A Plaintiff’s Evidentiary Burdens in a California Employment Discrimination Case

Recently the Court of Appeals issued a decision in a California employment discrimination case involving several claims, including pregnancy-related and sex discrimination. The plaintiff asserts that her employer, a dental group, terminated her position because she attempted to become pregnant. In response, the defendant argued that the decision did not stem from discrimination. Instead, the defendant contended that the company was undergoing a reorganization; the plaintiff lost her job because her performance scores put her at the bottom of the metric they used to rate employee performance.

Under California law, courts use the federal burden-shifting test for evaluating wrongful discharge lawsuits. In these cases, plaintiffs must show that the employer’s actions were more likely than not based on a prohibited discriminatory criterion. If the plaintiff meets this burden, a presumption of discrimination arises, and the employer must establish a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for their action. If the employer meets this burden, the burden shifts back onto the employee to establish “substantial evidence” that the defendant’s nondiscriminatory reason was pre-textual or that the employer acted with animus.

Under this framework, an employee’s evidence is subject to scrutiny, and their subjective belief does not create a genuine issue of material fact. Instead, the proffered evidence must establish a causal link between the employer’s motivation and termination. Moreover, circumstantial evidence of discrimination must be “substantial” and specific.”

In this case, the plaintiff contends that the company’s evidence of her low performance was insufficient to establish that her termination did not stem from an unlawful bias. The employer countered that they made a lawful business decision to lay off the lowest-scoring employees of each team. In response, the plaintiff proffered evidence that her supervisor made statements of budgeting for a new employee in the event of the plaintiff’s maternity leave. Further, she argued that a jury could infer discrimination because the employer retained other professionals who rated lower than her.

In this case, the court found that the supervisor’s statement did not meet the “substantial and specific” standard because it occurred before the company’s reorganization endeavor. Moreover, the plaintiff failed to dispute that the similarly situated plaintiffs were not on her team and did not have the lowest scores within their teams. Therefore, the company’s decision to retain those employees were consistent with their layoff metric. Ultimately, the court found that the plaintiff did not meet her evidentiary burden to establish discrimination.

Have You Experienced an Unlawful Firing or Layoff?

If you or someone you know believes that you or they have experienced employment discrimination, contact the California employment law attorneys at The Nourmand Law Firm. The attorneys at our office exclusively represent and advocate on behalf of employees. Our firm handles California employment law matters stemming from discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, retaliation, wage and hour law, class actions, and defamation. Our skilled attorneys possess an in-depth understanding of complex employment law issues that impact California employees. Contact our office at 310-553-3600 to discuss your rights and remedies after experiencing any type of discrimination in the workplace.

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