Court Addresses Jury Instruction in California Hostile Workplace Lawsuit

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.

In this case, the plaintiff argued that the trial judge’s response to the jury’s inquiry, resulted in an exclusion of evidence. Here, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, after the trial judge answered the jury’s first question regarding the district’s failure to prevent a hostile work environment. The appeals court reasoned that the jury’s “yes” response to the verdict forms indicated that they did not interpret the judge’s answer as requesting that they disregard all relevant evidence. Further, the court found that the plaintiff did not present any evidence or analysis that explained how the trial judge’s answer resulted in the exclusion of relevant evidence or prejudice. The court affirmed the lower court’s ruling finding that the jury appropriately found that the district failed to prevent a hostile workplace, but the failure was not a substantial factor in the plaintiff’s harm.

Have You Been Discriminated Against by a California Employer?

If you have suffered employment discrimination by your California employer, contact The Nourmand Law Firm. The attorneys at our office maintain an active labor and employment practice, exclusively representing California employees. We handle California class-action lawsuits, defamation, discrimination and harassment, retaliation, illegal wage and hour practices, and wrongful termination. Our attorneys take on even the largest and high-power employers without hesitation. Contact our office at 800-700-WAGE to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced California employment attorneys. With our help, you can help put a stop to workplace discrimination.

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