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Friday, August 6, 2010

California Supreme Court Decides Discrimination, Summary Judgment Issues

In Reid v. Google (Aug. 5, 2010) --- Cal.4th ----, 2010 WL 3034803, a terminated employee brought an action against his former employer for violation of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) based on discriminatory hiring practices, disparate treatment under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), wrongful termination, failure to prevent discrimination, and emotional distress. The trial court struck the employee's UCL claims and granted summary judgment on other claims. The employee appealed, the Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the employer petitioned for review. The California Supreme Court reversed the trial court orders, as follows:

In this case, we decide two issues. First, does a trial court's failure to rule on a party's evidentiary objections relating to a summary judgment motion waive the objections on appeal? Second, should California courts follow the federal courts in adopting the “stray remarks doctrine” in employment discrimination cases? Under this doctrine, statements that non-decision-makers make or that decision makers make outside of the decisional process are deemed “stray,” and they are irrelevant and insufficient to avoid summary judgment.

In this case, the Court of Appeal found that the trial court's failure to rule expressly on evidentiary objections did not waive those objections on appeal. Specifically, it ruled that Google's filing of written evidentiary objections before the summary judgment hearing was sufficient to preserve those objections on appeal. Accordingly, it reviewed Google's evidentiary objections on the merits. The Court of Appeal further refused to apply the stray remarks doctrine to exclude alleged discriminatory statements that Reid's supervisors and coworkers made. In reversing the trial court's grant of Google's summary judgment motion, the Court of Appeal considered those alleged statements and other evidence Reid presented in opposition to the motion.

We agree with the Court of Appeal's conclusions. Regarding the waiver issue, the Court of Appeal correctly determined that a finding of waiver does not depend on whether a trial court rules expressly on evidentiary objections and that Google's filing of written evidentiary objections before the summary judgment hearing preserved them on appeal. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subds. (b)(5), (d).) After a party objects to evidence, the trial court must then rule on those objections. If the trial court fails to rule after a party has properly objected, the evidentiary objections are not deemed waived on appeal. Regarding the stray remarks issue, the Court of Appeal also correctly determined that application of the stray remarks doctrine is unnecessary and its categorical exclusion of evidence might lead to unfair results.

Slip op. at 1. Although not a wage and hour case, Reid is important for summary judgment procedure and tremendously important for FEHA cases.

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