A California appellate court ruled in Steele v. Youthful Offender Parole Bd. 2008 WL 204319; May 19th 2008 that a company had retaliated against one of its employees (apparently, stemming from the fact she entered into a bikini contest), and awarded her $9,000 in economic damages, and a whopping $146,000 in attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party in a FEHA action.
The facts were briefly that a female employee was kissed by a co-worker at a bikini contest outside of work hours; her supervisor heard about the incident (the female was not concerned—taken aback, but not offended) and investigated. A series of events spun out of control, which resulted in the female employee receiving a written reprimand. The supervisor went even further, and:
- Had the employee written up twice for poor work performance
- Told the employee it would be in her best interests to find another job
- Left four job announcements on her chair (so she could transfer to another job)
- Allowed a co-worker to go through her trash
- Gave her a 30-day warning to start doing her job properly or she would be suspended
- Changed her work hours so they were less desirable
As a result, the employee took sick leave and resigned—and then filed suit. The court concluded she had been wrongfully forced to quit her job, and that the above conduct was evidence of retaliation. This case seems to suggest that an over zealous supervisor can unintentionally retaliate against an employee, while trying to protect the company from a potential claim.
If you or your company has any questions on how to avoid or defend against a retaliation claim by a California employee, please contact Neil Klein.