California Makes It Easier to Bring Sexual Harassment Claims

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By Laura Mahoney

California strengthened legal protections against workplace sexual harassment under a bill signed into law Sept. 30 by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The measure (S.B. 1300) allows workers to sue for a single incident of harassment, which ends a “free pass on unlawful behavior,” Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D), who authored the bill, has said. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2019.

The new law changes the legal standard by rejecting a 2000 federal appellate court ruling that said harassment must be “severe or pervasive” to violate state law, according to the bill’s supporters.

Since the 2000 ruling, perpetrators have gotten away with “one free grope” without facing legal liability, the California Employment Lawyers Association and Equal Rights Advocates have argued.

Release of Claims

The law also prohibits employers from requiring employees to release claims under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act in exchange for a raise or as a condition of employment. Employers also can’t require employees to sign non-disparagement agreements that keep them from disclosing illegal acts in the workplace.

Employer groups oppose the law, arguing it will increase litigation against them and prevent them from investing in the workforce. Opponents include the California Chamber of Commerce, California Hotel and Lodging Association, and the California Retailers Association.

The bill is one of eight inspired by the #MeToo movement that lawmakers sent to the governor in the final days of the 2018 legislative session.

In addition to S.B. 1300, Brown also signed S.B. 820 by Sen. Connie Leyva (D) to restrict nondisclosure agreements in harassment settlements as of Jan. 1, 2019, as well as several other legislative items relating to harassment training and more.

Brown vetoed a number of bills as well. Vetoed legislation included bills that would have limited the use of arbitration agreements in employment and expanded the time claimants would have to file a harassment complaint with the state.

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