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Five Female Prosecutors from Northern California Survive a Motion to Dismiss in Their Federal Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

If you decide to take your discrimination case to federal court, it is important to be aware that your employer has several tools it may deploy to try to get your case thrown out. One is the “motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.” This is a very important part of the process because, if you lose this motion, you recover nothing. To make sure that you are prepared to win this and all the other motions that occur pre-trial, make sure you have an experienced Oakland workplace discrimination lawyer on your side from the very start.

A group of five female prosecutors from Contra Costa County faced, and overcame, that kind of challenge. The women sued the county and the District Attorney’s Office in federal court, laying out a case with a variety of alleged instances where sex bias affected assignments and promotions.

The women asserted that the employer engaged in “systematically demoting and failing to advance, promote and assign supervisory roles to qualified” female prosecutors while, at the same time, systemically offering promotions to more junior male prosecutors. This process resulted in three-quarters of all prosecutors having a man as a supervisor and, in some situations, less experienced male prosecutors “supervising higher ranking, advanced level female prosecutors.”

The employer tried to get the case tossed based on a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A 12(b)(6) motion is one where the defendant argues that the plaintiff’s assertions are insufficient to make out a valid claim under the cause of action stated. In other words, the employer was arguing that the female prosecutors’ allegations, even if the court believed all of them, didn’t make out a valid case of sex discrimination under Title VII.

The trial judge disagreed, as the female employees’ case had allegations that covered each of the critical elements of a federal sex discrimination case. To state a valid claim, you need to assert that (1) you were a member of a protected class, (2) you were qualified for your job, (3) you suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) your membership in that protected class was a motivating factor in that adverse action.

These prosecutors all clearly stated that they were women (a protected class) and were qualified for the prosecutorial jobs they held. They also laid out some employment actions that clearly were adverse. One woman allegedly was demoted from a supervisory position to a lower position with less pay and that was usually held by a more inexperienced attorney. Two other women asserted that the employer passed them over for promotions, selecting men with inferior qualifications instead. Another woman allegedly had her supervisory role reduced.

This, according to the judge, was enough. Each of the women, according to the court, “alleged facts giving rise to a plausible inference that she was subjected to at least one (and often more than one) adverse employment action on the basis of her gender.”

What a case like this can tell you is that you do not need to spell out every little thing in your complaint. Your complaint does not need to say that, “On date X, Supervisor Y demoted me and told me that he was demoting me because I was a woman” to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state claim. You just need allegations covering your status, your qualifications, the adverse action you experienced, and discriminatory motive.

Succeeding in your employment discrimination case is about more than being ready to win at trial. If you’re not prepared to succeed in the pre-trial phase, you may never make it to trial. Make sure you are ready to win at every phase of the process by retaining the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Attorney Fuerch is a knowledgeable Oakland workplace discrimination attorney who has many years of helping workers to navigate the process and achieve positive outcomes. Contact this office through our website or call (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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