In a landmark decision, the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission has ruled that an employer can be found liable for failing to train mangers and otherwise take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace, even if there has been no illegal harassment or discrimination.
Ms. Williams was a paralegal at the Lyddan Law Group. Jeffrey Lyddan, the managing partner, made fun of an African-American file clerk’s ethnic name, referred to a modified Asian-built car as a “rice rocket”, commented that a black medical expert had “crazy” hair, called a Hispanic client’s family “wetbacks”, and circulated emails with racist, sexist, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic jokes and cartoons. Ms. Williams complained, but no investigation was ever done. The law firm did not have an employee handbook, and never did any employee or manager training on harassment or discrimination prevention.
Ms. Williams filed an administrative complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging racial, sexual, and religious harassment and discrimination. After a hearing, an administrative law judge found that, while Mr. Lyddan’s conduct was “in dubious taste”, “inadvisable and inappropriate” and that he had “exercised questionable judgment and lack of sensitivity to the ramifications of using ethnic slurs in the workplace”, it did not rise to the level of unlawful harassment or discrimination.
On appeal, the Fair Employment and Housing Commission agreed, and held that, even when there has been no illegal harassment or discrimination, it is “a specific unlawful employment practice…