Legislative committee hearings today will give lawmakers a chance to cast votes to protect sexual harassment victims and employers from being sued for defamation, as well as block trial lawyer-sponsored attempts to create more avenues for litigation.
AB 2770: Sexual Harassment Employer/Employee Protection
Scheduled for consideration in the Assembly Judiciary Committee is California Chamber of Commerce-sponsored AB 2770 (Irwin; D-Thousand Oaks), a job creator that seeks to codify case law to ensure victims of sexual harassment and employers are not sued for defamation.
Alleged harassers are not only suing victims, but also filing suit against employers for defamation. Such lawsuits put employers in an impossible position as they have an affirmative duty to take reasonable steps to prevent and promptly correct harassment.
Even worse, if the alleged harasser’s employment is then terminated, or the alleged harasser resigns, employers are put in an even more difficult position. The company has knowledge of the harassing activity and yet its hands are tied. If the company tells a potential employer that the employee was accused of harassing conduct, the company is on the hook for a defamation claim. If the company stays silent, the harassers are then free to victimize more individuals at their next job without anyone at the new company ever knowing about the unacceptable behavior.
AB 2770 would protect employers and allow them to warn potential employers about an individual’s harassing conduct during a reference check without the threat of a defamation lawsuit.
CalChamber is asking members to urge their Assembly representatives to vote yes on AB 2770.
AB 2074/AB 2995: Painting Businesses into a Corner
Also being considered in Assembly Judiciary this morning are two CalChamber-opposed bills that in focusing on lead-based paint create an extraordinary new scheme of product liability that would collectively result in thousands of new lawsuits, benefiting trial lawyers, wherein businesses could be held retroactively liable for alleged harms that they did not cause.
AB 2074 (Bonta; D-Oakland) and AB 2995 (Carrillo; D-Los Angeles) set a troubling precedent for all types of consumer products sold in California by discarding the plaintiffs’ burden to prove which entity caused their alleged harm. The bills place into law a system of absolute liability on various type of businesses, including product manufacturers, sellers and distributors, that did nothing more than stock or sell a legal product at the time. Unless an entity could prove it never manufactured, sold, distributed or promoted the product in the “geographical area” or during the “relevant time period”—both of which are undefined—it would have to pay all of the plaintiff’s claimed damages despite having no connection to the alleged harm.
AB 2995 defines the mere presence of lead-based paint on a property as an “injury,” automatically defining every home in California with a drop of lead-based paint as an injured property, regardless of whether actual lead-based paint risks exist. By doing so, AB 2995 would establish the “injury to property” that is required to occur in order for the absolute liability outlined in AB 2074 to apply.
CalChamber is asking members to urge their Assembly representatives to vote no on AB 2074 and AB 2995.
SB 820: Discourages Settlement Agreements
Also, this afternoon the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider CalChamber-opposed SB 820 (Leyva; D-Chino), which provides that any settlement agreement in a case where sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination have been alleged cannot include a confidentiality provision regarding the allegations of the case, unless the employee/claimant requests confidentiality.
As CalChamber articulates in its letter, this is basically already current law.
SB 820 will not provide a victim with any greater protection then he/she has now and will only benefit trial attorneys.
Instead, SB 820 simply leverages a confidentiality provision as a higher value item for negotiation so that the trial attorneys can increase the amount of the settlement and, therefore, the amount of their contingency fee.
The bill will limit the ability to informally resolve civil cases that include an allegation of harassment or failure to prevent harassment
CalChamber is asking members to urge their senators to vote no on SB 820.
Staff Contacts: Jennifer Barrera, Laura Curtis