April 2020 employment law decisions
Gender discrimination verdict reversed based on trial court’s series of errors.
April 23, 2020, Second District Court of Appeal, Lauren Pinter-Brown v. The Regents of the University of California: Dr. Pinter-Brown sued The Regents for gender discrimination and a jury found in her favor and awarded $13 million in damages. The appellate court reversed because the trial court committed a series of errors that prejudiced The Regents’ right to a fair trial by an impartial judge: (1) the court delivered a presentation to the jury highlighting major figures in the civil rights movement and told the jury it was their duty to stand in the shoes of Dr. Martin Luther King; (2) the court allowed the jury to hear about and view a long list of discrimination complaints from across the entire UC system that were not connected to Dr. Pinter-Brown’s circumstances or theory of the case; (3) the court allowed the jury to learn the contents and conclusion of a report documenting racial discrimination occurring throughout the entire UCLA campus; and (4) the court allowed Dr. Pinter-Brown to resurrect a retaliation claim after the close of evidence despite having dismissed that claim prior to trial.
After-acquired evidence may be used in federal disability discrimination cases for the issue of whether the employee was qualified for their position.
April 17, 2020, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, Sunny Anthony v. TRAX International Corporation: Ms. Anthony sued TRAX for disability discrimination. During the course of the case, TRAX discovered that Ms. Anthony lacked a required degree for the position she held. The Ninth Circuit concluded that this “after-acquired evidence” could be used by TRAX to show that Ms. Anthony was not qualified for her position, and, therefore, not protected under the federal disability discrimination law.
Staffing agencies uninvolved in promotion decisions cannot be held liable for a failure to promote claim.
April 7, 2020, Second District Court of Appeal, Bonnie Ducksworth v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services et al.: Ms. Ducksworth and another employee, Pamela Pollock, sued Tri-Modal and two staffing agencies that supplied them to Tri-Modal for race discrimination in promotion decisions. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the case against the staffing agencies because they were uninvolved in Tri-Modal’s decisionmaking about whom to promote. Ms. Pollack also had a harassment claim against Tri-Modal’s executive vice president arising from promotion decisions. The Second District also affirmed the dismissal of Ms. Pollack’s case against the executive vice president because it was filed too late (statute of limitations). It determined that the statute of limitations began running when Tri-Modal told employees they have been given a promotion (and not when the promoted worker started the new work).
Federal sector employees may prove age discrimination without showing their age was the but-for cause for an adverse employment action.
April 6, 2020, U.S. Supreme Court, Babb v. Wilkie, Secretary of Veterans Affairs: The high court decided that the age discrimination law for federal-sector employees does not require a showing that age was a but-for cause of an adverse employment action. The law’s language that “all personnel actions affecting employees or applicants for employment who are at least 40 years of age…shall be made free from any discrimination based on age” creates a more protective standard as compared to the law covering state and private sector employees. At the same time, in order to recover reinstatement, backpay, and compensatory (non-economic) damages, federal employees must satisfy the but-for cause standard.
Payment of accrued vacation time required even when there is no specific time off limit.
April 1, 2020, Second District Court of Appeal, Teresa McPherson v. EF Intercultural Foundation, Inc.: California’s Labor Code requires an employer to pay all unused, vested (accrued or earned) vacation time when an employee separates. The court of appeal decided that under the circumstances of this particular case, this requirement applied to the employer’s paid time off policy in which it did not promise its employees a specific amount of paid vacation that they would accrue or expressly tell them the paid time off was unlimited (and a limit was implied). But the Second District also stated that the requirement to pay vested vacation time does not apply to all unlimited paid time off policies.