Fitzsimons v. Cal Emergency Physicians Med. Grp.
Physician employee from a medical group was considered to be in a protected category from retaliation under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) where such claims involve the employee physician’s claims of retaliation for her opposition to sexual harassment of employees.
In this particular case, a physician employee whom was a member of a Defendant medical group filed a lawsuit on the basis that her termination violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) where such termination was alleged to have been on the basis of retaliation for her opposition to the sexual harassment of employees. The trial court dismissed such case and ruled in favor of the medical group on the basis that the plaintiff physician employee did not have standing to bring such claims where she was considered for purposes of the lawsuit, a “partner” and not an employee in such medical group, and therefore the trial court reasoned that plaintiff did not qualify to bring a claim for employment retaliation based upon allegations of sexual harassment.
Court of Appeals
The California Court of Appeals reversed, holding in pertinent part that under the FEHA, it is unlawful for a covered employer to retaliate against any person who opposes sexual harassment and that in this particular case, the sexual harassment provisions of FEHA, does not necessarily delineate between employees and non-employees, but rather that since Plaintiff was a “person” who was retaliated against within the meaning of FEHA, defendant could be held liable and although the Plaintiff herself may not necessarily have a valid claim of harassment against the medical group, the statute protected her from retaliation for opposing the medical group’s harassment of employees.
The significance of this case is that the Court took a very expansive view of the definition of FEHA, in particular not limiting covered individuals to just employees, but rather viewing the retaliation prong of such statute to any persons whom were retaliated against. As such, in this particular case, even though the physician employee was technically not an employee, but an actual shareholder in the medical group, the Court that under FEHA, such classification was irrelevant and the more important element was whether the Plaintiff was a person that had been subjected to retaliation for a complaint of harassment, which, in this case, plaintiff had been, and therefore was qualified for relief pursuant to FEHA. Such case is very significant to the extent that it applies a very broad classification of legal standing to all individuals subjected to retaliatory conduct within the workplace, regardless of whether or not such individual is a per se employee or just an individual subject to such prohibited conduct.
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