The California Court of Appeals recently affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a Burbank policeman who claimed that he had been the victim of racial discrimination and harassment from superiors and co-workers. The court's opinion contains several rulings that are favorable to those who are seeking damages for employment discrimination.
The plaintiff alleged that he was subject to frequent racial slurs and derogatory language in reference to his Armenian-American ethnic heritage. The jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff's favor for $150,000 in damages and $720,000 in attorneys' fees. On appeal, the city argued that the statute of limitations had expired before the case was commenced and that the award of attorneys' fees was irrational.
The court invoked the "continuing violation" argument in rejecting the statute of limitations claim. In such cases, a consistent pattern of conduct is deemed to be a continuing violation of the law, and the limitation period does not begin to run until the conduct ceases. In this case, the court found that the discriminatory behavior occurred both within and without the limitation period and that the lawsuit had been filed before the last discriminatory act occurred. The court also rejected the city's argument that the award of attorneys' fees was wildly inflated. The court ruled that the plaintiff's lawyers kept sufficient records of their hours worked to support the award.
The city has not yet decided if it will appeal the ruling. Whether or not the city files an appeal, the case will provide a dose of encouragement for people who are caught in a hostile work environment. Anyone who is subject to workplace harassment based on race or gender may wish to consult a lawyer who specializes in wrongful termination cases. Such a consultation can provide a helpful analysis of the facts and law of the case and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages and attorneys' fees.
Source: The Burbank Leader, "Court rejects city of Burbank's appeal in racial discrimination case against police detective," Andy Nguyen, Dec. 23, 2016