Supreme Court of California Justia
Citation 56 Cal.4th 203; 152 Cal.Rptr.3d 392

Harris v. Santa Monica



Filed 2/7/13 (reposted same date to correct ―D.‖ to ―C.‖ for outline structure on p. 35)



IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA



WYNONA HARRIS,

Plaintiff and Respondent,

S181004

v.

Ct.App. 2/8 B199571

CITY OF SANTA MONICA,

Los Angeles County

Defendant and Appellant.

Super. Ct. No. BC341569





A bus driver alleged that she was fired by the City of Santa Monica (the City)

because of her pregnancy in violation of the prohibition on sex discrimination in the Fair

Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The City claimed that she had been fired for

poor job performance. At trial, the City asked the court to instruct the jury that if it found

a mix of discriminatory and legitimate motives, the City could avoid liability by proving

that a legitimate motive alone would have led it to make the same decision to fire her.

The trial court refused the instruction, and the jury returned a substantial verdict for the

employee. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the requested instruction was

legally correct and that refusal to give it was prejudicial error.

We conclude that the Court of Appeal was correct in part. We hold that under the

FEHA, when a jury finds that unlawful discrimination was a substantial factor motivating

a termination of employment, and when the employer proves it would have made the

same decision absent such discrimination, a court may not award damages, backpay, or

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an order of reinstatement. But the employer does not escape liability. In light of the

FEHA‘s express purpose of not only redressing but also preventing and deterring

unlawful discrimination in the workplace, the plaintiff in this circumstance could still be

awarded, where appropriate, declaratory relief or injunctive relief to stop discriminatory

practices. In addition, the plaintiff may be eligible for reasonable attorney‘s fees and

costs. Therefore, we affirm the Court of Appeal‘s judgment overturning the damages

verdict in this case and remand for further proceedings in accordance with the

instructions set forth below.

I.

Santa Monica‘s city-owned bus service, Big Blue Bus, hired Wynona Harris as a

bus driver trainee in October 2004. Shortly into her 40-day training period, Harris had an

accident, which the City deemed ―preventable.‖ Although no passengers were on her bus

and no one was injured, the accident cracked the glass on the bus‘s back door. When the

City hired Harris, it gave her its ―Guidelines for Job Performance Evaluation,‖ which

said: ―Preventable accidents . . . [are] an indication of unsafe driving. . . . [T]hose who

drive in an unsafe manner will not pass probation.‖

In November 2004, Harris successfully completed her training period, and the City

promoted her to the position of probationary part-time bus driver. As a probationary

driver, Harris was an at-will employee. At some point during her first three-month

probationary evaluation period (the record is not clear when), Harris had a second

preventable accident in which she sideswiped a parked car and tore off its side mirror.

According to Harris, she hit the parked car after swerving to avoid a car that had cut her

off in traffic.

On February 18, 2005, Harris reported late to work and received her first ―miss-

out.‖ The job performance guidelines defined a ―miss-out‖ as a driver‘s failure to give

her supervisor at least one hour‘s warning that she will not be reporting for her assigned

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shift. The guidelines noted that most drivers get one or two late reports or miss-outs a

year, but more than that suggested a driver had a ―reliability problem.‖ The guidelines

further provided that a miss-out would result in 25 demerit points and that

―[p]robationary employees are allowed half the points as a permanent full time operator,

which is 100 points.‖

On March 1, 2005, Harris‘s supervisor gave her a written performance evaluation

covering her first three months as a probationary driver from mid-November 2004 to

February 14, 2005. As to Harris‘s ―overall performance rating,‖ her supervisor indicated

―further development needed.‖ Harris testified at trial that her supervisor told her she

was doing a good job and would have received a ―demonstrates quality performance‖

rating but for her November accident.

On April 27, 2005, Harris incurred her second miss-out. She had accompanied her

daughter to a juvenile court hearing and failed to timely notify her dispatcher that she

would be late for a rescheduled 5:00 p.m. shift. Harris testified that the stress from her

daughter‘s hearing caused her to forget to notify the dispatcher. Transit services manager

Bob Ayer investigated the circumstances of Harris‘s miss-out, and on May 4 or 5, 2005,

Ayer recommended to his supervisor, the bus company‘s assistant director, that the miss-

out should remain in Harris‘s file. Ayer testified that the assistant director asked him to

examine Harris‘s complete personnel file. He did so and told the assistant director that

the file showed Harris was not meeting the city‘s standards for continued employment

because she had two miss-outs and two preventable accidents, and had been evaluated as

needing ―further development.‖

On May 12, 2005, Harris had a chance encounter with her supervisor, George

Reynoso, as she prepared to begin her shift. Seeing Harris‘s uniform shirt hanging loose,

Reynoso told her to tuck it in. Harris confided to Reynoso that she was pregnant. Harris

testified that Reynoso reacted with seeming displeasure at her news, exclaiming: ―Wow.

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Well, what are you going to do? How far along are you?‖ He then asked her to get a

doctor‘s note clearing her to continue to work. Four days later, on May 16, Harris gave

Reynoso a doctor‘s note permitting her to work with some limited restrictions. (Neither

party argues the restrictions are relevant to Harris‘s case.) The morning Harris gave him

the note, Reynoso attended a supervisors‘ meeting and received a list of probationary

drivers who were not meeting standards for continued employment. Harris was on the

list. Her last day on the job was May 18, 2005.

