In recent months, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has settled a number of employment cases, and, compared to previous years, enforcement looks as if it’s been stepped up.
Here’s just a sampling of employment settlements in the past few months:
- July 17, 2018 — National Origin/Age/Disability Discrimination: Alleged stereotypical and biased comments against a 64-year old Latina woman working at a rehabilitation center led to a $75,000 settlement on behalf of the employee. The employee claimed harassment and discrimination based on national origin, age and perceived disabilities. Management allegedly made national origin comments about Latinos not wanting to prosper; made ageist/ablest comments that she was going to fall and get hurt; threw things at her; physically assaulted her; and subjected her to unwarranted discipline. The employee also alleged that she was terminated in order to replace her with a younger white man. Management allegedly terminated three older Latina cooks and replaced them with employees under 40 years of age. “Comments based on stereotypes related to race, age, national origin, or disability are direct evidence that an employment decision was made for discriminatory reasons,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish, in a statement.
- July 16, 2018 — Pregnancy Discrimination: A waitress at a bar claimed that when the owner learned she was pregnant, he harassed her, changed her work schedule and, eventually, fired her. The bar will pay the waitress $15,000 and also take remedial action, including mandatory training for all employees for the next five years. “Expectant mothers are entitled to work without fear of demotion, termination, or ridicule because they are pregnant,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish, in a statement. “It is unlawful for employers to harass or take action against an employee because she is pregnant or may become pregnant.”
- July 11, 2018 — English Only Policy: The DFEH reached a settlement with a large retailer involving Latino workers in a San Francisco store who alleged they were banned from speaking Spanish during breaks and morning greetings. The DFEH filed the civil lawsuit on behalf of three employees who complained that the store’s “English-only” policies violated the law and who also alleged that they were subject to retaliatory harassment and hostility after complaining. The store agreed to pay the workers $90,000 and severance packages. The store must also take remedial measures such as revising policies, informing workers of their rights and agreeing to compliance monitoring for three years. “Such English-only rules that are applied at all times, that are not justified by a legitimate business necessity, run afoul of the FEHA,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish, in a statement. Keep in mind that the DFEH recently updated national origin protections.
- May 16, 2018 — Sexual Harassment: A flower farm agreed to pay $15,000 and implement anti-harassment policies after reaching a settlement with the DFEH in a sexual harassment case. The worker filed a DFEH complaint alleging that two of her male co-workers made sexually harassing comments over several months, as well as engaged in staring, leering, winking and licking their lips. The worker claimed that her employer failed to take adequate action upon being told of the harassing behavior and fired her in retaliation for her complaint. “Employers have a duty to investigate complaints of sexual harassment and take corrective action when the complaints are substantiated,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish, in a statement. “Employers that retaliate against people who make complaints of workplace sexual harassment can expect to be held accountable.”
If you receive an agency discrimination charge against your company, consult with legal counsel or other experienced resources immediately. Charges can range from the simple and quickly addressed to more complex with a large liability risk.
Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Senior Employment Law Counsel
Want to hear what DFEH Director Kevin Kish has to say regarding trends, enforcement priorities and upcoming regulations? Join us at CalChamber’s upcoming HR Symposium on November 2, 2018, where Director Kish will be the keynote speaker. CalChamber’s HR Symposium is a full day packed with hot HR compliance topics, top experts and key insiders.