California Appeals Court Declines to Apply FEHA to Companies with Fewer than Five Permanent Employees

Hardin Law Group

California has some of the most employee-protective employment laws in the country. With the addition of the federal laws that protect employees nationwide, our state is one of the best states to be an employee. Unfortunately, not everyone is equally protected by our state’s employment laws. The California Court of Appeal recently issued a ruling that denied a woman’s claims of age and racial discrimination related to her firing, based on the amount of employees her employer retained.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in this case brought forth a claim of discrimination and harassment under California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act (FHEA), hoping to seek redress for the wrongs she alleged to have faced in her workplace. However, her claim was not substantively addressed by the trial court.. The primary reason for the rejection of her case was the fact that the defendant, her employer, did not meet the minimum requirement of having five or more employees, a criterion essential for the employment law under which she filed her complaint. The FHEA clearly stipulates that it applies only to employers with a minimum number of employees, and as such, her employer did not fall within the scope of entities covered by the law.

The Court’s Decision on Appeal

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that despite the employer not meeting the employee threshold, they had voluntarily agreed to abide by the employment law’s provisions. She contended that this voluntary agreement should subject the employer to the law, and therefore, her claim should be considered valid under its terms. However, the appellate court found no legal precedent or authority to support the extension of liability under this employment law to entities that do not qualify as employers under its clear definitions, even if they may have voluntarily agreed to its terms. The court noted that while such an agreement might suggest a different legal theory, such as a breach of contract, it did not suffice to bring the employer within the statutory requirements of the employment law in question.

Furthermore, the appellate court emphasized that the plaintiff did not assert a breach of contract claim or seek to amend her complaint to include such a cause of action. The court highlighted that her evidence, although potentially indicative of a breach of an express or implied agreement, did not align with the legal theory she pursued. Legal principles dictate that a party cannot oppose a motion for summary judgment based on a theory that was not initially pleaded, and the plaintiff failed to amend her complaint to reflect any alternative legal theories. This procedural oversight further weakened her case, as the court could not evaluate her claims under a legal framework that was not properly presented for consideration. As a result of the rulings, the plaintiff will be unable to obtain relief for her claims.

The Takeaway

This case underscores the critical importance of understanding and adhering to the specific legal and procedural requirements when bringing forth employment-related claims. Discrimination and harassment are serious issues, and it is crucial for individuals facing such circumstances to seek the guidance of skilled and professional counsel. An experienced attorney can ensure that the case is brought under the correct legal provisions and that all procedural requirements are met. This diligence not only ensures that the claim is evaluated on its merits but also maximizes the chances of achieving a fair and just outcome in the court of law.

Finding an Experienced Employment Law Attorney to Carefully Pursue Your Case

If you have questions about a potential California employment law claim, the skilled and knowledgeable employment law attorneys at Hardin Law Group have the experience for you to be comfortable with them handling your case. With our help, you can be confident that your claims are being pursued in the proper way, and that procedural mistakes will not prevent you from obtaining relief. If you have any questions, reach out and contact our experienced employment attorneys at Hardin Law Group to learn how to proceed with your claim. Contact us at (949) 337-4810 or reach out through our online form to schedule a free consultation.

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