A state appellate court recently issued a decision in a plaintiff’s appeal regarding a trial court’s response to a jury question in a California hostile workplace lawsuit. The plaintiff alleged that she was sexually harassed by the principal of a school where she taught. She claimed that starting around September 2013 the principal sexually harassed her, resulting in a hostile work environment. The complaint also alleged that the school district failed to take the steps necessary to prevent harassment and retaliation.
In this case, the court instructed the jury that the plaintiff’s claim for failure to prevent a hostile workplace required that she establish that the principal and school district failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent retaliation, and their failure was a substantial factor in her harm. During the trial, the jury asked the trial judge whether these questions referred to allegations before September 2013. The court instructed the jury to only consider the period after September 2013, reasoning that there was no evidence to substantiate any harassment before that time. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the instruction excluded relevant evidence, ultimately denying her rights to a constitutional jury trial.
The California Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA), protects employees from discrimination and harassment in employment based on their protected class. The law prevents discrimination based on a person’s race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, sex, age, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, AIDS/HIV, medical condition, political affiliations, military status, and status as a victim of domestic violence or assault. In these cases, the plaintiff/employee bears the ultimate burden of proof.