In October 2005, Harris sued the City, alleging that the City fired her because she

was pregnant, a form of sex discrimination. Answering Harris‘s complaint, the City

denied her allegations and asserted as an affirmative defense that it had legitimate,

nondiscriminatory reasons to fire her as an at-will, probationary employee.

The case was tried to a jury. The City asked the court to instruct the jury with

BAJI No. 12.26, which pertained to its mixed-motives defense. The instruction states:

―If you find that the employer‘s action, which is the subject of plaintiff‘s claim, was

actually motivated by both discriminatory and non-discriminatory reasons, the employer

is not liable if it can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that its legitimate

reason, standing alone, would have induced it to make the same decision. [¶] An

employer may not, however, prevail in a mixed-motives case by offering a legitimate and

sufficient reason for its decision if that reason did not motivate it at the time of the

decision. Neither may an employer meet its burden by merely showing that at the time of

the decision it was motivated only in part by a legitimate reason. The essential premise

of this defense is that a legitimate reason was present, and standing alone, would have

induced the employer to make the same decision.‖

The court refused to give the instruction. Instead, the jury was instructed

according to California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI) No. 2500 that Harris had to prove

that her pregnancy was a ―motivating factor/reason for the discharge.‖ ―Motivating

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factor‖ was further defined according to BAJI No. 12.01.1 as ―something that moves the

will and induces action even though other matters may have contributed to the taking of

the action.‖ By special verdict, the jury found by a vote of nine-to-three that Harris‘s

pregnancy was a motivating reason for the City‘s decision to discharge her and awarded

her $177,905 in damages, of which $150,000 were for ―non-economic loss, including

mental suffering.‖

The City moved on multiple grounds for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and

a new trial. The City argued, among other things, that the trial court‘s refusal to give the

jury a mixed-motive instruction deprived the City of a legitimate defense. The court

rejected this argument. Harris thereafter sought attorney‘s fees, which the court awarded

in the amount of $401,187. (See Gov. Code, § 12965, subd. (b) [―In . . . actions brought

under this section, the court, in its discretion, may award to the prevailing party . . .

reasonable attorney‘s fees and costs . . . .‖].)

Relying on prior Court of Appeal cases as well as federal law interpreting title VII

of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C § 2000e et seq. (hereafter Title VII)), the Court

of Appeal concluded that the requested jury instruction based on BAJI No. 12.26 was an

accurate statement of California law and that the refusal to give the instruction was

prejudicial error. At the same time, the Court of Appeal determined that there was

substantial evidence supporting the jury verdict that Harris had been fired because of

pregnancy discrimination. The Court of Appeal therefore remanded for a new trial. We

granted Harris‘s petition for review to decide whether BAJI No. 12.26‘s mixed-motive

instruction is correct.

II.

California‘s FEHA provides in pertinent part: ―It is an unlawful employment

practice, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification, or, except where based

upon applicable security regulations established by the United States or the State of

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California: [¶] (a) For an employer, because of the race, religious creed, color, national

origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, . . . marital

status, sex, . . . age, or sexual orientation of any person, to refuse to hire or employ the

person or to refuse to select the person for a training program leading to employment, or

to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a training program leading to

employment, or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms,

conditions, or privileges of employment.‖ (Gov. Code, § 12940 (hereafter section

12940(a)); all further statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated.)

Elsewhere the statute makes clear that ― ‗[s]ex‘ includes, but is not limited to, . . . [¶]

[p]regnancy . . . [¶] . . . [c]hildbirth, or medical conditions related to [pregnancy or]

childbirth.‖ (§ 12926, subd. (q)(1).)

In FEHA employment discrimination cases that do not involve mixed motives, we

have adopted the three-stage burden-shifting test established by McDonnell Douglas

Corp. v. Green (1973) 411 U.S. 792 (McDonnell Douglas). As explained in Guz v.

Bechtel National Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317 (Guz), a plaintiff has the initial burden to

make a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that it is more likely than not that

the employer has taken an adverse employment action based on a prohibited criterion. A

prima facie case establishes a presumption of discrimination. The employer may rebut

the presumption by producing evidence that its action was taken for a legitimate,

nondiscriminatory reason. If the employer discharges this burden, the presumption of

discrimination disappears. The plaintiff must then show that the employer‘s proffered

nondiscriminatory reason was actually a pretext for discrimination, and the plaintiff may

offer any other evidence of discriminatory motive. The ultimate burden of persuasion on

the issue of discrimination remains with the plaintiff. (See id. at pp. 354–356.)

The framework above presupposes that the employer has a single reason for taking

an adverse action against the employee and that the reason is either discriminatory or

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legitimate. By hinging liability on whether the employer‘s proffered reason for taking the

action is genuine or pretextual, the McDonnell Douglas inquiry aims to ferret out the

―true‖ reason for the employer‘s action. In a mixed-motives case, however, there is no

single ―true‖ reason for the employer‘s action. What is the trier of fact to do when it

finds that a mix of discriminatory and legitimate reasons motivated the employer‘s

decision? That is the question we face in this case.

