Wednesday, February 1, 2012

California employer may fire because of a false sexual harassment allegation

SAN DIEGO – California Court of Appeal held that an employee did not prove that his firing for making a false sexual harassment complaint against his supervisor was motivated by retaliatory animus in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  Joaquin v. City of Los Angeles, No. B226685, California Court of Appeal (January 23, 2012).

Richard Joaquin, a Los Angeles Police Department police officer, had a disagreement regarding the scheduling of his shift with his supervisor, Sergeant James Sands. Joaquin then anonymously called an 800 number to report sexual harassment by Sands. 

The complaint was forwarded to the Internal Affairs, where Joaquin testified about instances where Sands had asked Joaquin “to go out some time,” complimented him on his “nice arms” at the gym, switched television from women’s basketball to men’s diving, and twice showed up at Joaquin’s “Code 6” locations (term officers broadcast to dispatch to identify location in the field). On those facts, the Internal Affairs decided that the sexual harassment allegations had no basis.

(Picture: Zhou Lvxin)

Board of Rights subsequently held that Joaquin had filed a false complaint and recommended his termination. The Chief of Police followed the recommendation and fired Joaquin. Joaquin filed a petition with the superior court which ordered Joaquin reinstated.   Joaquin then sued the City of Los Angeles for wrongful termination in retaliation for filing a sexual harassment complaint. A jury awarded Joaquin over $2 million.

On appeal from the City of Los Angeles, the Court of Appeal ruled that an employer may discipline an employee for fabricating charges, as long as the reason for discipline is not pretextual.