3 Lawsuits Changing the Landscape of California Employment Law

Labor lawsuits have risen to their highest peak in history, with nearly 100,000 claims filed in 2010, according to the EEOC. Incredibly, that number reflects a 31% increase from just 4 years ago! There is an endless stream of new court cases and decisions changing the employment landscape, making it extremely difficult for employers to stay ahead. Particularly in California, employment law is evolving faster than federal law, adding to the complexity of employment compliance.

In the first half of 2011, California employment and labor laws resulted in many important decisions that will directly affect how employers in the state relate to their employees. Many of these cases have already been decided by the California Supreme Court, while others are still pending.

Following is a brief summary of three key cases and an important “takeaway” for employers in each.

Box #1

Summary: Plaintiff was a senior Google executive and claimed he was discriminated against because of his age in a notoriously “young” corporate culture. To support his case, he relied on various comments from superiors and co-workers that his ideas were “outdated” or “too old to matter,” that he did not “fit culturally,” and that he was an “old man.” ” and an “old friend”. Google argued that none of these comments were made in connection with any employment decision and should be considered irrelevant “stray comments.”

The California Supreme Court rejected the notion that “stray comments” made by non-managerial staff or supervisors outside of the disciplinary process should carry no weight in court. Rather, such “stray observations” can and should be considered in the context of the evidence and could be used to reach a final decision.

Takeaway: All managers need to be aware of what is being said in the workplace, even in informal conversations between employees, and be proactive in eliminating derogatory or discriminatory comments.

Box #2

Summary: This employer’s corporate location was located in California, but it had employees who worked out of state. Due to different California overtime laws, the employer paid the out-of-state employee based on the employee’s state of residence and not according to California overtime regulations. The California Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case to determine whether the California Labor Code applies to overtime worked in California for a California-based employer by out-of-state workers.

Takeaway: While the case is still pending before the Supreme Court, employers should carefully review all state labor code guidelines.

Box #3

Summary: The EEOC sued a California airport services company based on a male employee’s claim that he was sexually harassed by a female co-worker and thus suffered a hostile work environment. The California Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a summary judgment for the employer, emphasizing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act gives men, like women, the right to protection from an abusive work environment. The California Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the male plaintiff.

Takeaway: Never tell a male employee to “be a man” or to “get over it,” if he’s alleging harassment. Take the complaint seriously and conduct a proper investigation.

In conclusion

Most work-related acts by employers toward employees are not intentionally bigoted, malicious, or discriminatory in nature. However, the complexity of California employment laws requires employers to exercise extreme caution when hiring employees and making employment decisions. In many cases, these actions can and will be brought against them in a labor lawsuit. As a reminder, California employment laws differ in many areas from federal laws, so consult legal counsel before making any questionable employment decisions or acts.

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