California Appellate Court Finds Employees Must Show Discrimination Was A “Substantial Motivating Factor”

Alamo v. Practice Management Information Corp., No. B230909 (September 5, 2013): In Alamo, a former employee who was fired upon her return from maternity leave brought a lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. After the trial judge partially granted and partially denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment, the case was heard by a jury. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the employee and awarded her damages in the amount of $10,000. The trial judge then awarded attorneys’ fees and costs to Alamo as the prevailing plaintiff under FEHA.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. The employer, Practice Management Information Corp. (PMIC), filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court, which granted the petition and held the case while it decided a related issue in Harris v. City of Santa Monica. Once Harris was decided, the state high court directed the appellate court to reconsider the issues in light of Harris.

On remand, the Court of Appeal reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding that the trial court erred when it instructed the jury that the employee must prove that her pregnancy-related leave was “a motivating reason” for her discharge, rather than “a substantial motivating reason.” However, the Court of Appeal determined that the trial court did not err by instructing the jury that the employee had to establish that the employer discriminated against her “because” she took a pregnancy-related leave. Further, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court in refusing to give the jury a “mixed-motive” or “same decision” instruction because PMIC did not raise this defense in its answer to the lawsuit. Therefore, the employer waived the defense.

Note: This article was published in the October 25, 2013 issue of the California eAuthority.

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Alamo v. Practice Management Information Corp., No. B230909 (September 5, 2013): In Alamo, a former employee who was fired upon her return from maternity leave brought a lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. After the trial judge partially granted and partially denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment, the case was heard by a jury. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the employee and awarded her damages in the amount of $10,000. The trial judge then awarded attorneys’ fees and costs to Alamo as the prevailing plaintiff under FEHA.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. The employer, Practice Management Information Corp. (PMIC), filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court, which granted the petition and held the case while it decided a related issue in Harris v. City of Santa Monica. Once Harris was decided, the state high court directed the appellate court to reconsider the issues in light of Harris.

On remand, the Court of Appeal reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding that the trial court erred when it instructed the jury that the employee must prove that her pregnancy-related leave was “a motivating reason” for her discharge, rather than “a substantial motivating reason.” However, the Court of Appeal determined that the trial court did not err by instructing the jury that the employee had to establish that the employer discriminated against her “because” she took a pregnancy-related leave. Further, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court in refusing to give the jury a “mixed-motive” or “same decision” instruction because PMIC did not raise this defense in its answer to the lawsuit. Therefore, the employer waived the defense.

Note: This article was published in the October 25, 2013 issue of the California eAuthority.