Harris then filed a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against her employer. During the initial trialproceedings, a Los Angeles County jury ruled that Harris’ pregnancy was “a motivating factor” in her termination from her position and awarded her $177,905 in damages and the court awarded over $400,000 in attorneys’ fees. An appellate panel reversed the judgment because the “trial court should have instructed the jury that if itfound a mix of discriminatory and legitimate motives behind Harris’ firing, the city of Santa Monica couldescape liability by demonstrating that the legitimate reason alone would have led the driver’s supervisorsto terminate her,” court documents revealed.In the original case employers argued that they should only be held liable in circumstances where theemployee terminated could prove that the termination was based solely on the basis of discrimination.The California Supreme Court took a different view and ruled that if discrimination was a “substantial”factor in the termination of the employee, that an employer could still be held liable even if the employeewould have been fired for cause.“We believe that allowing a same-decision showing to immunize the employer … would tend to defeat thepurposes of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, Justice Goodwin Liu wrote for the court.“Such discrimination, even if not a ‘but for’ cause of the disputed employment action, would breed discordand resentment in the workplace if allowed to be committed with impunity.”“Although such remedies might help to ‘prevent and deter unlawful employment practices’… they woulddo so only at the cost of awarding plaintiffs an unjustified windfall and unduly limiting the freedom of employers to make legitimate employment decisions,” Liu further stated.This decision may ultimately raise more questions than it answers and the middle ground seems to haveleft both sides less than satisfied. Employers are often concerned about the legal costs of defending their actions, however the lack of clarity in defining what a “substantial factor” really is causes great concern toemployees. “As far as the employers are concerned, any incentive to treat their employees properly is auseful tool,” says Los Angeles employment attorney Eric Grover. “Employees who feel that they havebeen discriminated against should probably seek the counsel of an experiencedemployment law firmtohelp them determine whether they have a valid complaint and should proceed,” adds Grover.
Los Angeles, C.A.
San Francisco employment lawyer | Los Angeles employment attorney
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