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Total Articles: 43

Ninth Circuit: Summary Judgment in Employment Discrimination Cases Should Not Happen Much

The Ninth Circuit reversed summary judgment in a disability discrimination case alleged under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. We can't even say what the facts are, because the court does not recite them.

California eAuthority (February 2, 2015)

California Supreme Court Lets Arbitration Award Stand, Dodges “Honest Belief” Defense; The Price is Wrong: California Court OKs a New Trial in Game Show Model’s Pregnancy Bias Case; Employer May Obtain Judicial Review of California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board Decision; Exotic Dancers’ Class Action Employment Suit Stays Alive in California; California School Teacher’s Claim That She Was Fired Due to a Computer Error Proceeds.


The California Fair Employment and Housing Council is considering proposed amendments to the regulations interpreting the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The draft regulations are posted at They reflect recent amendments to the FEHA itself and changes based on case law developments and accepted “best practices.” The following summarizes the most significant proposals.

New California Paid Sick Leave Law May Cause Headaches for Employers

Executive Summary: On September 10, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (HWHFA), which provides nearly all employees working in California with paid sick leave. The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2015.

California Supreme Court: "Illegal Immigrant Shouldn't Have Been Hired – But Can't Be Fired Illegally"

On June 26, 2014, the California Supreme Court decided that an employee may proceed with a discrimination lawsuit even though he presented false work authorization documents to obtain employment in the first place.

Protected Speech Does Not Include Extortion, California Appellate Court Rules

An employee’s e-mail threatening to report his employer to the U.S. Attorney and file an action under the federal False Claims Act unless the employer agreed to settle his defamation claim constituted extortion, as a matter of law, the California Court of Appeal has ruled. Stenehjem v. Sareen, No. H038342 (Cal. Ct. App. Jun. 13, 2014). Thus, the e-mail was not protected speech under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16. The Court reversed the dismissal of the employer’s complaint for extortion. While the unusual allegations in this case do not arise often, the decision is a positive development for California employers.


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEO”) reports that the number of claims alleging unlawful retaliation has skyrocketed since 1997, from 22.7% to 41.1% of all claims filed. Retaliation is currently the most common basis for complaints filed with the agency, outdistancing both race (35.3%) and sex (29.5%) discrimination.

Cal. Court of Appeal Applies Avoidable Consequences Defense to Discrimination Claim

This case illustrates the benefit of a good internal complaint procedure. Employers may rely on effective "grievance" or "open door" policies to reduce potential liability, particularly when employees rush to court without first relying on them.

Court of Appeal: Employers Cannot Shorten Statutes of Limitations in FEHA Discrimination Cases

The employment relationship is contractual (e.g., I'll work for you and you will pay me). Statutes of limitations generally can be shortened by contract, even in California. Now forget all of these general rules. An agreement shortening the California Fair Employment and Housing Act's statute of limitations is void, said the Court of Appeal in Ellis v. U.S. Security Associates.

California’s New Anti-Retaliation Protections for Foreign Workers Effective January 2014

In October 2013, California enacted several new laws that provide California workers, who are seeking to change their personal information, engage in whistleblower activity, or exercise their workplace rights, with expanded protections against adverse employment actions, including specific protections for foreign national employees. The new legislation became effective on January 1, 2014. Some of the relevant provisions are summarized below.

Court of Appeal Addresses Motivation in Retaliation Cases and the Role of Investigations

Mendoza was a long-term nurse for Western Medical Center - Santa Ana. His performance had been excellent. Mendoza claimed his new boss was harassing him. Erdmann, the boss, claimed that Mendoza was sexually inappropriate to him. The employer investigated and determined that both employees engaged in misconduct. The employer fired both of them.

After-Acquired Evidence of Prior Conviction Disqualified Applicant from Position, California Court Finds

Evidence of a prior narcotics conviction could be used to show that the employee was not qualified for a union organizer position, even though the employer did not learn of the conviction until after it made the decision not to hire the plaintiff, the California Court of Appeal has ruled. Horne v. Int’l Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Dist. Council 16, No. A135470 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 3, 2013). Although the after-acquired evidence doctrine would bar the use of the conviction to prove the employer’s motive for refusing to hire the employee, the Court stated the conviction could be used to show the employee failed to satisfy a prima facie racial discrimination case under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Accordingly, the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer.

California Court Further Expands FEHA Protections to Employees Based on Association with Disabled Person

Rope v. Auto-Chlor System of Washington, Inc., No. B242003 (October 16, 2013): Recently, a California Court of Appeal held that a fired employee could proceed with a lawsuit in which he claimed that his employer discriminated against him based on his association with his disabled sister to whom he planned to donate a kidney.

