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California Appeals Court Reverses Judgment on Sexual Harassment & Retaliation Claim

Posted by Eric Kingsley | May 29, 2014 | 0 Comments

Background

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The plaintiff, Brian Lewis worked at the City of Benicia's water treatment plant, first as a volunteer and paid intern in 2008, and then again as a volunteer from January to May 2009. Lewis, a heterosexual man, sued his former employer, the City of Benicia (referred to as “City”), and two former supervisors asserting claims under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA; Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.) for sexual harassment and the City for retaliation. Lewis alleged Steve Hickman (Lewis's supervisor during his first volunteer period and most of his paid internship) and Rick Lantrip (Lewis's supervisor during the last few weeks of his paid internship and during his second volunteer period) sexually harassed him. Lewis alleged the City retaliated against him for complaining about the harassment and for participating in an investigation of Hickman that resulted in Hickman's retiring in lieu of termination.

In summary, Lewis's complaint asserted causes of action against the City, Hickman and Lantrip for sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and failure to prevent sexual harassment, and a cause of action against the City for retaliation.

Trial Court Results

The trial court granted summary judgment for Hickman and Lantrip. The court later granted the City's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and failure to prevent sexual harassment.

At the conclusion of the trial on the retaliation claim, the jury returned a special verdict, finding (1)Lewis participated in protected activity, (2) the City engaged in conduct that materially and adversely affected the terms and conditions of Lewis's employment, and (3) Lewis's participation in protected activity was a motivating reason for the City's adverse actions, but (4) the City's conduct was not a substantial factor in causing harm to Lewis. In other words, the City prevailed at trial on the retaliation claim.

Appellate Court Decision

On appeal, Lewis challenged the grants of summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings, and argued evidentiary and other errors require reversal as to retaliation. On March 26, 2014, the appellate court reversed the summary judgment as to Hickman, affirmed summary judgment as to Lantrip, and reversed the judgment on the pleadings for the City. As to retaliation, the appellate court concluded the trial court prejudicially erred in excluding certain evidence at trial, and the appellate court reversed the judgment for the City on the retaliation claim.

More details of the case and the opinion of the California Appellate Court can be found here.

Have Questions about Sexual Harassment or Retaliation?

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About the Author

Eric Kingsley

In practice since 1996, the firm's lawyer and co-founder, Eric B. Kingsley, has litigated complex cases and written numerous appeals in state and federal courts on behalf of the California law firm Kingsley & Kingsley, including More than 150 collective actions. Mr. Kingsley focuses his practice ...

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