Sometimes, in sports, one may hear a coach state that it is sometimes possible for players to learn more from a loss than a victory. Something similar is sometimes true in legal actions. Sometimes, another person’s unsuccessful case may offer more useful information for others than some plaintiffs’ successful lawsuits. As one recent California sexual orientation discrimination case served to remind workers, there are certain things you need in order to achieve a successful result, and, without them, your case cannot win. To make sure that your discrimination case is supported by the right amount and right type of proof necessary to prevail, make sure that you work with an experienced employment discrimination attorney.
The plaintiff in this sexual orientation discrimination case, Shawn, was a “program business leader” analyst for the County of Santa Barbara. In the wake of a budget shortfall, the county laid off 35 employees, including Shawn. After her layoff, Shawn sued her former employer. Her lawsuit alleged sexual orientation discrimination. Shawn disclosed publicly that she was a lesbian in 2003, and her employer regarded her as a lesbian when it decided to end her employment in 2009, she argued.
This employee ultimately lost her case, with both the trial court and the Court of Appeal ruling against her. Despite this woman’s defeat, there is much that other employees can learn from her case and use as guidelines when pursuing a discrimination case or, alternatively, pursuing a case based upon a supervisor or co-worker’s use of offensive slurs or epithets.
One of the things you need in a successful case is proof of “discriminatory animus,” meaning an antipathy or negativity toward you as the employee, by the employer, as a result of your being part of a protected group. To prove this, you’ll need to establish that you suffered a tangible harm in your employment and that the employer took this action because of your race/gender/disability/religion/sexual orientation/etc.
By logical extension, then, you’ll need evidence that your employer knew of your status in your protected group and that there was hostility toward you because you were in that group. These are essential components and were areas in which Shawn’s proof was lacking. She based her case upon several usages of various negative slang words for homosexuals that a supervisor used from 1998 to 2001. By her own testimony, Shawn admitted that she didn’t know if the supervisor knew she was a lesbian when he made the remarks. She also testified that she didn’t know if the supervisor disliked homosexuals or not and that she knew the remarks he made weren’t directed toward her. These facts were all problematic for Shawn’s case.
Another element needed, since Shawn’s case asserted that the employer was “hostile to homosexuals,” was proof that the employer treated heterosexuals better than homosexuals. Shawn did not have that type of evidence either. An example of evidence that might have helped would have been if Shawn had presented proof that, in the 35 layoffs of 2009, the county disproportionately laid off homosexual employees while disproportionately retaining heterosexual employees. That might have been a very important piece of helpful evidence if it had existed and she had presented it.
Shawn’s case as a discrimination matter had multiple shortcomings. However, an employee who has been a victim of biased or offensive epithets may have other remedies besides a discrimination case. Epithets and slurs can, in some situations, potentially be the basis of a valid harassment case if the employee can show that the slurs and other workplace conduct combined to create a “hostile work environment.”
If you have suffered harassment or discrimination at work, do not suffer in silence. Take action and stand up for your rights by retaining the skilled Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our team has been working diligently on behalf of Northern California workers for a long time to pursue the compensation they deserve. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
California Diversity Manager Allowed to Resume Pursuing a Claim That His Employer Fired Him for Being ‘Too Gay’, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, June 28, 2017
California Counselor Allowed to Pursue Sexual Orientation Discrimination Case Even Though She Was Heterosexual, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Jan. 26, 2017