California Appellate Court Finds Employees Must Show Discrimination Was a “Substantial Motivating Factor”

Alamo v. Practice Management Information Corp., No. B230909 (September 5, 2013): In Alamo, a former employee who was fired upon her return from maternity leave brought a lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. After the trial judge partially granted and partially denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment, the case was heard by a jury. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the employee and awarded her damages in the amount of $10,000. The trial judge then awarded attorneys’ fees and costs to Alamo as the prevailing plaintiff under FEHA.

Military and Veteran Status Now Protected under California Employment Discrimination Law

California Governor Jerry Brown (D) has signed an amendment to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), Cal. Civ. Code § 12920 et seq., to include military or veteran status as a class protected from employment discrimination.

Employment Protections for Crime Victims under new California Law

Legislation to prohibit employers from discharging, discriminating or retaliating against employees who are victims of certain offenses for taking time off from work to appear in any court proceeding in which their rights are in issue has been signed by California Governor Jerry Brown (D). Under the new law, employees who are discharged or otherwise discriminated against because they have taken such time off may file a complaint with the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and are entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and benefits for violations. The law becomes effective on January 1, 2014.

California Court of Appeal: Applying New Post-Harris v. L.A. Standard in FEHA Discrimination Cases

Alamo worked for a small company called PMIC as a collections clerk. She took pregnancy leave. PMIC hired a pregnant temp to replace her during the leave. The temp, named Moran, intended to stop working once Alamo returned.

California Legislature Deliberating Changes to Remedies in Mixed Motive Cases

This past February, the California Supreme Court addressed the viability of a mixed-motive defense to employment discrimination claims brought under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in the Harris v. City of Santa Monica case. The court held that where an employee demonstrates the employer’s adverse action was substantially motivated by discrimination but the employer demonstrates the employee would have been discharged even in the absence of any discriminatory intent, then a court cannot award back pay, damages, or reinstatement. However, where the unlawful discrimination was a “substantial factor” in the employment decision, the court held that the employee may be entitled to other remedies in the form of declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees and costs. For a detailed analysis on the Harris case, see our article, “California Supreme Court Rejects Damages, Back Pay, and Reinstatement Where Employer Proves Legitimate Mixed-Motive.”

Who Needs the Aggregation? Ninth Circuit Rejects Combining of PAGA Penalties to Establish Minimum Amount in Controversy

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a decision in Urbino v. Orkin Services of California, Inc., No. 11-56944 (August 13, 2013) holding that civil penalties available under California’s Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) may not be aggregated to establish the minimum amount in controversy of $75,000, which is required for federal diversity jurisdiction.

Court of Appeal: Statute of Limitations Bars Claims Based on Stale Administrative Charges

When an employee files a series of discrimination charges with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, may she wait to sue until years later, even if she received "right to sue" letters long before she filed her lawsuit? No.

California Appeals Court Rejects ‘Me Too’ Evidence in Race and National Origin Discrimination Case

A trial court properly excluded an employee’s “me too” evidence of alleged discrimination against employees of races different than the plaintiff’s, the California Court of Appeal has ruled in a race and national origin discrimination case under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Hatai v. Department of Transp., No. B236757 (Cal. Ct App. Mar. 28, 2013). However, since plaintiffs in employment discrimination or harassment cases can bring “me too” evidence showing discrimination against other workers within their same protected class, the Court found the trial court properly permitted the employee to introduce evidence of discrimination against other persons of the same race as the employee. The jury nevertheless rendered a verdict in favor of the employer and the Court of Appeal affirmed.


The plaintiff in a civil lawsuit has to prove his or her case by a “preponderance” of the evidence. That standard means the fact finder (often a jury) believes it is more likely than not that the plaintiff was wronged. In discrimination cases under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the plaintiff has to prove it is more likely than not that an illegal reason was the employer’s motivation for taking negative action (e.g., discharge). What if some evidence shows the employer acted for lawful reasons, but there is also evidence of an illegal motive? Can the employer be held liable if there is 50.1% likelihood that one illegal reason existed, even though there was evidence the employer would have taken action regardless? In Harris v. City of Santa Monica, the California Supreme Court decided these issues surrounding the plaintiff’s and defendant’s burdens of proof in so-called “mixed motive” cases.


An employer’s failure to take steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, or retaliation may lead to liability under the Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 or its California counterpart, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). Every employer as part of an effective prevention program should implement a complaint procedure that allows employees to report perceived mistreatment to management. An employer should also promptly investigate any reported mistreatment.

