The City of San Diego is on the hook for $565,000 to a former employee who was reportedly demoted in retaliation for complaining about a supervisor who pressured him to become more religious and chastised him for being being a “non-believer” in the Christian faith.
According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, this same supervisor was the subject of complaints from other workers who were urged to attend church services, told non-believers would “go to hell” and expressed her view that those supporting same-sex marriages are not “children of God.”
The city’s lawyers agreed to settle the case rather than appeal an earlier federal jury verdict finding the city was liable for religious discrimination and retaliation, and ordering plaintiff’s damages and an award of attorney’s fees.
Evidence presented at trial showed that plaintiff filed a grievance against his supervisor for this overt religious pressure in the workplace, prompting an internal investigation. That investigation revealed the complaint had merit – but the city never took action against the supervisor. Instead, the city demoted the worker who filed the grievance, and then transferred him from the clerk’s office to the public utilities department. This new job site, he says, was far less desirable. On top of that, he was stripped of his supervisory title and left in a role with less upward mobility potential.
Trouble Began With Prop 8
Plaintiff said the two worked together for several years without issue, until 2008, when voters were asked to decide on the controversial Prop 8 measure that would prevent same-sex marriages from being legal in California. According to the lawsuit, the supervisor asked plaintiff whether he believed gay marriage was acceptable. His response was he had no issue with adults marrying whomever they chose, to which she responded he was “not a child of God.”
This was followed by an increasing intensity of religious talk in the office, including the supervisor leading prayer sessions at work, urging plaintiff to read the Bible and constantly pressuring workers to attend church. She reportedly once told workers that “even good people go to hell” if they fail to do God’s work.
This created a hostile work environment, plaintiff alleges, which was compounded when his supervisor began telling his subordinates not to abide his instructions because of his status as a non-Christian.
Statute of Limitations, Hearsay Barred Some Employment Discrimination Claims
Although this had been going on for nearly a decade by the time plaintiff filed a lawsuit, claims that stretched back that far weren’t considered by the court because they failed to comply with the statute of limitations. The California Statute of Limitations for an employment discrimination under the California Fair Housing and Employment Act (at least until the end of 2019) is just one year. A recent change to the law that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020 extends that deadline to three years, in line with wage and hour and breach of contract claims.
Other claims were dismissed because the evidence to prove them relied too heavily on hearsay, or third-party witness testimony.
The city argued that its own internal investigation finding merit to plaintiff’s grievance shouldn’t have been entered into evidence because that was pertinent to city policies and procedures, not Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, under which these claims were filed. The results of the investigation remained part of the record.
Both plaintiff and his former supervisor continue to work for the city.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
San Diego paying out $565k to settle religious discrimination case, Sept. 9, 2019, The San Diego Union-Tribune