Remember, ‘persons’ can report FEHA violations–even if they’re partners in the business

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The Court of Appeal of California has ruled for the first time that a partner who reports sexual harassment is protected from retaliation under the Fair Employment and Hous­­­­ing Act (FEHA). Until now, the conventional wisdom was that a partner reporting the partnership’s wrongdoing to the partnership wasn’t covered by the FEHA retaliation provisions.

Recent case: Mary worked as an emergency room doctor for the California Emergency Physicians Medical Group. She was one of 700 partners in a medical practice working in hospitals throughout the state. At one point, she supervised staff at four hospitals.

Mary claimed subordinates were being sexually harassed and reported it to the board of directors. Soon, she was demoted and lost her supervisory position. She did continue to work at one of the hospitals but without any employees under her direction.

Mary sued the partnership (and therefore herself) for retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. The trial court tossed out the case be­­cause she was a partner and not an employee.

The Court of Appeal of California reversed. It reasoned that FEHA protects “persons” from retaliation for reporting discrimination, and concluded that partners are also persons. The case was sent back for trial. (Fitzsimons v. California Emer­­gency Physicians Medical Group, No. A131604, Court of Appeal of Cali­­for­­nia, 1st Appellate District, 2012)

Final note: The court’s liberal interpretation of “person” was consistent in its broad view that FEHA was intended to eliminate discrimination in the workplace.

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