Legal Alert: California Supreme Court Issues "Mixed Motive" Decision Favorable to Employers

Executive Summary: According to a new California Supreme Court opinion, once an employee claiming discrimination demonstrates that a discriminatory reason for his or her termination substantially motivated an adverse employment decision, the employer is entitled to show that a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason would have led it to make the same decision. If the employer is able to demonstrate that, notwithstanding any discriminatory reason for the decision, it was actually motivated by a non-discriminatory reason, the employee is not entitled to monetary damages, back pay or reinstatement, but may still be entitled to an injunction or an award of attorneys' fees and costs.

California Supreme Court Requires Discrimination as Substantial Motivating Factor in Mixed Motive Cases, Limits Damages Available to Employees

To establish liability in “mixed motive” employment discrimination cases under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the employee must show that unlawful discrimination was a substantial factor motivating the adverse employment decision, the California Supreme Court ruled. Harris v. City of Santa Monica, No. S181004 (Cal. Feb. 7, 2013). However, if the employer proves that it would have made the same decision absent such discrimination, a court may not award damages, back pay, or order reinstatement, but the employee may be entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as attorney’s fees and costs.

California Supreme Court's "Mixed Motive" Ruling May Have Major Impact on Fair Employment and Housing Claims

On February 7, 2013 the California Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, affirmed that backpay and reinstatement are not available remedies for a plaintiff under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) when an employer has proved by a preponderance of evidence that it would have made the same decision to terminate that individual for lawful reasons. The legal impact of the much-anticipated decision is far reaching. Wynona Harris v. City of Santa Monica.

California Supremes Rule on "Mixed Motive"

Here is a long awaited and unanimous (6-0 with Baxter recused) ruling from the California Supreme Court:

California Supreme Court Rejects Damages, Back Pay, and Reinstatement Where Employer Proves Legitimate Mixed-Motive

On February 7, 2013, the California Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision on whether the “mixed-motive” defense applies to employment discrimination claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The court held that where an employee demonstrates that unlawful discrimination was a substantial motivating factor in a challenged adverse employment action, and the employer proves that it would have made the same decision absent such discrimination, a court may not award damages, back pay, or reinstatement. Harris v. City of Santa Monica, No. S181004, California Supreme Court (February 7, 2013).

California Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Mixed Motive Case

The California high court is deliberating the standard of proof required to prove employment discrimination in “mixed motive” cases under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Harris v. City of Santa Monica, No. S181004 (Cal. Dec. 4, 2012). In these cases, the employer asserts it would have terminated or taken other adverse action against an employee, regardless of any alleged discrimination. At the oral argument, the California Supreme Court justices appeared divided regarding the appropriate standard, questioning both the employer’s argument that “but-for” causation is required to impose liability and the employee’s argument that liability may be imposed if discrimination is “a motivating factor” in the employer’s decision. Some justices suggested that liability could be imposed if the discrimination was a “substantial factor” in the decision.

California Pregnancy and Disability Regulations - Final Comments?

The Fair Employment and Housing Commission has issued nearly almost final regulations regarding disability discrimination and regarding pregnancy disability leave.

No More Fair Employment and Housing Commission?

The California Governor just signed SB 1038. This bill, among many other things, eliminates the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission, and transfers its duties to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The Commission was the agency that developed regulations and acted as the judicial body that heard claims of discrimination brought before the agency instead of court. Those duties will be handled by the Department internally now. Claims for damages currently before the Commission involving emotional distress will be heard in court rather than before the Commission. Other claims may be heard before an administrative law judge rather than the Commission.

California Law Limiting Employee Arbitration Agreement Waivers Cannot Stand after Concepcion, Court Finds

The Federal Arbitration Act preempts California law disfavoring the enforcement of a class action waiver in employee arbitration agreements, the California Court of Appeal has ruled. Iskanian v. CLS Transp. Los Angeles, LLC, No. B235158 (Cal. Ct. App. June 4, 2012). The Court noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), overruled California law. (For more information, please see our article, Supreme Court Strikes Down California’s Prohibition of Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements.) The Court also ruled the FAA preempted the plaintiff’s claims under the California Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”). Accordingly, it affirmed an order compelling arbitration and dismissing the employee’s class claims for alleged Labor Code violations and upheld a class action waiver.

Partner Could Sue Partnership for Retaliation under FEHA, California Appeals Court Rules

A physician-partner in a medical practice could assert a retaliation claim under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Court of Appeal has held, reversing a judgment in favor of a medical partnership. Fitzsimons v. California Emergency Physicians Med. Group, No. A131604 (Cal. App. Dist. 1 Div. 3 May 16, 2012). The physician-partner reported alleged harassment of female employees within the practice while she served as the practice’s medical director. The Court ruled that, because the FEHA protects “any person” from retaliation, the physician could assert a claim for retaliation, even though, as a partner, she could not sue the practice for employment discrimination.

