The following is a reminder about a wake-up call to employers. The California Fair Employment & Housing Commission (“FEHC”) issued a decision which held that an employer can be liable for failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment even if there is no underlying discrimination or harassment. Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) v. Lyddan Law Group, LLP.
In this case, a paralegal alleged that her supervisor sexually and racially harassed her. The FEHC found that alleged conduct did not constitute sexual or racial harassment. However, the employer was found liable in failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring. The employer: (1) did not have a written anti-harassment policy; (2) did not conduct trainings for its managers or employees in harassment or discrimination prevention; and, (3) failed to investigate after the paralegal complained of the harassment.
The FEHC is a quasi-judicial administrative agency which enforces California civil rights and other laws regarding discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The FEHC conducts hearings and issues administrative decisions in cases prosecuted before it by the California DFEH. If it finds an unlawful practice occurred, it can order a range of remedies including back pay, compensatory damages, administrative fines and civil penalties, injunctive relief, and reinstatement. The FEHC’s decision can be appealed to California Superior Court for review.
What does this mean to employers? Employers may be liable for failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment, even if there is no underlying discrimination or harassment according to the FEHC. The administrative case further reinforces the importance of employers to maintain written anti-harassment policies, conduct trainings for managers and employees in harassment and discrimination prevention, and timely investigate claims of such conduct.