California Court of Appeals Revives Workplace Discrimination Claim Against City of San Francisco

Addressing issues with employment law in California can be a confusing and daunting task. Municipal, state and federal laws can have a bearing on a potential case, and civil, administrative, and even criminal laws and procedures may dictate what relief a plaintiff is entitled to. Usually, employees who have suffered unfair treatment or discrimination in the workplace are required to seek an administrative remedy before pursuing a civil claim in the state or federal court. A plaintiff’s failure to timely and adequately pursue an administrative remedy could prevent them from obtaining relief through a civil suit. The California Court of Appeals recently addressed an appeal filed by a woman whose workplace discrimination lawsuit had been dismissed for failing to properly seek an administrative remedy before filing the civil lawsuit.

In the recently decided case, the plaintiff is a woman who had been employed by the defendant, the City of San Francisco, for over 15 years when she developed a vision problem. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff’s vision problem resulted from a disability that developed in response to excessive computer use through the plaintiff’s career with the city. Upon the advice of her medical providers, the plaintiff requested to be reassigned to a job with limited computer use as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. After several months without a new work assignment, the plaintiff retired on July 30, 2016.

After leaving her post, the plaintiff sought administrative relief for her discrimination claim through the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Although she started the complaint process in February of 2016, the DFEH did not prepare a complaint for her to sign and submit until July 2, 2017. After completing the regulatory process through the DFEH, the plaintiff filed a civil claim in state court against the defendant, alleging discrimination and failure to accommodate her disability.

Under the law in effect at the time of the plaintiff’s filing of her complaint, the plaintiff must have exhausted all administrative remedies to a discrimination claim within one year of the most recent discriminatory action in order for the claim to be heard by the courts. Because the plaintiff’s complaint was not submitted until July 3, 2017 (one year and three days from the plaintiff’s retirement), the defendant asked the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim. The Court found that the plaintiff’s complaint was not timely filed on its face, and refused to consider her claim. The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the state Court of Appeals.

On appeal, the high court was sympathetic to the plaintiff’s arguments. Not only did she start the administrative complaint process nearly 6 months before the deadline, but she was told by the DFEH her complaint was progressing properly and she would be able to file with the courts within the deadline. Because the plaintiff did her due diligence and any delay was not her fault, the trial court’s dismissal of her complaint was reversed, and her discrimination claim will see its day in court. Between the time of the plaintiff’s retirement and today, the California legislature has modified the requirements for filing a discrimination lawsuit, giving plaintiffs three years from the date of the last violation, and starting the clock when the plaintiff first submits a complaint, not when the Department responds with a complaint to sign.

Do You Want to Learn How to Pursue an Employment Discrimination Claim?

Although the specific laws that gave the plaintiff such difficulty in this recent case have since been modified to make it easier for employees to make discrimination claims, such claims still face difficult procedural hurdles. Failure to properly follow the procedures on the first try could prevent an employee from obtaining the relief they deserve. If you have been discriminated against at work because of a disability, your race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or another characteristic, you may have a claim for employment discrimination. The experienced California employment law attorneys at The Nourmand Law Firm understand the procedures that must be followed to obtain our clients relief as quickly and easily as possible. For a free, no-obligation consultation with a California employment law attorney, call 310-553-3600 today.



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