney General filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the California Supreme Court in Colmenares v. Braemar Country Club arguing that California’s protection prohibiting discrimination based upon a physical disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is broader than under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. On February 20, 2003, the California Supreme Court agreed, holding that the FEHA defines "physical disability" to limit a major life activity, but does not require the "substantial limitation" standard imposed by the federal ADA. (Colmenares v. Braemar Country Club, Inc. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1019, 1030.)
In May 2001, the Attorney General joined in a friend-of-the-court brief authored by the Attorney General of Missouri filed with the United States Supreme Court in Equal Opportunity Employment Commission v. Waffle House, Inc. supporting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) right to bring individual discrimination enforcement actions, which can include recovery of back pay and damages, despite private employment arbitration clauses. On January 15, 2002, the Supreme Court agreed, holding that private agreements to arbitrate employment discrimination claims do not bar the EEOC from bringing its own enforcement actions. (E.E.O.C. v. Waffle House, Inc. (2002) 534 U.S. 279, 297.)