New Laws

New Sexual Harassment Protection for Legislative Staff

AB403 Protects Legislative Staff from Sexual Harassment Retaliation

Employers cannot retaliate against employees for engaging in protected activity. This includes reporting or participating in an investigation regarding sexual harassment, health and safety issues, patient safety, and other violations of the law. Governor Brown signed AB403 extending similar protections to legislative employees. I suspect AB403 found so much support due to the numerous reports of inappropriate conduct in our legislature.

AB403 defines “Legislative employee” as “an individual, other than a Member of either house of the Legislature, who is, or has been, employed by either house of the Legislature. ‘Legislative employee’ includes volunteers, interns, fellows, and applicants.” Legislative employees are protected from retaliation when making a protected disclosure.

“Protected disclosure” means a “communication by a legislative employee that is made in good faith alleging that a Member of the Legislature or legislative employee engaged in, or will engage in, activity that may constitute a violation of any law, including sexual harassment, or of a legislative code of conduct.” This includes a complaint protected by California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The protected disclosure can be made to a number of agencies or any “individual with authority over the legislative employee, or another legislative employee who has authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation or noncompliance.”

So, an intern or volunteer can report concerns regarding inappropriate sexual harassment to his or her supervisor without fear of unlawful retaliation. The law is so important that it became effective when Governor Brown signed the bill on February 5, 2018.

AB403 has some unique features. Violators can be subject to $10,000 fine and imprisonment for up to a year. If the alleged victim brings a civil action and proves “by a preponderance of the evidence” t against a legislative employee,” the burden of proof then switches the allegedly offending party to demonstrate “by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged action would have occurred for legitimate, independent reasons even if the legislative employee had not made a protected disclosure.” A prevailing plaintiff can recover attorneys’ fees and punitive damages. Considering most claims against government entities and persons do not allow punitive damages, this last item is particularly significant.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

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