The Ninth Circuit recently released an opinion that upholds the burden of proof that an employer must claim in retaliatory discharge lawsuits. In Westendorf v. West Coast Contractors (9th Cir. 2013) an employee alleged that her male employee and supervisor made sexist remarks towards her. The remarks allegedly included suggestions that the employee wear a French maid’s uniform; and also involved obscene comments about tampons, women’s breasts and orgasms.
The employee made a formal complaint to her company’s president. The president allegedly reprimanded the supervisor but apparently did not seem to take the allegations seriously. The employee then alleged that the supervisor began making strange demands of her and harshly criticizing her for not following them. She complained a second time to the company president, who she says exclaimed that he was tired of listening to her and thought it was ”would be best if she got her personal items and left.” At which point she was escorted off the building. The company president alleges she had quit, but the employee maintained that she was wrongfully discharged for reporting sexual harassment.
The employee sued the company alleging it had created a hostile work environment and that it retaliated against her for speaking out about it. The district court dismissed the employee’s case on the grounds that she had been unable to prove either claim in the complaint. However, on appeal the Ninth Circuit found that the retaliation claim should not have been dismissed.
The Ninth Circuit held that because the company failed to provide any explanation for the alleged firing except that the employee quit, it could not get the case dismissed. The court highlighted that even if the company defended itself by saying that they fired the employee because of the employee’s failure to follow the strange directions that her supervisor gave her, that the reasoning would be pretextual because the employee had no record of insubordination before she complained about the harassment.
An Important Precedent
This case sets helpful precedent for employees in discrimination and harassment retaliation cases because it shows that when an employer fails to provide a reason for a termination or provides a frivolous reason, the employer cannot get the case dismissed early.
Wrongful termination because of sexual harassment and discrimination is illegal. To learn more about how to exercise your legal rights, contact the experienced California Employment Law Attorneys of Baker Law Group, LLP. Call (858) 452-0093 to schedule your free consultation.