Following the California Supreme Court’s guidance in Harris v. City of Santa Monica (February 2013 FEB) that an employment action is illegal only where bias is a “substantial motivating factor” for the action, a California appellate court recently vacated a verdict where the court had instructed the jury that bias need only be “a motivating factor.” In Alamo v. Practice Management Information Corporation, the employer terminated the plaintiff upon her return from pregnancy and baby bonding leave. The employer claimed it had concerns about the plaintiff’s performance prior to the leave, which concerns were exacerbated by information discovered during the leave, and it planned to address those concerns upon her return. A few days prior to her return, the plaintiff visited the office for lunch with a colleague and engaged in an altercation with her temporary replacement. According to the company, it terminated the plaintiff’s employment due to the altercation, the performance concerns, and her manager’s insubordination concerns related to the office visit. Following trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $10,000 in damages plus $50,000 in attorneys’ fees. The appellate court remanded the case for retrial consistent with its instructional guidance.
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