David Derr, a former employee of the Kern County Fire Department, filed a lawsuit against the department, his supervisor, James Rummell, and Kern County alleging Rummell repeatedly harassed Derr for having a lesbian daughter. After working for the department for nearly three decades, Derr resigned, contending Rummell began treating him differently when he discovered his daughter was a lesbian. Derr alleged that Rummell told Derr that his daughter made her decisions based on how Derr raised her, and that Rummell’s wife sent Derr an e-mail stating that Derr’s “embrace” of homosexuality was a “blatant opposition to the commands of God.”
Derr retired in 2009, citing the alleged verbal abuse he sustained about his daughter as one of the reasons for leaving. Following Derr’s filing of claims against the department, the trial court dismissed the case. However, in an unpublished decision, the California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Derr’s claim of harassment.
In so doing, the court held that Derr had sufficiently alleged a claim of harassment based on sexual orientation, even though the harassment was directed at Derr because of his daughter’s sexuality rather than his own. The court further noted that the department’s attempts to remedy the situation by transferring Rummell to a different station may affect the damages to which Derr would be entitled, but it would not affect the department’s liability for the original harassment.
The case serves as a reminder that harassment based on bias against a protected class of persons is prohibited even where such harassment is targeted against an individual based on his or her relationship with a person in that class.