Monthly Archives: February 2013

PIVOTAL EMPLOYMENT CASE DECIDED BY THE CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT

On February 7, 2013, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Harris v. The City of Santa Monica, a landmark case addressing situations where an employer’s actions are motivated by a mix of legitimate and allegedly discriminatory motives.  The court exhaustively analyzes the legislative and case history of both California FEHA and Title VII, looking at what level of causal connection is required by the phrase “because of” in statutes which prohibit adverse employment action because of a person’s race, sex, age, etc.  The Court ruled that a plaintiff must show that the discrimination was a “substantial factor” in the adverse decision.  The part of the decision that may prove to be most beneficial to employers is the analysis of the damages available to a plaintiff in a mixed motive case.  The Court ruled that when an employer proves that it would have made the decision anyway, absent discrimination, the plaintiff may not receive an award of damages, back-pay, or an order of reinstatement.  Further, a plaintiff would not be able to recover for emotional distress as the Court determined that a jury would not be able to distinguish between the emotional distress naturally caused by a termination of employment and any alleged distress caused by discrimination.  However, in order to effectuate the statute’s deterrent purpose, declaratory and injunctive relief may be granted, and a plaintiff may be eligible to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees.