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No personal liability in FEHA retaliation cases

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

The California Supreme Court has ruled that managers and supervisors shouldn’t be held personally responsible when an employee wins a retaliation claim under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Recent case: Scott Jones sued his employer, The Lodge at Torrey Pines, and his supervisor for sexual orientation discrimination. He claimed that after he told his supervisor to refrain from making derogatory remarks about women and homosexuals, he was punished by being excluded from meetings. Plus, he said his supervisor kept using offensive language.

The California Supreme Court had to decide whether supervisors can be held financially responsible for retaliating against Jones. It concluded they could not. It listed five reasons:

  1. Supervisors can avoid harassment (for which they may be personally liable), but they have to follow their organization’s personnel decisions (which is the context for retaliation).
  2. Employment decisions are usually collective, not individual.
  3. Holding individuals liable is unfair if they are following company policies.
  4. It is bad public policy to make individuals worry about lawsuits every time they make personnel decisions.
  5. Because the FEHA doesn’t cover employers with fewer than five employees, it makes no sense to hold individuals liable.

The court then sent the case back to the trial court to resolve other issues. (Jones v. The Lodge at Torrey Pines Partnership, No. S151022, California Supreme Court, 2008)

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