What Is a Hostile Work Environment Under California Anti-Discrimination Laws?

Harassment in the workplace might seem like a harmless act, but this type of discrimination can be devastating. Not only can harassment lead to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and other harmful reactions, but it can also create an overall harmful environment that can make working difficult. A recent California state trial proves that the state has contradictory laws regarding harassment and hostile work environments.

What Happened in This California State Court Decision?

In Terris v. County of Santa Barbara, California’s intermediate appellate state court ruled that an employee living in the county failed to demonstrate that discriminatory remarks about the LGBTQ community made by her former employer’s CEO were connected to her job termination. The court upheld summary judgment in favor of the employer and against the former employee in her attempted wrongful termination suit. The employee and thirty others had been terminated because of budget shortages, but the former employee also claimed that the main motivating factor for her termination was that she was a lesbian. The employer’s CEO also used various derogatory insults while discussing the LGBTQ community eight years previously. The employer argued that the CEO was unaware of the former employee’s sexual orientation and that none of those slurs were directed at her.

What Does This Case Decision Have to Do with California’s Anti-Discrimination Laws?

After investigating the facts of the case, the court agreed that California’s Fair Employment Housing Act, or FEHA, is not a “civility code” and that derogatory and discriminatory language alone does not support a FEHA case. FEHA is supposed to provide California employees protection from discrimination, but with this case and other cases alike, alleged “stray” and “isolated” remarks are not supported as a civility code. In a similar case regarding Title VII and sexual harassment, the point was made that the law is directed at forbidding discrimination based on sex (or other defining characteristic), and not merely offensive connotations or remarks. The former employee in Terris v. County of Santa Barbara lost her case because she could not prove that there was actual direct discrimination or harassment aimed at her to cause her termination, and that the remarks made eight years ago did not constitute enough evidence.

If you have been facing harassment or discrimination at your workplace that has caused a hostile work environment, you could potentially have sufficient evidence to file a harassment lawsuit. Contact the Los Angeles hostile work environment lawyers at our firm today for a free consultation.

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