California Appellate Court Decides Against an Employee Claiming Racial Discrimination

In a recent opinion decided by the Napa County Superior Court, the court decided against the plaintiff in an employment lawsuit, bringing to light the importance of meeting filing deadlines and understanding and following the legal rules put in place regarding certain filing requirements. In this case, an employee of the California Department of State Hospitals was disciplined by her employer with a temporary salary reduction and was later terminated. The employee unsuccessfully challenged the salary reduction and termination in administrative proceedings before the State Personnel Board but failed to seek judicial review of those adjudications. She ultimately sued the Department under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act for retaliation, race-based harassment, and failure to prevent harassment. She also amended her complaint to assert a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act.

The plaintiff was a Black woman who was employed by the Department. She filed the lawsuit in April 2019 and filed her first amended complaint in March 2021. The amended complaint, amongst multiple other incidents, alleges multiple incidents of racist terms by coworkers and alleges multiple instances of disciplinary actions that the plaintiff believed were in retaliation for reporting her coworker’s racist comments. The incidents span from 2015 to 2018. The Plaintiff appealed to the State Personnel Board, and after two-day evidentiary hearings, the Board sided against the plaintiff.

Ultimately, the higher court that reviewed the Plaintiff’s case found against her for multiple reasons. One reason provided is that two events that she discussed in her complaint occurred much earlier and were outside of the filing deadline. The court also considered whether certain claims she made were barred because they were not distinguishable from earlier claims made. Additionally, the court found that her whistleblower claim was barred because she failed to exhaust administrative remedies. In other words, because the plaintiff did not seek judicial review of the administrative decisions that the State Personnel Board made by timely filing a required petition, she was no longer able to bring the claims that she brought. Certain legal rules require that all judicial remedies are exhausted first. This means that the legal rules prevent plaintiffs from bringing claims that should have been brought in a previous suit involving the same parties and also bars litigating the same issues that were argued and decided in the first suit.

These legal rules seek to enhance the efficiency of courts but can be complex and difficult for everyday citizens to understand when these legal rules may or may not apply and to which issues they apply specifically. Because it can be difficult to navigate such legal rules alone without a legal education, this case highlights the importance of connecting with experienced attorneys early on, even during the administrative proceedings stage, because filing deadlines and other legal rules can impact your court case in the long run.

Are You in Need of a California Employment Law Attorney?

Do you have claims against your employer but are unsure which steps to take and how to navigate complex legal rules? Contact a California employment lawyer today to discuss your situation. The attorneys at The Nourmand Law Firm will review every possible avenue for recovery. For a free, no-obligation consultation with a California employment law attorney, call us today at 310-553-3600.

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