Northern California Race Discrimination Update: Fresno’s Farmers Insurance Settles for $225K and Napa Valley’s Sutter Home Winery Faces Discrimination and Retaliation Allegations

The first case reported is instrumental for our Fresno based clients.  Here, Farmers Insurance Exchange agreed to pay $225,000 to settle a race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit.  The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and alleged that Farmers Insurance discriminated against two of its Asian American employees when it terminated them but did not terminate their equally situated colleagues who belonged to a difference race.  The EEOC also charged Farmers Insurance for terminating a white employee in retaliation for his testimony during an EEOC investigation.   This behavior violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).

In addition to paying the monetary fines, Farmers Insurance agreed to “publish its policies regarding discrimination, retaliation and the complaint procedures; distribute any revised policies to all employees at the Fresno Branch Claims Office (“BCO”) region; provide annual training for human resources personnel and managers who oversee the Fresno BCO region; designate an equal employment monitor; post an employee notice about the settlement; and undertake record keeping and reporting to EEOC.”

The second case exhibits allegations by three African American workers who were on a project at several Napa wineries.  While the workers loaded and unloaded wine bottles, they were insulted by their supervisor when she called derogatory names such as “mayates” (which means “niggers” in Spanish).  When one of the workers complained, she was immediately terminated rather than being positioned at another job location.  This alleged harassment is a form of unlawful racial discrimination in the workplace.  In addition, California’s labor laws clearly prohibit retaliation after complaints of discrimination.

Specifically, Title VII and FEHA strictly prohibit employers from discriminating against an employee who belongs to a “protected class.”  Under Title VII, it is unlawful for employers to discharge or discriminate against individuals in their compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  Similarly, under FEHA, an employer may not, because of the race or national origin of a person, treat that person differently in in terms, conditions or privileges of employment. (Cal. Gov’t Code §12940(a).)  One item in which the two laws are different is that Title VII applies to those who employ at least 15 individuals in a year, while FEHA applies to California employers with at least 5 employees in a year.  Most recently, California passed laws expanding this reach to enable most lawsuits to be filed against smaller employers. See these blogs that cover this expansion.  See these other blogs for updates.

If you believe that you, or another employee, suffered an employment law matter related to race or racial discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, prompt action to preserve your rights is vital since the statute of limitation is a short one year. Contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates for a free no obligation consultation to discuss your circumstances and legal options.