Articles Posted in Employment Law

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting lives and, more importantly, has cost the lives of more than 1,000 Americans. While the pandemic has led to the institution of many extraordinary measures, there are some things that remained unchanged. For example, California employers’ obligations to avoid illegal discrimination and harassment remain in place and are as strong as ever. In fact, given the racial/ethnic component of the virus’s presumed origin, employers should be even more vigilant than ever to avoid improper practices. If, in this era of COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve been harmed at work because of your race, ethnicity or national origin, you may have legal options under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Reach out to a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney to find out more.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing recently released an “Information” document about COVID-19 and employers’ FEHA obligations. The very first topic that the document addressed was the harmful practice of discrimination or harassment “because of race or national origin.” This kind of discrimination or harassment can take many forms. In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the victims of illegal discrimination or harassment may be targeted because of actual or perceived Chinese ancestry.

Note that you don’t actually have to be of Chinese origin or ancestry. Illegal discrimination or harassment can stem from one’s actual national origin or the perpetrator’s perception of your national origin. So if, for example, your facial appearance, your manner of speaking or your name makes your supervisor think you’re of Chinese origin – and your supervisor harasses or discriminates against you because of it – it doesn’t matter if your heritage is Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese or something else entirely. The fact that your supervisor believed you were of Chinese origin and took adverse action against you because of that belief is enough.

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Sometimes, your wrongful termination case may have overwhelming evidence on your side… a case where you are obviously entitled to a judgment in your favor. A lot of times, though, that’s not what happens. In many lawsuits, the cases are of the type often referred to as “he-said-she-said,” or as lawyers call them, “swearing contests,” which refers to the fact that the sworn testimony of witnesses make up the vast majority of the evidence, and the outcome rests on which side the jury finds more believable. If you’re involved in a case like that, the more evidence you can give the court beyond just your own testimony, the more credible your testimony may become and the stronger your case may become. To be sure you are identifying, obtaining and utilizing all the evidence you need for your strongest case possible, make sure you have an experienced Oakland wrongful termination attorney working for you.

D.W.’s was a case like that. He had risen through the ranks at the call center of a major telecommunications company. By 2012, he was named the interim acting director of the call center. He routinely received high-performance review scores and praise for his leadership skills. He applied to be named the director of the call center but was not chosen. The company selected a white woman to be the new director. Unlike D.W., the woman did not have a bachelor’s degree, which the employer listed as a “preferred qualification” for the position of director.

D.W.’s former supervisor, after having been reassigned, told him that she attempted to get the company to choose D.W., but that he had three key things working against him: he was a former employee of a competitor company, he was not white, and he was not female. Just four months later, the company fired D.W.

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In most any case, it is important to ensure that your complaint names all the defendants potentially liable to you and includes all potentially viable claims for a judgment in your favor. Making sure that you’ve done your pre-trial “homework” to identify all of the entities potentially liable to you is important to ensure that you get the full benefit of the sum awarded by the jury. Including all of the possible claims is important because, the more avenues for the court to find the defendants liable, the greater your chances for success. As you face the possibility of pursuing a discrimination and/or retaliation case in court, be sure you are getting the legal advice you need from a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney to ensure your court filings are giving you that maximized chance of success.

As an example, there’s the case of J.M., who worked in a maintenance position for a conference center in Santa Cruz. That conference center was a subordinate unit of a Missouri-based church. At one point during J.M.’s employment, a younger male co-worker showed J.M. some messages M.G., the center’s executive director, had sent to the younger man, which he considered suggestive and inappropriate.

The messages were eventually shown to a member of the conference center’s board, who took the messages to the church’s general legal counsel. The employees followed this path of escalation because they feared retaliation from M.G.

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There are many ways that you can lose an Oakland employment discrimination case. You can lose because you don’t enough evidence to support your case. You can also lose because, even though you have a mountain of extremely persuasive proof, you did not comply with the state’s procedural rules in pursuing your lawsuit. This can happen in a variety of ways, but one of the big ones is missing the deadline for filing a discrimination claim. In the past, the Fair Employment and Housing Act said that you only had one year to file a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Wait more than one year – even if it was just 53 weeks – and your case could be thrown out.

Now, it will be harder for employers to dodge liability based on this kind of deadline argument. As of January 1, 2020, the law in California says that you have three years, not one, to take action. So, if you have been the victim of discrimination at work and it happened more than 12 months ago, don’t give up! Reach to an experienced employment attorney right away to discover more about the legal options available to you.

Back in October, with Gov. Newsom’s signature, AB 9 became law. That bill said that, effective Jan. 1, 2020, the limitations period (a/k/a the time period for pursuing legal action) in FEHA discrimination cases would be three years. Until Jan. 1, 2020, the law said that that time period was just one year. (These deadline periods refer to the period of time you have to file an administrative charge with the DFEH. The filing of that administrative charge is something that you must do first before you are entitled to sue in court, and it is mandatory.)

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Every employer has policies regarding employees with disabilities. For example, many employees whose disabilities leave them unable to do the essential duties of their job, even with an accommodation, may face termination. This may be legally allowable because discrimination law does not require employers to retain employees who cannot perform the mandatory duties of a position.

