A California Chamber of Commerce-opposed bill dealing with harassment and discrimination claims has been removed from the job killer list.
SB 1300 (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara) was amended on August 20 to remove the provisions from the bill that created a new, stand-alone private right of action for failure to prevent harassment or discrimination.
CalChamber remains opposed to SB 1300 because the bill limits the use of nondisparagement agreements and general releases, restricts the ability to summarily adjudicate harassment claims and lowers the severe or pervasive standard. These provisions will significantly increase litigation against California employers and limit their ability to invest in their workforce.
Deters Employers from Conducting Self-Audits and Providing Severance Agreements
SB 1300 prohibits the use of a general release in exchange for a raise or bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment. This is a concern because without the ability to use general releases, employers will not provide severance agreements. Even where there is no indication of an underlying claim, an employee often is provided additional compensation in exchange for a general release when an employment relationship ends. This is beneficial to most employees, especially to someone who needs additional funds and time to find new employment.
SB 1300 also provides a disincentive to employers to take remedial action, such as wage and hour self-audits. Self-audits are extremely burdensome, time consuming and expensive. This is not a task that employers take lightly and, if an employer is not permitted to utilize a general release of claims in exchange for a “bonus” or “raise,” it may discourage employers from conducting self-audits.
Limits the Ability to Summarily Adjudicate Harassment Claims and Lowers the Severe or Pervasive Standard
Although intent language is rarely opposed in a bill, the intent language of SB 1300 is very concerning. The bill states that “Harassment cases are rarely appropriate for disposition on summary judgment,” and cites an appellate court decision for this statement. However, deciding whether a case should be summarily adjudicated should be left for a judge who knows the specific facts of the case. Summary judgment is already a very high threshold and trying to sway the courts from utilizing summary judgment where appropriate will only clog the courts with cases that have no legal merit.
Additionally, the bill significantly lowers the standard for what constitutes severe or pervasive behavior with regard to actionable harassment claims. Currently, in order for harassment or discrimination to be actionable it must be sufficiently severe or pervasive “to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.” ’ . . . ‘Conduct that is not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment—an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive—is beyond [FEHA’s] purview. Aguilar v. Avis Rent A Car System, Inc., 21 Cal.4th 121, 129–130 (1999).
However, SB 1300 lowers that standard to behavior that simply “makes it more difficult to do the job.” Almost any behavior could potentially make it more difficult for someone to do their job. This radical lowering of the bar would result in a vast increase in litigation over trivial workplace matters that simply do not rise to the level where the courts should be involved.
SB 1300 is waiting a vote on the Assembly Floor.
The CalChamber is encouraging members to contact their Assembly representatives to urge them to oppose SB 1300.
For more information on the remaining job killer bills, visit www.CAJobKillers.com
Staff Contact: Laura Curtis