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Sexual Harassment and Employment Law - Recent California Supreme Court Opinions

Check here frequently for new sexual harassment and employment law California Supreme Court decisions.

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Supreme Court Arbitration Related Decisions

Supreme Court LGBT and Gay Marriage & Domestic Partner Rights Cases

Important Employment Cases Before the California Supreme Court

Harris v. City of Santa Monica - Mixed Motive aka "Same Decision" Defense in Discrimination Cases - 2013 (California Supreme Court Case No. S181004) - "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.

The Supreme Court's Decision in Harris v. City of Santa Monica.
The Court of Appeal's (now unciteable) opinion in Harris.

Exhaustion of Remedies Under FEHA and Internal Grievance Exhaustion Doctrine

Runyon v. Bd. of Trustees of California State University - When an employee of the California State University (CSU) claims the employer retaliated for the empoyee having made a protected disclosure under California's Whistleblower Protection Act and the employer, after an internal investigation, rejects the employee's claim of retaliation, the employee is not required to first obtain a writ of mandate overturning CSU's decision before seeking damages in a lawsuit under section 8547.12. CSU employees, like employees of state boards and agencies (see State Bd. of Chiropractic Examiners v. Superior Court (2009) 45 Cal.4th 963, 978), are not required to exhaust the judicial remedy of a mandate petition before pursuing the judicial remedy for which the Act expressly provides, an action for damages.

Disability Discrimination and Harassment

Lonicki v. Sutter Health Central - Although that part-time job is evidence of ability to do similar work for the original employer from whom the employee has sought medical leave, that evidence is not conclusive. Here, because the parties presented contrary evidence as to whether the employee had a serious health condition that made her unable to do her full-time job, there is a disputed issue of fact that must be resolved at trial.

Munson v. Del Taco - A plaintiff who seeks damages under California Civil Code section 52, claiming the denial of full and equal treatment on the basis of disability in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code § 51) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.), is not require to prove intentional discrimination to recover damages.

Roby v. McKesson - In Roby, The Supreme Court considered three issues:

First, did the Court of Appeal err in concluding that some of plaintiff's noneconomic damages awards overlapped one another? "With respect to the first issue, we conclude that the jury's noneconomic damages awards are hopelessly ambiguous. In a letter to this court and again at oral argument, plaintiff's counsel stated that plaintiff preferred to concede this issue rather than face a new trial, and defendants accepted this concession. Therefore, the validity of the Court of Appeal's conclusion that some of the noneconomic damages awards overlapped one another is no longer in dispute."

Second, did the Court of Appeal err in allocating plaintiff's evidence between her harassment claim and her discrimination claim, and, based on that allocation, in finding insufficient evidence to support the harassment verdict? "With respect to the second issue, we conclude that the Court of Appeal erred in allocating the evidence between the harassment claim and the discrimination claim, and we reject its determination that the record included insufficient evidence to support the harassment verdict."

Third, did the Court of Appeal err in concluding that the punitive damages against the employer exceeded the federal constitutional limit? "With respect to the third issue, we agree with the Court of Appeal that the punitive damages exceeded the federal constitutional limit, but we disagree with the Court of Appeal on the amount of this limit. We hold that in the circumstances of this case the amount of compensatory damages sets the ceiling for the punitive damages."

Supreme Court Briefing in Roby:


Reid v. Google - In age discrimination case, application of the "stray remarks doctrine" to limit plaintiff's evidence of age related discrimination evidence by remarks by other within a company, would be unfair. Moreover, when a party objects to evidence in writing in connection with a motion for summary judgment, those objections are preserved for purposes of appeal, even if the trial court does not expressly rule upon the objections. The Court of Appeal's decision finding same is affirmed.

Lane v. Hughes Aircraft - Order granting new trial under Code of Civil Procedure section 657 order must be sustained on appeal unless the opposing party demonstrates that no reasonable finder of fact could have found for the movant on the trial court's theory.

Privacy Rights of 3rd Party Witnesses

Pioneer Electronics, U.S.A., Inc. v. Superior Court - Where plaintiff sought to discover identity and contact information for potential members of class, Court of Appeal ruling that required each potential member to affirmatively "opt to agree to disclosure, rather than "opt out" was held by California Supreme Court to be overprotective of the potential members privacy rights, inconsistent with established privacy principles, and likely to cause adverse consequences in future cases. Consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal's decision and ordered the information was discoverable as set forth in the trial court's original order.

Right to Jury Trial

Grafton Partners v. Superior Court - Code of Civil Procedure section 631,1 prescribes the six means by which parties to a civil lawsuit may waive their right to have their disputes adjudicated in a jury trial rather than in a court trial. Because a contractual agreement that is entered into prior to any dispute arising between the contracting parties is not one of the means authorized by statute, in this case the predispute agreement that any lawsuit between the parties would be adjudicated in a court trial, and not by jury trial, is unenforceable.

Overtime & Wage and Hour Law

Gattuso v. Harte-Hanks (2007) - Reimbursement of Labor Code § 2802 expenses may be complied with by affording employee increased wages, providing certain criteria are met.

Murphy v. Kenneth Cole - The "one additional hour of pay" remedy provided in Labor Code section 226.7 constitutes a wage or premium pay and is governed by a three-year statute of limitations and in the trial de novo before the trial court, the court properly considered the additional, but related, wage claims not presented in the administrative proceeding before the state Labor Commissioner.

Reynolds v. Bement - Demurrer was properly sustained in an action for recovery of unpaid overtime compensation, for failure to state a cause of action against any of eight individuals who were officers or directors and shareholders of the Delaware corporation, or its California subsidiary, that owns the automobile painting business for which he formerly worked.

Sav-On v. Superior Court - Supreme Court reversed lower court's order denying certification of overtime class where substantial evidence demonstrated defendant's misclassification of employee managers as "exempt" from overtime pay when, based on the tasks managers were required to perform, they were in fact--not exempt.

Non-Compete Agreements

Edwards v. Arthur Anderson - Business and Professions Code section 16600 prohibits employee noncompetition agreements unless the agreement falls within a statutory exception. A contract provision whereby an employee releases "any and all" claims does not encompass nonwaivable statutory protections, such as the employee indemnity protection of Labor Code section 2802.

Punitive Damages

The Simon & Johnson Decisions - 2 Very Important (Non-Employment) Punitive Damages Cases Affecting Employment Cases Involving Claims of Punitive Damages

Simon v. San Paolo

Johnson v. Ford Motor Company

Retaliation under FEHA

Yanowitz v. L'Oreal

SexualHarassment and FEHA

Carter v. Departpment of Veterans Affairs

Jones v. The Lodge at Torrey Pines - 2008 - No personal liability for supervisors who retaliate under FEHA

Lyle v. Warner Brothers (the "Friends" case)

Mackey/Miller v. Department of Corrections

McClung v. Employment Development Department

Schifando v. City of Los Angeles

State Department of Health Services v. Superior Court (McGinnis)

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