New Statute Widens the Parameters of California’s Non-Discrimination Protections

In the wake of a controversial termination of a San Diego schoolteacher who was a victim of domestic violence, the California legislature has passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed, a new law expanding the reach of the state’s anti-discrimination laws to include victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. The new prohibitions in Senate Bill 400 bar employers from terminating, discriminating against or retaliating against employees based solely upon their status as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

The trigger for this new law was the case of Carie Charlesworth, a second-grade teacher at Holy Trinity School in San Diego County. In January 2013, despite several restraining orders, Charlesworth’s ex-husband came to the school parking lot, leading to a school “lockdown.” After the lockdown incident, the Diocese of San Diego terminated her, citing safety concerns.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2014, employers may no longer take a similar course of action. This prohibition exists even if the employer determines that the abuser or stalker presents a genuine threat of harm to other employees or (in the case of schools) students.

Additionally, under the statute, if an employee notifies his/her employer of his/her status as a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking, and the employee requests accommodations based upon that status, then the employer bears an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to that employee. This requires an interactive process between the employer and requesting employee to arrive at the terms of the accommodation. Accommodations might range from a changed work telephone number or the installation of a door lock to a transfer or a reassignment.

Employers need not provide an accommodation if it would constitute an undue hardship on the employer’s business operations or if providing the accommodation would place it in violation of California’s OSHA rules. Employers are entitled to request a certification of need for accommodation. This documentation may take the form of: (1) a police report that shows that the employee was a victim of stalking, sexual assault or domestic violence, (2) a court document, including a court order, demonstrating that the employee went to a court or prosecutor seeking an order of protection, or (3) documents from a licensed health care provider or counselor showing that the employee was seeking treatment in connection with his/her status as a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking.

An employer who receives such documents from an employee must keep the information confidential and must notify the employee before making any authorized disclosure of the information that the employee provided.

The law imposes many requirements on employers in order to ensure that they treat all employees fairly, regardless of their status, including their status as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. If you believe that your employer has taken improper action against you based on your protected status, contact the Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch can help you analyze your case and decide on a plan that serves your needs and protects your rights. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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