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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.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law. We cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice over the Internet. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Using this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. Using the Internet or this blog to communicate with the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Do not post confidential or time-sensitive information in this blog. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted to this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Pleasanton, Oakland, San Ramon, Hayward, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.

New Law Prohibits Sexual Orientation Violence

Existing law prohibits “gender violence.” Gender violence includes, “A physical intrusion or physical invasion of a sexual nature under coercive conditions.”  It does not matter whether or not those acts have resulted in criminal complaints, charges, prosecution, or conviction.  However, gender violence could also include conduct that would:

constitute a criminal offense under state law that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, committed at least in part based on the gender of the victim, whether or not those acts have resulted in criminal complaints, charges, prosecution, or conviction.

New Law Prohibits Sexual Orientation Violence

Effective January 1, 2016, a new law expands protection to persons suffering violence as a result of their sexual orientation.  AB 830 amends the definition of “gender” under Civil Code 52.4, and adds Civil Code 52.45.  This new law prohibits sexual orientation violence.  Like gender violence, sexual orientation violence includes, conduct that would:

constitute a criminal offense under state law that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, committed at least in part based on the sexual orientation of the victim, whether or not those acts have resulted in criminal complaints, charges, prosecution, or conviction.

Unlike gender violence, sexual orientation violence does not include the broader “physical intrusion or physical invasion of a sexual nature under coercive conditions” definition.  It’s not clear why the legislature decided to afford less protection when the violence is based on sexual orientation as opposed to gender.

Why is this important to employers and employees?  The existing law and the amended law state:

Notwithstanding any other laws that may establish the liability of an employer for the acts of an employee, this section does not establish any civil liability of a person because of his or her status as an employer, unless the employer personally committed an act of gender [or sexual orientation] violence.

This means that an employer is not liable under these code sections for gender or sexual orientation violence unless the employer is the one that commits the violence.  Employers can still be liable for sexual harassment and sexual orientation harassment, and violence against employees based on their gender or sexual orientation would certainly qualify as unlawful harassment.

Employers must continue training their supervisors and employees regarding the importance of maintaining a safe and healthful work environment.  Employees subjected to intimidation, coercion, or threats of violence should report the problems to the employer immediately.  If your physical well-being is at risk, you may also need to contact local law enforcement.  In a perfect world, employees and employers will work together to eradicate violence in the workplace.  Until we get there, these new laws may help protect people for violence.

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

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law, but we cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Your use of this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. The use of the Internet or this blog for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be posted in this blog and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted to this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Pleasanton, Oakland, Berkeley, San Ramon, Concord, Hayward, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.