An employee fired after taking several absences resulting from domestic violence was unable to maintain her discrimination lawsuit against her former employer. The California Court of Appeal upheld a judgment for the employer, concluding that the employee lacked necessary evidence to establish that the employer’s true reason for terminating her was her absences caused by her abusive boyfriend, as opposed to its stated reasons of theft of employer property.
The employee, Sara Rosales, worked at the Riverside location of Moneytree, Inc., a short-term lender, starting in 2008. A year later, Rosales began having problems because her dating relationship had turned violent. By the spring of 2010, the employee began missing work due to the facial injuries inflicted on her by her abusive boyfriend. Rosales incurred more absences as a result of court attendance regarding the domestic violence and also due to additional incidents of violence that left her face injured. Each time, though, the employer recorded Rosales as absent due to domestic violence, and she suffered no negative impact professionally.
Moneytree terminated Rosales in the fall of 2011 after supervisors, following an investigation, concluded that she stole several bus passes from inside a vault at work. Rosales sued the employer, alleging that it violated the law because the true reason for her termination was her taking leave from work due to domestic violence. The trial court issued a summary judgment in favor of Moneytree. The employee appealed but did not prevail. The California Labor Code bars employers with 25 or more employees from firing or retaliating against victims of domestic violence who take time off from work to engage in such activities as going to the doctor or going to court.
Rosales was unsuccessful in her case because neither the trial court nor the appeals court was persuaded regarding her contentions about Moneytree’s motivations. In order to succeed in a case in which the employer puts forward a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its action, the employee must prove that the employer’s stated reason was false and was really just a pretext for the employer’s true (and discriminatory) motivation in firing the employee.
In this case, Rosales attempted to rely upon certain statements her supervisors made to her as proof that the employer harbored “discriminatory animus.” The statements, however, which centered on how she should make a change in her personal life because she was “too good for this” and could “do better” than her existing boyfriend were, in the court’s view, not proof of discriminatory antipathy but well-meaning concern for the employee’s well-being. At most, the statements could be seen as disapproving of Rosales’ refusal to leave her boyfriend, but none of the supervisors ever threatened to terminate the employee for taking time off due to domestic violence issues. None of these statements rose to the level of proving that the employer’s stated reason for termination — Rosales’ alleged theft of the bus passes — was not genuine and was a mere pretext for discrimination.
This employee brought her case under the California Labor Code and not under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Although bills have been proposed by members of the State Assembly to expand FEHA protections to victims of domestic violence, that law currently does not recognize victims of domestic violence as a protected class.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of improper discrimination at work, reach out to the Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our experienced attorneys have a long track record of helping victims defend their rights. Contact us through our website, or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.
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