California Appellate Court Holds Substantial Motivating Factor Required in Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

In a negative decision for advocates of employee discrimination law, the California Court of Appeals recently mandated that a case be retried because of improper jury instructions.


A California wrongful termination can be filed with the assistance of an experienced attorney who is aware of developments like these in areas of employment law.

The case Mendoza v. Western Medical Center Santa Ana. G047394 (2014), involved a gay nurse who was fired following an investigation of his employer about a claim of sexual harassment by his gay supervisor. At trial, the jury awarded $238,328 to the employee in damages. However, the case has been sent back to the trial court for a retrial due to jury instructions.

After allegations of sexual harassment were investigated, the hospital fired both men believing this would make administrators seem as if they had “acted in good faith.” Following the termination, Mendoza chose to file a wrongful termination suit.

In the complaint Mendoza alleged that the hospital fired him because he reported the sexual harassment. At trial, the court instructed the jury that it should rule in favor of the employee if the report of sexual harassment was a “motivating factor” in the nurse’s dismissal.

However, the California Appellate Court, citing an earlier Supreme Court of California decision in Harris v. City of Santa Monica, stated that the instruction should read “substantial motivating factor.”

The use of the word substantial clears up an ambiguity in the law at the expense of employees throughout California.

In California, it is against the law to fire an employee when the termination violates fundamental public policy. This means that an employer cannot fire an employee for improper reasons.

For example, if your employer requests that you engage in unlawful activity and you refuse to do so the employer cannot fire you for your refusal. The reason is that “unlawful activity” would be against public policy so you are protected if you refuse to obey a directive to perform an unlawful action.

Another common example of wrongful termination is if a fellow employee is harassing you, as was the case here. If you refuse to respond to that harassment and your employer terminates you as a result, you may have a claim for wrongful termination.

In the state of California there are a few protected classes including, sex, national origin, religion and race.

If you are a member of a protected class it is illegal for your employer to terminate or discipline you simply for being a member of that class.

Costa Mesa employment lawsuits can be filed with assistance from the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange County. Call 949.375.4734.

More Blog Entries:

More Retaliation Claims filed in 2013 Than Previous Years, February 21, 2014, Los Angeles Employment Lawyer Blog

Employer’s Uneven Discipline Supports Employee’s Retaliation Claim, February 15, 2014, Los Angeles Employment Lawyer Blog

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