When Do California Courts Admit Evidence of Employment Discrimination?

Hardin Law Group

When a person files a lawsuit alleging employment discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, they often must introduce evidence to substantiate their claims. Plaintiffs must explain why their evidence is admissible. For example, courts often will not admit statements from someone who is not present during a trial or hearing if a party uses the out-of-court statement to prove their claim. Additionally, courts often require authentication of documents submitted into evidence to ensure the parties did not alter the documents. Employees who represent themselves in a lawsuit may not understand the complex rules around the admissibility of evidence. A recent California appellate decision demonstrates the importance of retaining a competent employment lawyer who can make strong arguments for the admissibility of your evidence.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the employer hired the employee as a dentist. The employee alleged that she experienced various instances of harassment. The employee also alleged that her employer retaliated against her for raising a health and safety issue when her colleagues wore their lab coats into the bathroom. Around this time, the employee received a written evaluation citing dozens of performance issues, including insubordination and failure to meet her job description.

The employer warned that additional performance concerns could result in termination. Due to the stress of the alleged harassment, the employee was diagnosed with “Delusion Disorder” and requested to only come into work if she felt well enough to manage her stress. The employer denied her request, finding that her requested disability accommodation was not reasonable. Shortly thereafter, the employer fired the employee. The employer filed a lawsuit for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, including wrongful termination. Even though she was not a lawyer, the employee represented herself in the lawsuit. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, and the employee appealed. Once again, she represented herself.

The Court’s Decision

On appeal, the employee challenged the summary judgment ruling and attempted to submit unauthenticated documents to support her appeal. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. First, the court explained that the employee failed to present admissible evidence. The employee attached several documents to her complaint, but she did not explain why the court should admit them into evidence or why they were authentic copies. When a party wants to introduce evidence but fails to assert a reason for admissibility, they cannot argue on appeal that the evidence was admissible. The court also found that the plaintiff failed to provide specific reasons why the trial court erred.

The court further held that the employer met its initial burden for summary judgment. The employee’s evidence of harassment was not admissible because it relied on hearsay, which is an out-of-court statement by someone else that a party asserts as true. The court also found that the employer presented sufficient evidence of legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for firing the employee. Specifically, there was no evidence that the termination resulted from the employee raising health or safety concerns about wearing lab coats to the bathroom. On the remaining counts, the court also affirmed summary judgment. Even if the employee’s evidence was admissible, it was insufficient to prove her allegations sufficient to survive a motion for summary judgment. Therefore, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

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If you have questions about the evidence required to succeed on a claim of employment discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, contact the Hardin Law Group to discuss your case.

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