Sexual Harassment Claims in California Just Got Easier With SB 292

Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld its earlier controversial ruling that a dentist could fire a female employee whom he found sexually “irresistible.”
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The all-male court upheld its decision saying that the termination was legal because it was based on the employer’s feelings and emotions – not on the employee’s gender. No matter that the employee had done nothing wrong.

Fullerton Sexual Harassment Lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows this has led to a great deal of outrage across the country. But at least in California, a recently-passed measure holds that when it comes to cases of sexual harassment, feelings don’t matter much at all.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed SB 292 into law, which holds that plaintiffs need not prove that sexually harassing conduct, as defined in the state’s Fair Employment Housing Act, was motivated by sexual desire.

The bill, drafted by Senate Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett (D-East Bay), was introduced following the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim in Kelley v. Conco Companies et al in the Court of Appeals of California, First District, Division Five.

In this case, a male apprentice iron worker complained that he was subjected to a barrage of sexually-demeaning and vile comments and gestures by a male supervisor over the course of his apprenticeship.

Those comments reportedly included expression of a desire to have sexual relations with the plaintiff, to force the plaintiff to engage in certain types of sexual actions and sexual comments pertaining to various parts of his body.

Male co-worker also reportedly subjected him to similar comments, which escalated to threats of physical violence due to his complaint against the supervisor. He was told that these comments were just “the way things are.”

When the union subsequently suspended him from the program and he was not rehired by the firm, he filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and retaliation.

The court found that because the supervisor was not sexually attracted to the plaintiff and his actions therefore not motivated by sexual desire, the sexual harassment case could not move forward. Specifically, the court stated that while the comments made to the plaintiff were offensive, crude and demeaning – as was clearly the intent – there is no evidence that they were an “expression of actual sexual desire or intent” by the supervisor.

“The mere fact that words may have sexual content or connotations or discuss sex is not sufficient to establish sexual harassment,” the justices wrote. “…Courts have routinely insisted on evidence that an alleged harasser was acting from genuine sexual interest before holding that the fact of a sexual proposition supported an inference of discrimination because of sex.”

This was widely seen as an erosion on the protections afforded workers against sexual harassment under state law.

Thankfully, the new bill changes that. As Corbett later explained, the measure will ensure that all workers in California who are sexually harassed are going to be afforded a wide range of protections – regardless of the aggressor’s underlying motivation.

Victims of sexual harassment in Fullerton may contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (888) 529-2188.

Additional Resources:
Governor signs Corbett bill protecting victims of sexual harassment, Aug. 13, 2013, By Jeb Bing, Pleasanton Weekly
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Sex Harassment Allegations Force Radio Host Off Air, Aug. 5, 2013, Fullerton Sexual Harassment Lawyer Blog