Our goal, as in all cases of statutory interpretation, is to give effect to the

Legislature‘s intent. In discerning that intent, we begin with the statutory text.

A.

As noted, section 12940(a) prohibits an employer from taking an employment

action against a person ―because of‖ the person‘s race, sex, disability, sexual orientation,

or other protected characteristic. The phrase ―because of‖ means there must be a causal

link between the employer‘s consideration of a protected characteristic and the action

taken by the employer. The existence of this causation requirement in the statute is

undisputed. What is disputed is the kind or degree of causation required.

Linguistically, the phrase ―because of‖ is susceptible to many possible meanings.

The City contends that the phrase ―because of‖ means that an employer‘s consideration

of a protected characteristic must be necessary to its decision to take the employment

action at issue. This notion of causation is commonly called ―but for‖ causation — that

is, the employer would not have taken the action but for its consideration of a protected

characteristic.

An example of this construction of the phrase ―because of‖ may be found in Gross

v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. (2009) 557 U.S. 167 (Gross). Gross involved a dispute

over the meaning of the prohibition on adverse employment actions ―because of [an]

individual‘s age‖ in the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). (29

U.S.C. § 623(a).) The high court said that ―the ordinary meaning of the ADEA‘s

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requirement that an employer took adverse action ‗because of‘ age is that age was the

‗reason‘ that the employer decided to act.‖ (Gross, at p. 176.) To establish a violation of

the statute, the court held, ―a plaintiff must prove that age was the ‗but-for‘ cause of the

employer‘s adverse decision.‖ (Ibid.)

Our precedent has recognized, however, that ―but for‖ causation is not the only

possible meaning of the phrase ―because of‖ in the context of an antidiscrimination

statute. In In re M.S. (1995) 10 Cal.4th 698, two minors were charged with violating

California hate crime statutes that prohibited any person from interfering with the

constitutional rights of another ― ‗because of the other person‘s race, color, religion,

ancestry, national origin, or sexual orientation.‘ ‖ (Id. at p. 706, fn. 1, quoting former

Pen. Code, former §§ 422.6, 422.7 (added by Stats. 1987, ch. 1277, § 4, pp. 4546-4747);

see In re M.S., at p. 706, fn. 1 [noting that the Legislature later ―added gender and

disability to the list of protected characteristics‖].) In challenging the true findings on the

charged offenses, the minors argued that the statutes ―must be read to require proof the

victim would not have been selected but for his or her protected characteristic.‖ (In re

M.S., at p. 716.) We did not endorse that view and instead explained that ―nothing in the

text of the statute suggests the Legislature intended to limit punishment to offenses

committed exclusively or even mainly because of the prohibited bias. A number of

causes may operate concurrently to produce a given result, none necessarily

predominating over the others.‖ (Id. at p. 719; see id. at p. 716 [―[W]e do not find in the

statutes . . . a requirement that the prohibited motivation be the predominant or exclusive

cause of the offense.‖].) Instead, we held that ―a crime with multiple concurrent causes is

still done ‗because of‘ bias . . . if the prohibited bias was a substantial factor in the

commission of the crime.‖ (Id. at p. 716.) Our opinion further noted that the ―substantial

factor‖ requirement is not met in the case of ―a person who entertains in some degree

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racial, religious or other bias, but whose bias is not what motivated the offense.‖ (Id. at

p. 719, italics omitted.)

Here, Harris similarly contends that the phrase ―because of‖ in section 12940(a)

does not mean that the employer‘s consideration of a protected characteristic must be the

―but for‖ cause of the disputed employment action. Section 12940(a) does not say that

the employment action must be ―solely because of,‖ ―exclusively because of,‖ or

―predominantly because of‖ improper discrimination. The statute simply says ―because

of.‖ In interpreting this phrase, however, Harris does not propose the ―substantial factor‖

test stated in In re M.S. It is enough, according to Harris, that discrimination was ―a

motivating factor‖ in the employer‘s decision, even if other factors also played a role. As

explained below, Harris‘s view is consistent with the long-standing interpretation of

section 12940(a) adopted by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) as

well as Congress‘s understanding of the phrase ―because of‖ when it amended Title VII‘s

prohibition on employment discrimination in 1991.

The discussion above indicates that there are at least three plausible meanings of

the phrase ―because of‖ in section 12940(a) — (1) discrimination was a ―but for‖ cause

of the employment decision, (2) discrimination was a ―substantial factor‖ in the decision,

and (3) discrimination was simply ―a motivating factor‖ — each of which is supported by

some authority. When faced with textual ambiguity, we often consult legislative history.

But our review of the FEHA‘s legislative history has uncovered nothing that bears on the

kind or degree of causation required by section 12940(a).

Amici curiae California Employment Law Counsel and Employers Group observe

that the FEHA‘s prohibition on housing discrimination includes a provision that says: ―A

person intends to discriminate if race, color, religion, sex, . . . sexual orientation, marital

status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, . . . [or] disability is a

motivating factor in committing a discriminatory housing practice even though other

9



factors may have also motivated the practice.‖ (§ 12955.8, subd. (a).) Amici curiae

contend that the Legislature‘s adoption of the ―motivating factor‖ standard in the context

of housing discrimination but not employment discrimination demonstrates its intent to

exclude that standard from the FEHA‘s prohibition on employment discrimination.

