Court of Appeal: Misstating an Employer’s Proper Legal Name on a DFEH Complaint is Not Fatal to a FEHA Lawsuit

When you find it necessary to take on a workplace discrimination case, there are several hurdles you’ll face, and several opportunities to make very small errors. One of the big things to keep in mind is that not every small error will be fatal to your case. With the help of a skilled Oakland discrimination lawyer, you can overcome your employer’s attempts to defeat your case based solely on a hyper-technical error.

Here’s an example. A.C., a certified surgical technologist at an outpatient surgery center in San Diego, allegedly endured a considerable degree of discrimination during her time at the center, including sex discrimination, race discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. So, she hired a lawyer and took legal action.

There are several steps that you must take in this process. Before you go to court, you have to file with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. After you file with the DFEH, you have to wait to receive a right-to-sue letter. After that, you can take your case to court.

A.C.’s lawyer did all of those things. The DFEH complaint named two variations of the employer’s registered business name. The complaint also accurately indicated who A.C.’s managers, supervisors, and co-workers were. Very shortly after getting her right-to-sue notice, A.C. filed a discrimination action in the Superior Court. A week later, her lawyer amended the complaint to include the correct legal name of the employer corporation.

Nevertheless, A.C.’s case got tossed on summary adjudication. The trial court said that the employee’s DFEH complaint named the wrong entity as her employer and “never corrected that omission.”

So, you may be wondering at this point, is that really the way the law works? As the appeals court made clear, the answer is “no.” The anti-discrimination and anti-harassment provisions in the California statutes exist to try to stamp out discrimination and harassment. To achieve that end, the courts generally are to interpret them broadly in favor of workers. That means that employers’ attempts to avoid liability based on hyper-technical imperfections often won’t succeed. Ruling otherwise would be “antithetical to the purposes of the FEHA,” according to the court.

As the appeals court put it, the law should never be interpreted such that a “plaintiff’s misdescription of an employer’s proper legal name on a DFEH complaint [serves] to provide a ‘get-out-jail-free card’ to the employer under California anti-discrimination law.” That’s especially true, the court said, if the worker’s legal representation has included so many other correct details that the minor error “could not possibly have hampered any administrative investigation or prejudiced the defendant in any judicial proceedings.”

If you have suffered discrimination on the job, don’t suffer in silence, and don’t try to take on the legal system on your own. For a knowledgeable legal advocate who can navigate your case through all of the mandatory steps and processes, look to the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Attorney Fuerch is a skilled Oakland workplace discrimination attorney who has many years of helping workers just like you. Contact this office through our website or call (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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