Supreme Court rules in California discrimination case

The Supreme Court recently issued a ruling in the case of Harris v. City of Santa Monica, an employment discrimination case that could affect future charges of discrimination. The case revolved around a California city bus driver who was terminated from her employment six days after she told her employer that she was pregnant. She sued, alleging that she was fired because she was pregnant. Her employer responded that she was fired for having two accidents and being late for work multiple times.

A trial court sided with the employee, finding that her pregnancy was a motivating factor in her termination. But an appeals court overturned that verdict. They agreed that there was evidence of pregnancy discrimination but found a procedural error in the original case: the jury had not been instructed that the woman's employer could escape liability if it could prove that she would have been fired for legitimate reasons alone.

The case then went to the Supreme Court, where the justices agreed with the appeals court. They held that the jury should have received such an instruction. They also held that plaintiffs may be able to recover attorney fees and costs in cases where they are not awarded damages, but where there is evidence that discrimination occurred.

This case could make it more difficult for plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases to recover damages. Instead of merely proving that discrimination contributed to any adverse action taken against them at work, they must prove that such an action would not have occurred for legitimate reasons.

If you have been a victim of unfair treatment in the workplace, including discrimination, harassment or denial of wages, breaks or benefits, it is important to consult an experienced employment law attorney. He or she can work with you to assess your situation, plot an appropriate course of action and pursue any claims for damages you may have.

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle, "Discrimination ruling could hurt workers' lawsuits," Kathleen Pender, Feb. 16, 2013

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