Court Ruling Warns Discrimination Plaintiffs to be Careful of Unintended Consequences from Workers Compensation Claims

Three Laotian correctional guards were subject to racial and national origin discrimination and harassment.  They filed a civil lawsuit for discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and also filed claims under California’s Workers’ Compensation ActLy v. County of Fresno (October 12, 2017).

This sounds like the beginning of a very typical workplace claim. However the Court brought the civil claims to a very atypical, and I must say, poorly reasoned and dangerous, ending.

The Workers Compensation Act claim went to a hearing first and the Administrative Law Judge found that the employer’s actions were “non-discriminatory, good faith personnel decisions.”  Based on this finding in an administrative hearing, where there is no civil discovery, the impetus to put on witnesses and gather evidence is different, and, among many other differences, the legal standard is different, the Court of Appeals held that the employees’ civil claims were barred.

The Court acknowledged that workers’ compensation is not the exclusive remedy for discrimination in the workplace, but went on to hold that where “plaintiff’s elected to pursue both remedies… the workers compensation decisions have a reclusive effect.”

In other words, the Court is making an employee who dares to bring two claims face an unnecessary and unwarranted risk.  Employees must carefully consider whether to file in two forums and which case is likely to be decided first.

Jody I. LeWitter



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