Court Rejects FEHA Claim Brought by Employee Fired for Allegedly Filing False Harassment Complaint

Earlier this week, a state appellate court held that an employee failed to introduce substantial evidence under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) that his employer’s decision to terminate his employment was motivated by retaliatory animus. According to the California Court of Appeal, the employee, who was fired for allegedly making false statements related to his sexual harassment complaint against his supervisor, could not show that his employer’s stated reason for firing him was pretextual. Joaquin v. City of Los Angeles, No. B226685, California Court of Appeal (January 23, 2012).


The Department of Fair Employment and Housing has just issued its first set of procedural regulations, available at, and codified at 2 Cal. Code Regs. § 10000 et seq. The new rules will govern how the agency accepts and processes complaints of unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, Unruh Civil Rights Act, Ralph Act and the Disabled Persons Act.

California Court Allows "Me Too" Evidence to Show Employer Bias

In a potentially dangerous precedent for employers, a California appeals court has ruled that an employee claiming employer sexual or racial harassment can prove the employer's discriminatory intent by showing the employer harassed other workers, even though such harassment occurred outside the complaining employee's presence. Pantoja v. Thomas J. Anton, et al., No. F058414 (Cal. Ct. App. Aug. 9, 2011). The Court found the lower court improperly excluded evidence of the employer's alleged gender bias in the form of harassing activity against women employees other than the plaintiff. Although the excluded “me too” evidence related to harassing activity that occurred outside the plaintiff's presence — and even at times when she was not an employee — it should have been admitted as evidence of a discriminatory or biased intent or motive under California Evidence Code § 1101(b), the Court of Appeal concluded. The lower court's exclusion of the evidence on the grounds it was propensity or character evidence under Evidence Code § 1101(a) therefore was prejudicial.

California Supreme Court Holds That Stray Remarks Made by Non-Decision Makers Can Be Considered in Age Bias Case.

On August 5, the California Supreme Court handed down its decision in Reid v. Google, Inc., an age discrimination case that was dismissed at the trial court level on summary judgment. The trial judge dismissed the case after finding that “stray remarks” by individuals who had no involvement with the decision to terminate the plaintiff’s employment were insufficient evidence of discrimination to send the case to trial. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial judge’s order granting the employer summary judgment and held that the stray remarks by the non-decision makers was admissible to prove his claim of discrimination. The California Supreme Court agreed and rejected the strict application of the “stray remarks doctrine” in California discrimination cases.


The plaintiff in an employment discrimination case must establish a link between the plaintiff's protected classification (e.g., race, sex, etc.) and adverse action (e.g., discharge, demotion, etc.). The opinions construing the Fair Employment and Housing Act say the plaintiff merely must show that unlawful discrimination was "a motivating factor" behind the allegedly discriminatory decision. The burden is not onerous. "A motivating factor" means illegal discrimination was just one reason behind the decision, even if other motivating reasons were perfectly legal.


The California Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Johnson v. United Cerebral Palsy/Spastic Children’s Foundation of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties may change the way courts rule on evidence in discrimination cases. The court found admissible as proof of discrimination other employees’ testimony about discrimination against them. Such “me too” evidence therefore may be admissible to bootstrap the plaintiff’s own claim.


The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires an employee to file an administrative complaint of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation within one year of the alleged unlawful employment practice. This statute of limitations provides employees with time to assert their claims. It also protects employers from stale claims, faded memories, and unavailable witnesses, and makes it easier for the administrative agency involved (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)) to investigate, obtain documents, find witnesses, etc.


The courts have issued a significant number of retaliation decisions in the past several weeks. The U.S. Supreme Court held in two cases that employees are protected from adverse employment actions for complaining about civil rights violations, even when the underlying statutes did not contain anti-retaliation provisions. Two panels of the California Court of Appeal went in different directions regarding what constitutes “retaliation.”

No Individual Liability for Retaliation under the FEHA.

The California Supreme Court continued a trend on Monday, March 3, 2008, when it held in Jones v. The Lodge at Torrey Pines that supervisors cannot be held individually liable for retaliation under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The Court has consistently shielded individual supervisors from various other forms of employment related claims. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. Bement, a 2005 decision, that individual corporate agents, including officers, directors, and shareholders, could not be personally liable for an employer’s failure to pay wages to its employees. Similarly, in 2000, the Court held in Carrisales v. Department of Corrections that individual, non-supervisory employees could not be held liable for harassment.

Individuals Cannot be Held Liable for Retaliation Claims.

In Reno v. Baird, the California Supreme Court held in 1998 that individuals are not personally liable for discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Similarly, today the Court ruled in Jones v. The Lodge at Torrey Pines Partnership that while employers may be held liable, individuals may not be held financially responsible for retaliation claims in the discrimination context.