California Court Grants Summary Judgment To Employer, No Workplace Harassment Claim For Employee With Personal Relationship
Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal for the State of California Fifth Appellate District issued an instructive decision in the case of Atalla v. Rite Aid Corp., 2023 WL 2521909. The court determined that an employee could not move forward with a sexual harassment claim because she had an extensive pre-employment social relationship with the alleged perpetrator (a manager) and that the matter had happened outside of the workplace. Below, our Riverside employment lawyer for employers provides a more comprehensive analysis of this case and the decision.
Employment Law Case Review: Atalla v. Rite Aid Corp
Background & Facts
The plaintiff was an employee for Rite Aid in California. Among other things, she filed a sexual harassment claim because her employer failed to prevent sexual harassment by a district manager. Specifically, the alleged sexual harassment was the sending of lewd pictures through a text message.
However, the sexual harassment in question was not alleged to have occurred within the workplace or during working hours. Instead, it happened after hours. Further, the plaintiff and the district manager had a long-time social relationship that pre-dated her employment at Rite Aid. The company moved for summary judgment and the dismissal of her claim.
The Legal Issue
At its core, the issue before the court was whether or not workplace sexual harassment was alleged to have occurred in this case. At trial, the court granted Rite Aid’s motion for summary judgment. The court found that the off-site nature of the alleged sexual harassment as well as the long-standing pre-employment social relationship between the parties, was sufficient to prove that the matter was not work-related. The plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her claim.
The Decision of the Court
On review, the Court of Appeal for the State of California Fifth Appellate District upheld the trial court ruling. It determined that the evidence, in this case, was insufficient to support a workplace nexus. It noted that Rite Aid terminated the district manager in question shortly after learning of the incident.
Here is the key takeaway for employers in Riverside County: The court emphasizes that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) holds an employer strictly liable for sexual harassment committed by a supervisor. However, that strict liability standard only applies if the alleged harasser is acting within their supervisory capacity. In this case, the court determined that the Rite Aid supervisory was acting outside of the scope of professional capacity. Therefore, the employer was not liable.
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