Articles Posted in Hostile Work Environment

As employers across the country reckon with the impacts of the #MeToo movement, the California legislature and Governor Newsom took decisive action to extend the statute of limitations on certain workplace claims, acknowledging that those who have been targeted by discrimination, harassment, and retaliation do not always come forward immediately.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) prohibits discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against California employees on a variety of bases. The FEHA provides some of the best employment protections in the country, and has been expanded several times over the years to afford additional protections in the workplace. However, one of the greatest hurdles to employees is the statute of limitations. In California, an employee has one year from the date of the unlawful practice to file a charge with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”). Failure to file a charge within the limitations period waives an employee’s rights to any claims she has under the FEHA. Further complicating matters is that the intake process at the DFEH has several steps and it has been unclear to employees as to when their charge was actually filed, and thus, whether they filed within the one-year period.

On Thursday, Governor Newsom signed AB 9 which extends the one year period to three years starting on January 1, 2020. The bill also specifies filing a complaint means filing an intake form with the DFEH and the operative date of the verified complaint relates back to the filing of the intake form- clarifying what has been a confusing issue for employees over the years. This new statute triples the time an employee has to file their charge, which is particularly valuable for those employees who feel they cannot come forward soon after the adverse employment action.

This Ninth Circuit case addressed a typical “good ol’ boy” attitude at work: a male co-worker accused of anything – here rape of the Plaintiff co-worker – is treated with empathy and kindness.  The female co-worker, who made this very serious accusation, is simply not treated as well: no support; no kindness; no concern.

In Fuller v. Idaho Department of Corrections (9th Cir. 2017) 865 F.3d 154, the Ninth Circuit stressed the importance of how this imbalance impacted the employee/rape victim and how a reasonable jury could conclude that the employer’s conduct “effectively condoned the rapist” and thus, created a hostile work environment for the victim.  In doing so, the Ninth Circuit overturned the lower court’s summary judgment in favor of the employer.

When the employer learned that a male employee was being investigated by the sheriff for the rape of an employee, it put the co-worker on a paid administrative leave, and did not warn any of its employees. (Yes, we understand the difficult balancing test between safety and privacy).  The employer, Department of Corrections, not only paid the co-worker while on leave but gratuitously noted that it “looked forward to…[his]…prompt return to work.”  (Yes, this case was before the #MeToo movement.)  Ms. Fuller, who had a relationship with the co-worker, disclosed the relationship to her employer.  The employer did nothing to warn or protect her, and she was subsequently raped by this same co-worker.

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