So, what happens when you lose your job because your employer made an honest mistake and erroneously misapplied its generally legal policies regarding employees with disabilities? Does the fact that the policy was legal and the mistake was a good-faith one mean that you cannot win a disability discrimination case in California? The answer, as it turns out, is “no, it doesn’t.” Bad faith or an illegal policy isn’t required. As always, be sure to consult an experienced Oakland disability discrimination attorney to find out how best to proceed if you’ve been fired due to your disability.

A recent case from Southern California offers very good news for workers who suffer discrimination, even when that discrimination comes in the form of a good-faith gaffe in applying a permissible policy. In that case, J.G. was a pharmaceutical sales rep for a major pharmaceutical company. Like many pharmaceutical sales reps, J.G.’s job required him to drive extensively.

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Chances are reasonably high that, if you are an employee in California, you know that you can take legal action if you’ve been the victim of discrimination, harassment or retaliation. However, what do you do if you’ve been harmed in one or more of those ways but you’re just a temporary worker? Does that “temp” status change what rights you have or whom you can sue? For customized answers to these and other questions based on your specific circumstance, be sure to consult an experienced Oakland employment attorney.

E.J. was a temporary worker caught in a circumstance like that. She worked at a shoe care goods manufacturer’s facility, but she did not work for the manufacturer. E.J.’s employer was a temporary staffing firm. The temp agency hired E.J., paid her, tracked her time and paid her any benefits to which she was entitled. After five years of working at the facility, E.J. was fired. Following that termination, she sued the shoe care goods manufacturer for FEHA violations, including sex/gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

The manufacturer’s defense was fairly straightforward. It argued that a worker can only recover FEHA damages from a person or entity who is the harmed worker’s employer, that it was not E.J.’s employer and, therefore, it couldn’t possibly be liable to E.J. for any harm she suffered as a result of any FEHA violations.

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The #metoo movement exposed many of the humiliating, hurtful, disrespectful and damaging things women often face in the workplace when it comes to discrimination and sexual harassment.

While it occurs less often, bias and discrimination that harms male workers is a real thing, too. California lawmakers have sought to maintain gender fairness in many statutes, including things like parental leave laws. Sometimes, employers or supervisors may be less enlightened. When that happens and you are the victim of discrimination, you may have options within the legal system. Contact an experienced Oakland employment law attorney to find out what’s available to you.

As an example, there’s the case of J.V., an employee of a property management company and also a first-time expectant father. J.V. put in a request for 12 weeks of parental leave, as allowed by California law. Reportedly, J.V.’s female supervisor expressed her disapproval. The employee received such biased questions as “Why can’t your wife stay home and take care of the child?” and “Will you be doing anything … or just sitting and watching T.V. all day?”

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In any kind of situation where you’ve suffered a legal wrong, you only have limited time to act. Wait too long and you may have your options for achieving success and much-needed compensation narrowed substantially – or you may lose all your options entirely. If you’ve been the victim of discrimination at work or in applying for a job, don’t wait! Reach out to an experienced Oakland employment law attorney today.

W.W. was someone who, on the surface, seemed to have pretty strong case of discrimination. He was a caterer who, for 15 months, catered meals to both the visiting and home team players at the home field of the Sacramento minor league baseball team. W.W. eventually applied for the job of assistant clubhouse manager. At the time, W.W. was already performing some of the functions of an assistant clubhouse manager.

Additionally, the manager of the visitors’ clubhouse, who was also the man who hired W.W., recommended him for the job. Despite those credentials, the employer hired a teenager who was still in high school and who reportedly “did not meet any of the qualifications for the job.” W.W. was African American; the teen was white.

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In California, there are several ways that an employer can fire an employee that is against the law. One of those ways is if the employer terminates the employee based on the employee’s disability without first engaging in a good faith effort to make a reasonable accommodation for that worker’s disability.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act demands that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. The law requires many employers, in crafting the employee’s accommodation, to engage that employee in an “interactive process” in a good faith way. If you were fired because of your disability, and you were not afforded a reasonable accommodation or a good-faith interactive process, then you may be entitled to compensation and you should consult a knowledgeable Oakland employment law attorney promptly.

The case of paint store employee E.C. (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC620114 / JAMS Arbitration Case No. 1210033499) is a good example. E.C.’s position required workers to lift heavy loads up to 72 pounds. The worker’s job application stated that she had a disability and could lift no more than 20 pounds.

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When you are called upon by an investigator who has appeared at your workplace to investigate one or more of your co-workers, it can be a stressful time, even though you’re not the person under investigation. Being sought to answer questions or give testimony can be scary, especially if the knowledge you hold (and the investigators are asking for) is potentially harmful to your employer and/or your supervisor. Even if that’s true, you should be entitled to speak freely, openly and honestly, without fear of reprisals that could damage or end your employment just because you spoke the truth.

If you suffer a loss of your job simply because you cooperated with investigators’ investigation into your supervisor, then you may have a claim for wrongful termination in California. If that situation describes you, you should act without delay to reach out and retain an experienced Oakland employment law attorney to represent you.

The type of scenario described above actually happened to one state government worker recently. As reported by the Sacramento Bee, S.T. was a fraud investigator for a department within the state government when the State Auditor’s office opened an investigation into the department’s director. The director was suspected of engaging in improper hiring practices; specifically, nepotism in hiring her daughter and a friend.

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