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Employment Law Alert: Sexual Harassment Can Constitute a Hate Crime

April 9, 2013 |
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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:

Roberta S. Hayashi, 
Christine H. Long,
Susan E. Bishop,
Kara L. Arguello, 

©2013 Berliner Cohen. This article is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice or a solicitation for the formation of an attorney-client relationship and no attorney-client relationship is created through your use of the Berliner Site or your receipt of the materials.

Berliner Cohen’s experienced employment law attorneys advise and represent employers and managers on a full range of legal issues affecting the workplace, including harassment and discrimination, unfair competition and trade secrets, wrongful discharge, wage and hour issues, and labor disputes. Berliner Cohen is one of the largest and oldest law firms in San Jose serving the business and regulatory needs of private business and public agencies in Northern California. For over 45 years, the Firm has developed the special expertise required by a diverse client base consisting of nationally recognized business interests and a number of Silicon Valley’s largest national and multinational corporations, new ventures, leading real estate developers and brokerages, cutting-edge technology companies, healthcare and other service providers, banking and financial institutions, municipalities, public agencies and individuals. Berliner Cohen also meets the growing demands of the Central Valley with its expanding offices in Merced and Modesto.