California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) not only prohibits discrimination, harassment and retaliation, but goes a step farther than similar state laws in its explicit requirement that employers take reasonable steps to prevent and correct such conduct. Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940(k). In 2016, the California Fair Employment and Housing Council promulgated regulations which set forth the required elements of a compliant prevention and correction program (2 CCR §§ 11023-11024), and in May 2017 the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) issued a Workplace Harassment Guide (the “Guide”) to clarify further employers’ obligations under these regulations. The Guide, which is notable for its detailed explanation of workplace investigation procedures, can be accessed here.
The Fourth District California Court of Appeal recently held that a Department of Corrections employee’s claim that he was constructively discharged after being discriminated against on the basis of his religion—“Sun Worshipping Atheism”—was properly dismissed. Marshel Copple is the founding and only member of a religion he calls Sun Worshipping Atheism, the core tenets of which include: praying in the sun; taking in fresh air on a daily basis; sleeping at least 8 hours per day; eating and drinking when necessary; frequent exercise; daily rest; and engaging in frequent social activities.
What should an employer do when a pregnant employee has used all of her allotted leave under CFRA (the California Family Rights Act) and PDLL (Pregnancy Disability Leave Law) but is still not yet able to return to work? Following the appellate court’s recent decision in Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc., No. B237761 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 21, 2013), the employer may be required to grant even more leave.
In Harris v. City of Santa Monica, No. S181004 (Cal. Feb. 7, 2013), the California Supreme Court held that a plaintiff can establish a claim of employment discrimination by showing that discrimination was a substantial motivating factor in the decision-making process. The Supreme Court also held that even if a plaintiff establishes that discrimination was a substantial motivating factor in the decision-making process, the defendant is entitled to establish a “mixed motive” defense by proving that legitimate factors would have been sufficient, absent the discrimination, to produce the same decision. On the surface, these two holdings appear contradictory. That each of those propositions is true highlights the significance of the Court’s rulings on remedies. Even if the defendant establishes its mixed motive – or same-decision – defense, that defense does not immunize the employer from liability. Instead, the plaintiff may potentially be entitled to declaratory or injunctive relief, and may recover attorneys’ fees even though the employer successfully establishes its defense.
In an update to a recent article posted in July, the California Supreme Court agreed on October 10 to hear Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, a sexual harassment case in which the court will decide whether a franchisor can be held liable for the acts of an employee of one of its franchisees. The case comes before the court after an appeals court found that Domino’s exerted enough control over the employees of Sui Juris, its franchisee, for it to be potentially liable for sexual harassment.
If the high court affirms the appellate court’s decision, franchisors could be vulnerable to a broader range of liability than they currently face.
In Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, the California Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s order granting summary judgment to a franchisor and held that the terms of the franchise agreement did not necessarily govern whether the franchisor could be held strictly liable for the actions of an employee of the franchisee.
California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law Senate Bill No. 559 (SB 559), which prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s genetic information. While SB 559 significantly expands the protections from genetic discrimination provided under the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), at this time, its impact on most California employers is thought to be limited to the potential for greater damages to be awarded under it than under its federal counterpart.