Employment Law Alert: Sexual Harassment Can Constitute a Hate Crime
A California Court of Appeal recently held that employees who experience sexual harassment in the workplace may sue their employer as well as the alleged harasser under the Ralph Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code §51.7). Section 51.7 is a “hate crime” statute which provides recovery of damages, civil penalties, and attorney’s fees. Unlike when a plaintiff pursues a sexual harassment claim under the federal Title VII or the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the plaintiff employee can proceed directly to court without first exhausting his or her administrative remedies.
The Court of Appeal in Ventura v. ABM Industries, Inc. held that Section 51.7 applies to claims for sexual harassment in the workplace. In doing so, it rejected the employer’s argument that the defendant supervisor’s acts of sexual harassment toward his female employee were motivated by love and affection rather than hate. The Court of Appeal found that the statute does not require that the offensive actions be extreme or motivated by hate, and that even if hate was a required element under the statute, a jury could find that evidence of harassing conduct was based on hate.
The holding in Ventura v. ABM Industries, Inc. opens the door for employees to claim violations of the Ralph Civil Rights Act for harassment based not only on sex, but also on race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or any other protected category. It underscores the importance of providing training on recognizing and preventing harassment in the workplace, and on how to respond to employee complaints. Please remember that 2013 is a compliance year for AB 1825 training for most California employers, and your AB 1825 training should contain a discussion of the Ralph Civil Rights Act.
For more information about the Ralph Civil Rights Act or AB 1825 training, please contact any member of Berliner Cohen’s Employment Law & Litigation Group:
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