If an employee is able to prove that that he/she was wrongfully terminated (e.g. discrimination), does the company have any defense to such a claim?
A recent case demonstrates that California employers can avoid liability if they are able to prove that they would have made the decision to terminate regardless of the wrongful factor.
In 1977, William A. Davis worked as an insurance agent for Farmers. In 1983 he entered into an independent contractor agreement, however he was restricted from representing any other insurance companies and was required to abide by all of Farmer's regulations.
Davis filed a lawsuit against Farmers for misclassification (stating he should have been classified as an employee not an independent contractor), as well as wrongful termination claiming that he had been fired because of his age (57).
The jury decided that Davis was indeed misclassified and should have been hired as an employee. During the time that Davis' wrongful termination lawsuit was pending, the California Supreme Court held in Harris v. City of Santa Monica, that when an employee supports a Fair Employment and Housing (FEHA) discrimination claim by demonstrating that an illegal reason was a major factor of his/her termination, the employer may avoid liability by establishing that the decision would have been made regardless of the wrongful factor.
The court instructed the jury to reflect the holding in the Harris case at Davis' trial. The jury found that while Davis' age was a key motivating factor of his termination, Farmers would have made the same decision for valid reasons such as poor performance. Davis was not awarded any damages.
- HR Daily Advisor