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Appeals court allows racial discrimination suit to proceed

The California Court of Appeals gave employment discrimination plaintiffs an important victory in a decision announced on December 13. The court reversed the trial court's dismissal of the case based on California's "anti-SLAPP" statute and reinstated the case.

The acronym SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuits against public participation." The anti-SLAPP statute allows a party to seek dismissal of a case that is allegedly infringing on its right to engage in free speech. Employers have been using California's anti-SLAPP statute to defend themselves against lawsuits alleging racial bias and wrongful termination. In this case, the cable news giant CNN argued that its free speech rights were infringed by the plaintiff's claims that he was the victim of racial discrimination and wrongful termination. The plaintiff was fired for alleged plagiarism, but he claimed that the action was motivated by illegal discriminatory intent.

The court's decision is significant because it ruled that an employer's discriminatory intent is not free speech. Therefore, the anti-SLAPP statute cannot be invoked to dismiss claims of bias or discrimination. Some employment attorneys in California believe that employers have been abusing the anti-SLAPP statute because it was never intended as a defense to a discrimination lawsuit. CNN attorneys did not comment on the decision, and no information is available about the network's intention to appeal the ruling to the California Supreme Court.

Anyone who is contemplating bringing a lawsuit based on illegal employment discrimination should consult a lawyer who specializes in wrongful termination cases. Such a consultation can provide a helpful evaluation of the facts and law of the case and an estimate of the likelihood of winning damages for lost income, emotional distress and attorneys' fees.

Source: Bloomberg BNA, "Fired CNN Writer's Bias Claims Revived by California Court," Kevin McGowan, Dec. 15, 2016

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