Articles Posted in Procedures

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.

In a good day for fair jury selection in the State of California, the California Supreme Court reversed a conviction in a criminal case where a prosecutor used 10 out of 16 peremptory challenges to bump Hispanics off of the jury pool.  People v. Gutierrez (June 1, 2017)  17 C.D.O.S. 5040.

This case is equally important to employment cases, where we often find that defense attorneys challenge perfectly fair jurors based on their race/national origin/gender/age and other identifying information that is similar to that of the plaintiff, and thereby deny the plaintiff in employment cases a jury of their peers.

The California Supreme Court sent a message that under People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258 (Wheeler) and Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 (Batson) a trial court must seriously scrutinize the rationale and motivation presented by any side using its jury challenges to challenge a legally protected and cognizable group.  Here the court noted that 10 out of 16 challenges were used against Hispanics and 10 out of 12 Hispanics who took a seat in the jury box were challenged by the prosecutor.  The Supreme Court warned that, “excluding by peremptory challenge even a single juror on the basis of race or ethnicity is an error of Constitutional magnate”.  The Supreme Court made clear to the lower courts that it is their duty to make sure the parties do not use their peremptory challenges in a discriminatory manner, and that the court must make a “sincere and reasoned attempt to evaluate” the explanations proffered by the party bumping the jurors.

Generally speaking, exhaustion of administrative remedies is an unnecessary hurdle for an employee to jump over on his or her way to court when filing a discrimination, harassment or retaliation claim. Rickards v. UPS (June 19, 2012), ___Cal.App.4th ___ is just another case demonstrating this same point.

Mr. Rickards had a claim for discrimination against his employer, UPS. The first hurdle in an employment case in the State of California is generally to file a charge of discrimination with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (“DFEH”)(depending on the circumstances, an employee may instead file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and ask that the claim be cross filed with the DFEH). For an employee who has a lawyer and intends to sue, there is generally no productive reason to file such a charge, except that failure to do so may be a fatal flaw in the subsequent lawsuit.

The Department of Fair Employment & Housing set up an online process by which a lawyer can file a charge of discrimination online for an employee. According to the DFEH, this process is set up for employees who have lawyers. As part of the filing, the employee (or lawyer!!) fills out an online form and moves from screen to screen including a screen that acknowledges that the signature is “…under Penalty of Perjury”. Previous case law had already established that an attorney may verify a charge of discrimination with the DFEH on behalf of the client. Blum v. Superior Court (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 418.

I understand the desire of an employee (or employee’s attorney) to exhaust all avenues to contest the wrongful discriminatory and/or retaliatory termination of an employee, but White v. City of Pasadena __F.3d___ (9th Cir Jan 17, 2012) is a prime example of why such a shotgun approach can be shortsighted and dangerous.

Ms. White was a police officer with the City of Pasadena. White was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but continued to do her job. The City then fired her, claiming she was associating with a known drug dealer and lied about it. Officer White, through her union’s grievance process, arbitrated her termination and she was reinstated to her position as a police officer.

Instead of letting “good enough” alone, Officer White filed a lawsuit in state court (White I), claiming the City of Pasadena harassed and discriminated against her based upon her disability. The jury found for the City, the California Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, and the California Supreme Court refused to review the ruling.