It is well-established that ― ‗negative implications raised by disparate provisions

are strongest‘ when the provisions were ‗considered simultaneously when the language

raising the implication was inserted.‘ ‖ (Gross, supra, 557 U.S. at p. 175, quoting Lindh

v. Murphy (1997) 521 U.S. 320, 330; see post, at p. 16 [discussing simultaneous

amendments to Title VII and the ADEA].) In Richfield Oil Corp. v. Crawford (1952) 39

Cal.2d 729, 735, the court drew such a negative inference where the disparate provisions

―were reenacted together.‖ Similarly, in People v. Giordano (2007) 42 Cal.4th 644, 670,

the court drew a negative implication in the context of two disparate statutes amended

―simultaneously.‖

Here, by contrast, the Legislature added the ―motivating factor‖ language to the

FEHA‘s housing provisions as part of a 1993 amendment whose sole purpose was to

bring California housing law into conformity with federal law. (See Broadmoor v. San

Clemente Homeowners Association (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 1, 7–8.) There is no

indication that the Legislature, in enacting section 12955.8, subdivision (a), considered

the FEHA‘s employment discrimination provisions or any statutes other than California

housing law. (See Assem. Com. on Judiciary, Rep. on Assem. Bill No. 2244 (1993–1994

Reg. Sess.) Apr. 28, 1993; Assem. Ways & Means Com., Analysis of Assem. Bill No.

2244 (1993–1994 Reg. Sess.) June 2, 1993; Sen. Com. on Judiciary, Rep. on Assem. Bill

No. 2244 (1993–1994 Reg. Sess.) Aug. 24, 1993; Sen. Rules Com., Rep. on Assem. Bill

No. 2244 (1993–1994 Reg. Sess.) Aug. 24, 1993.) Where a provision ―contained in a

related statute was added by amendment many years after the enactment of the statute

containing no such provision,‖ and where ―it is not apparent to us that . . . the Legislature

10



was necessarily concerned with anything beside[s]‖ the related statute, we have refused

to ascribe an intent to the Legislature merely on the basis of negative inference.

(Traverso v. People ex rel. Dept. of Transportation (1993) 6 Cal.4th 1152, 1166.)

We are left, then, with an ambiguity in the meaning of ―because of‖ in section

12940(a). In the face of this ambiguity, the parties and various amici curiae direct our

attention to judicial interpretation of the phrase ―because of‖ as it appears in Title VII.

We have said that ―[b]ecause of the similarity between state and federal employment

discrimination laws, California courts look to pertinent federal precedent when applying

our own statutes.‖ (Guz, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 354.) Accordingly, we turn now to

consider federal antidiscrimination law, beginning with Title VII and the United States

Supreme Court‘s decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) 490 U.S. 288 (Price

Waterhouse).

B.

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer ―to fail or refuse to hire or to

discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect

to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such

individual‘s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.‖ (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).)

In Price Waterhouse, the high court observed that the federal courts of appeals were ―in

disarray‖ on what kind of causation Title VII requires and who bears the burden of proof

in a mixed-motives case. (Price Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 238, fn. 2.)

At the time, some federal circuits required a plaintiff to prove ―but for‖ causation

to establish liability. (See McQuillen v. Wisconsin Education Assn. Council (7th Cir.

1987) 830 F.2d 659, 664–665; Bellissimo v. Westinghouse Electric Corp. (3d Cir. 1985)
764 F.2d 175, 179.) Other courts held that when a plaintiff has shown that discrimination

was a ―substantial‖ or ―motivating‖ factor in an employment decision, the employer can

avoid liability by proving it would have made the same decision absent the

11



discrimination. (See Berl v. Westchester County (2d Cir. 1988) 849 F.2d 712, 714–715

(―substantial part‖); Fields v. Clark University (5th Cir. 1987) 817 F.2d 931, 936–937

(―motivating factor‖).) Still other circuits held that when a plaintiff has shown that

discrimination played a discernible part in an employment decision, a same-decision

showing by the employer precludes damages and reinstatement remedies but does not

provide a defense to liability. (See Bibbs v. Block (8th Cir. 1985) 778 F.2d 1318, 1323–

1324 (en banc); Fadhl v. City and County of San Francisco (9th Cir. 1984) 741 F.2d

1163, 1165–1166.)

In Price Waterhouse, the high court resolved this conflict in a splintered decision

with six justices agreeing that ―when a plaintiff in a Title VII case proves that her gender

played a motivating part in an employment decision, the defendant may avoid a finding

of liability only by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made

the same decision even if it had not taken the plaintiff‘s gender into account.‖ (Price

Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 258 (plur. opn. of Brennan, J.); see id. at pp. 259–260

(conc. opn. of White, J.); id. at p. 276 (conc. opn. of O‘Connor, J.).) The principal debate

in Price Waterhouse concerned the ―allocation of the burden of persuasion on the issue of

causation.‖ (Id. at p. 263 (conc. opn. of O‘Connor, J.).) The high court rejected the view

that a Title VII plaintiff has the burden of proving ―but for‖ causation. Instead, the court

held that once the plaintiff shows that discrimination was a motivating factor, the burden

shifts to the defendant to negate ―but for‖ causation by proving that it would have made

the same decision at the time even without the discrimination.

In the case before us, the City does not contend that Harris had the burden of

proving ―but for‖ causation. Instead, the City argues that the trial court should have

instructed the jury: ―If you find that the employer‘s action . . . was actually motivated by

both discriminatory and non-discriminatory reasons, the employer is not liable if it can

establish by a preponderance of the evidence that its legitimate reason, standing alone,

12



would have induced it to make the same decision.‖ Thus, the City does not object to the

burden-shifting aspect of Price Waterhouse. Its primary contention is that we should

follow Price Waterhouse not only with respect to burden shifting, but also with respect to

the legal effect of an employer‘s same-decision showing. Under Price Waterhouse, such

a showing by the employer is a complete defense to liability. (Price Waterhouse, supra,

490 U.S. at p. 242 (plur. opn. of Brennan, J.); id. at p. 261, fn. * (conc. opn. of White, J.);

id. at pp. 261–262 (conc. opn. of O‘Connor, J.).)

This latter holding of Price Waterhouse was short-lived, however. Two years

later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1991, which (among other

things) codified the rule that an employer‘s same-decision showing limits the remedies

available to a Title VII plaintiff but does not provide a complete defense to liability.

Specifically, Congress amended Title VII to provide that ―an unlawful employment

practice is established when the complaining party demonstrates that race, color, religion,

sex, or national origin was a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though

other factors also motivated the practice.‖ (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m).) Congress further

provided that when an individual ―proves a violation‖ of Title VII and the employer

shows it ―would have taken the same action in the absence of the impermissible

motivating factor,‖ a court can ―grant declaratory relief, injunctive relief . . . , and

attorney‘s fees and costs‖ directly attributable to the Title VII claim but ―shall not award

damages or issue an order requiring any admission, reinstatement, hiring, promotion, or

payment . . . .‖ (42 U.S.C. § 2000e–5(g)(2)(B).) These provisions remain in effect today.

The Court of Appeal below said that the 1991 amendments to Title VII have no

relevance as an aid to interpreting section 12940(a) because our Legislature has not added

any language to the FEHA that parallels the language Congress added to Title VII to

codify the ―motivating factor‖ standard of causation. On this view, Price Waterhouse‘s

pre-1991 interpretation of the phrase ―because of‖ to incorporate a same-decision defense

13



to liability — and not Congress‘s 1991 amendments rejecting such a defense — is the

relevant Title VII law that should guide our reading of the phrase ―because of‖ in section

12940(a).

There is no reason to suppose, however, that the Legislature that enacted section

12940(a) in 1980 (Stats. 1980, ch. 992, § 4, p. 3140 et seq.) intended to adopt Price

Waterhouse‘s meaning of ―because of.‖ Nor is it accurate to say that Congress‘s 1991

amendments to Title VII were intended to change the original, commonly understood

meaning of ―because of‖ in Title VII. The legislative history of the 1991 amendments

tell a different story. The United States House of Representatives Education and Labor

Committee report said the enactment of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m), which added the

―motivating factor‖ language, was intended ―to restore the decisional law in effect in

many of the federal circuits prior to the decision in Price Waterhouse‖ — decisions that

had interpreted the ―because of‖ language in Title VII to mean that ― ‗once the trier of

fact has found that race was a factor influencing the decision . . . [and] once race is shown

to be a causative factor, [the violation is established].‘ [Citation.]‖ (H.R. Rep. No. 102-

40 pt. 1, 1st Sess. p. 48 (1991).) Similarly, the House Judiciary Committee report said

that 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m) ―responds to Price Waterhouse by reaffirming that any

reliance on prejudice in making employment decisions is illegal.‖ (H.R. Rep. No. 102-40

pt. 2, 1st Sess., p. 2 (1991), italics added.) The legislative history thus indicates that

Congress overruled Price Waterhouse‘s same-decision defense to liability on the belief

that it was reaffirming and restoring, not revising, the meaning of the phrase ―because of‖

in Title VII‘s ban on employment discrimination.

The significance of this legislative history is not what it tells us about the original

intent of the Congress that enacted Title VII in 1964. (See Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC

(2011) __ U.S. __ [131 S.Ct. 1068, 1081–1082] [post enactment legislative history ―is not

a legitimate tool of statutory interpretation‖ because ―by definition [it] ‗could have had

14



no effect on the congressional vote‘ ‖].) Instead, what the legislative history makes clear

is that Congress in 1991 did not understand the phrase ―because of‖ in Title VII to mean

what Price Waterhouse said it means, and in order to overrule Price Waterhouse,

Congress wrote its understanding into the statute. The addition of the ―motivating factor‖

language of 42 United States Code section 2000e-2(m) was intended to elaborate and

make explicit what Congress believed to be the meaning of the phrase ―because of‖ in

Title VII, not to create an entirely new or separate standard of causation. (See Tyler v.

University of Arkansas Board of Trustees (8th Cir. 2011) 628 F.3d 880, 890 [―Title VII

prohibits employers from ‗[discriminating against any individual] because of such

individual‘s . . . sex.‘ 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Discrimination ‗because of‘ sex occurs

when sex is ‗a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors

also motivated the practice.‘ 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m).‖].) Thus, we do not agree with the

City that only Price Waterhouse‘s interpretation in 1989, and not Congress‘s

understanding in 1991, illuminates what the phrase ―because of‖ means in Title VII or

what it must have meant to the Legislature that enacted the FEHA. The history of Title

VII does not reveal one ―true‖ meaning of the phrase, but rather different understandings

of congressional intent at different times.

This point is underscored by the high court‘s more recent decision in Gross, supra,
557 U.S. 167, addressing the meaning of the phrase ―because of‖ in the context of a

different antidiscrimination statute. As noted earlier, Gross interpreted the Age

Discrimination in Employment Act‘s prohibition on discrimination ―because of [an]

individual‘s age‖ to mean that a plaintiff has the burden of proving ―but for‖ causation.

(Id. at pp. 176–177.) The high court observed that ―[u]nlike Title VII, the ADEA‘s text

does not provide that a plaintiff may establish discrimination by showing that age was

simply a motivating factor. Moreover, Congress neglected to add such a provision to the

ADEA when it amended Title VII to add §§ 2000e-2(m) and 2000e-5(g)(2)(B), even

15



though it contemporaneously amended the ADEA in several ways [citations].‖ (Id. at

p. 174.) These textual differences led the high court to conclude that the phrase ―because

of‖ in the ADEA should not be construed to incorporate either the ―motivating factor‖

standard of causation or the burden-shifting framework established by Price Waterhouse.

(Gross, supra, at pp. 174–175 & fn. 2, 178, fn. 5.) While rejecting the view that

― ‗motivating factor‘ claims were already part of Title VII‖ before 1991 (id. at p. 178,

fn. 5), Gross cast no doubt on the fact that Congress added the ―motivating factor‖

language in order to elucidate, not to alter or supplant, what it believed to be the meaning

of the phrase ―because of‖ in Title VII. (See Staub v. Proctor Hospital (2011) __ U.S. __

[131 S.Ct. 1186, 1191] [―[Title VII] prohibits employment discrimination ‗because of . . .

race, color, religion, sex, or national origin‘ and states that such discrimination is

established when one of those factors ‗was a motivating factor for any employment

practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice.‘ 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e–

2(a), (m).‖ (italics added)].)

The City contends that because the phrase ―because of‖ appears in both the FEHA

and the ADEA without the ―motivating factor‖ language that Congress added to Title

VII, the ADEA — and not Title VII — is instructive on the meaning of ―because of‖ in

the FEHA. A similar argument underlies the City‘s contention that Price Waterhouse‘s

pre-1991 construction of the phrase ―because of‖ in Title VII, and not Congress‘s express

definition of the phrase in 1991, should guide our interpretation of the same phrase in the

FEHA. However, as Gross makes clear, the words ―because of,‖ standing alone, do not

have a fixed or default meaning in legislative usage. In declining to follow Price

Waterhouse‘s burden-shifting framework, Gross observed that the high court in prior

cases had not construed the phrase ―because of‖ to have the same meaning in Title VII

and the ADEA, thereby confirming that the same phrase can have different meanings in

different antidiscrimination statutes. (See Gross, supra, 557 U.S. at p. 175, fn. 2 [―[T]he

16



Court‘s approach to interpreting the ADEA in light of Title VII has not been uniform.‖].)

What ultimately matters is legislative intent. Because Congress did not add the

―motivating factor‖ language to the ADEA even as it contemporaneously amended the

ADEA in other ways, one can infer — as the high court did in Gross — that Congress did

not intend the phrase ―because of‖ to have the same meaning in the ADEA as it does in

Title VII. (See Gross, at pp. 173–175.)

Here, there is no similar basis for inferring what our Legislature intended by the

phrase ―because of‖ in section 12940(a). (See ante, at pp. 9–10 [explaining why no

negative inference can be drawn from the addition of ―motivating factor‖ language to the

FEHA‘s prohibition on housing discrimination].) The fact that the FEHA, unlike the

post-1991 version of Title VII, does not expressly define the phrase ―because of‖

establishes the existence of an ambiguity. It does not establish that the default meaning

of the phrase is what Price Waterhouse said Congress meant by the phrase in Title VII.

Although we have often looked to federal antidiscrimination law in interpreting similar

language in the FEHA, we have not previously encountered this kind of temporal and

cross-statutory variation in Congress‘s purpose behind a particular provision. Because

recourse to federal antidiscrimination law is instructive only to the extent that its purpose

and the FEHA‘s purposes are aligned, we must ultimately focus our attention on what the

Legislature said it sought to accomplish in enacting the FEHA. In the end, our

interpretation of section 12940(a) must give effect to the Legislature‘s purpose.

III.

In enacting the FEHA, the Legislature spoke at length about its purposes. Section

12920 states: ―It is hereby declared as the public policy of this state that it is necessary to

protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain, and hold

employment without discrimination or abridgment on account of race, religious creed,

color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition,

17



genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age,

or sexual orientation. [¶] It is recognized that the practice of denying employment

opportunity and discriminating in the terms of employment for these reasons foments

domestic strife and unrest, deprives the state of the fullest utilization of its capacities for

development and advancement, and substantially and adversely affects the interests of

employees, employers, and the public in general.‖

Section 12920 further declares: ―It is the purpose of this part to provide effective

remedies that will eliminate these discriminatory practices.‖ And section 12920.5

provides: ―In order to eliminate discrimination, it is necessary to provide effective

remedies that will both prevent and deter unlawful employment practices and redress the

adverse effects of those practices on aggrieved persons.‖

In addition, section 12921, subdivision (a) says: ―The opportunity to seek, obtain,

and hold employment without discrimination because of race, religious creed, color,

national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic

information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, or sexual

orientation is hereby recognized as and declared to be a civil right.‖ Section 12993,

subdivision (a) instructs that the FEHA ―shall be construed liberally for the

accomplishment of [its] purposes.‖

In light of these legislatively declared purposes, this court has said: ―The policy

that promotes the right to seek and hold employment free of prejudice is fundamental.‖

(Commodore Home Systems, Inc. v. Superior Court (1982) 32 Cal.3d 211, 220

(Commodore); see Brown v. Superior Court (1984) 37 Cal.3d 477, 485 [―As a matter of

public policy, the FEHA recognizes the need to protect and safeguard the right and

opportunity of all persons to seek and hold employment free from discrimination.

(§ 12920.)‖].) Further, in explaining why sex discrimination in particular violates public

policy, we have relied on section 12920 in saying: ―The public policy against sex

18



discrimination and sexual harassment in employment . . . is plainly one that ‗inures to the

benefit of the public at large rather than to a particular employer or employee.‘

[Citation.] No extensive discussion is needed to establish the fundamental public interest

in a workplace free from the pernicious influence of sexism. So long as it exists, we are

all demeaned.‖ (Rojo v. Kliger (1990) 52 Cal.3d 65, 90, italics in original.)

Mindful of the FEHA‘s purposes, we proceed to address what legal consequences

flow from an employer‘s proof that it would have made the same employment decision in

the absence of any discrimination. To be clear, when we refer to a same-decision

showing, we mean proof that the employer, in the absence of any discrimination, would

have made the same decision at the time it made its actual decision. (See Price

Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 252 [―proving ‗ ―that the same decision would have

been justified . . . is not the same as proving that the same decision would have been

made‖ ‘ ‖]; ibid. [employer cannot make a same-decision showing ―by offering a

legitimate and sufficient reason for its decision if that reason did not motivate it at the

time of the decision‖].)

A.

We first consider whether a same-decision showing provides a complete defense

to liability when a plaintiff has shown that an adverse employment action was motivated

at least in part by discrimination. If not, then we must examine whether any relief may

be awarded to the plaintiff where the employer shows it would have taken the same

action in any event.

No Court of Appeal has squarely addressed these questions, although some have

suggested in dicta and without analysis that mixed-motive cases should be analyzed

under the Price Waterhouse framework. (See Huffman v. Interstate Brands Cos. (2004)

121 Cal.App.4th 679, 702–703; Grant-Burton v. Covenant Care, Inc. (2002) 99

Cal.App.4th 1361, 1379.) Significantly, the FEHC, the state agency that until recently

19



was charged by the Legislature with ―establish[ing] a system of published opinions that

shall serve as precedent in interpreting and applying the provisions of [the FEHA]‖

(former § 12935, subd. (h), Stats. 2011, ch. 719, § 175), has long interpreted the phrase

―because of‖ in the FEHA in a manner similar to Congress‘s 1991 understanding of Title

VII‘s causation requirement. In Department of Fair Employment and Housing v.

Church’s Fried Chicken, Inc. (1990) FEHC Dec. No. 90-11, 1990 WL 312878, the FEHC

held that section 12940(a) ―deems discriminatory all conduct that is caused in any part by

its victim‘s race or other prohibited basis of discrimination‖ and that liability is

established when ―a preponderance of all the evidence demonstrates that the adverse

employment action was caused at least in part by a discriminatory motive.‖ (1990 WL at

p. *11.) Under the FEHC‘s interpretation, as under Title VII, a same-decision showing

precludes various remedies but does not provide a complete defense to liability. (Id. at

p. *15.) ―We assign great weight to the interpretations an administrative agency like the

FEHC gives to the statutes under which it operates, although ultimately statutory

interpretation is a question of law the courts must resolve.‖ (Reno v. Baird (1998) 18

Cal.4th 640, 660.)

In addressing the issue presented, we begin by drawing a distinction between two

related but different purposes of the FEHA noted above. First, the FEHA aims ―to

provide effective remedies that will . . . redress the adverse effects of [discriminatory]

practices on aggrieved persons.‖ (§ 12920.5.) The FEHA recognizes that every

individual has a ―civil right‖ to enjoy ―[t]he opportunity to seek, obtain, and hold

employment without discrimination‖ (§ 12921, subd. (a)), and when that right is violated,

the FEHA seeks to restore aggrieved persons to the position they would have occupied

had the discrimination not occurred.

Second, separate and apart from its compensatory purpose, the FEHA aims ―to

provide effective remedies that will . . . prevent and deter unlawful employment

20



practices.‖ (§ 12920.5.) This forward-looking goal of preventing and deterring unlawful

discrimination goes beyond the tort-like objective of compensating an aggrieved person

for the effects of any wrongs done in an individual case. It is rooted in the Legislature‘s

express recognition that employment discrimination ―foments domestic strife and unrest,

deprives the state of the fullest utilization of its capacities for development and

advancement, and substantially and adversely affects the interests of employees,

employers, and the public in general.‖ (§ 12920.) This broader purpose underlying the

FEHA is also reflected in our recognition of ―the fundamental public interest in a

workplace free from the pernicious influence of sexism. So long as it exists, we are all

demeaned.‖ (Rojo v. Kliger, supra, 52 Cal.3d at p. 90, italics in original.)

In light of the FEHA‘s purposes, especially its goal of preventing and deterring

unlawful discrimination, we conclude that a same-decision showing by an employer is

not a complete defense to liability when the plaintiff has proven that discrimination on

the basis of a protected characteristic was a substantial factor motivating the adverse

employment action. As we explain below, mere discriminatory thoughts or stray remarks

are not sufficient to establish liability under the FEHA. But it would tend to defeat the

preventive and deterrent purposes of the FEHA to hold that a same-decision showing

entirely absolves an employer of liability when its employment decision was substantially

motivated by discrimination.

In considering this issue, it is useful to have in mind the kind of case in which

discrimination, though not a ―but for‖ cause of an adverse employment action (because

the employer can show it would have taken the same action in any event), might

nonetheless be found to be a substantial motivating factor. The facts of Price

Waterhouse provide a pertinent example. (See Price Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at

pp. 232–237.) Ann Hopkins had worked at Price Waterhouse, a nationwide accounting

firm, for five years when the partners in her office put her up for partnership in 1982. At

21



the time, there were seven women among the firm‘s 662 partners, and among the 88

people put up for partnership that year, Hopkins was the only woman. As part of the

review process, all of the firm‘s partners were invited to submit comments on each

candidate. The firm‘s admissions committee reviewed the comments and interviewed the

partners who submitted them. Then, for each candidate, the admissions committee issued

a recommendation to the firm‘s policy board to grant partnership, to deny the promotion,

or to hold the candidate for possible reconsideration. The policy board then decided

whether to submit the candidate to the entire partnership for a vote, to reject the

candidate, or to hold the candidate. ―The recommendation of the Admissions Committee,

and the decision of the Policy Board, [were] not controlled by fixed guidelines . . . . Price

Waterhouse place[d] no limit on the number of persons whom it will admit to the

partnership in any given year.‖ (Id. at pp. 232–233.)

In support of Hopkins‘s candidacy, the partners in her office submitted a joint

statement describing her ―outstanding performance‖ in securing a $25 million contract

with the United States Department of State. The federal district court found that

― ‗[n]one of the other partnership candidates at Price Waterhouse that year had a

comparable record in terms of successfully securing major contracts for the

partnership.‘ ‖ (Price Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 234, quoting Hopkins v. Price

Waterhouse (D.D.C. 1985) 618 F. Supp. 1109, 1112 (Hopkins).) The partners in

Hopkins‘s office also praised her as ― ‗an outstanding professional‘ ‖ with a ― ‗deft

touch‘ ‖ and ― ‗strong character, independence and integrity.‘ ‖ A State Department

official described her as ― ‗extremely competent, intelligent,‘ ‖ ― ‗strong and forthright,

very productive, energetic and creative.‘ ‖ ―Another high-ranking official praised [her]

decisiveness, broadmindedness, and ‗intellectual clarity.‘ ‖ The federal district court

―conclude[d] that Hopkins ‗had no difficulty dealing with clients and her clients appear to

have been very pleased with her work‘ and that she ‗was generally viewed as a highly

22



competent project leader who worked long hours, pushed vigorously to meet deadlines

and demanded much from the multidisciplinary staffs with which she worked.‘ ‖ (Price

Waterhouse, at p. 234, quoting Hopkins, at pp. 1112–1113.)

―On too many occasions, however, Hopkins‘ aggressiveness apparently spilled

over into abrasiveness. Staff members seem to have borne the brunt of Hopkins‘

brusqueness. Long before her bid for partnership, partners evaluating her work had

counseled her to improve her relations with staff members. Although later evaluations

indicate an improvement, Hopkins‘ perceived shortcomings in this important area

eventually doomed her bid for partnership. Virtually all of the partners‘ negative remarks

about Hopkins — even those of partners supporting her — had to do with her

‗interpersonal skills.‘ Both ‗[s]upporters and opponents of her candidacy,‘ stressed [the

district court], ‗indicated that she was sometimes overly aggressive, unduly harsh,

difficult to work with and impatient with staff.‘ ‖ (Price Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at

pp. 234–235, quoting Hopkins, supra, 618 F. Supp. at p. 1113.)

―There were clear signs, though, that some of the partners reacted negatively to

Hopkins‘ personality because she was a woman. One partner described her as

‗macho‘ . . . ; another suggested that she ‗overcompensated for being a woman‘ . . . ; a

third advised her to take ‗a course at charm school. . . .‘ Several partners criticized her

use of profanity; in response, one partner suggested that those partners objected to her

swearing only ‗because it‘s a lady using foul language.‘ Another supporter explained that

Hopkins ‗ha[d] matured from a tough-talking somewhat masculine hard-nosed mgr to an

authoritative, formidable, but much more appealing lady ptr candidate.‘. . . But it was the

man who, as [the district court] found, bore responsibility for the Policy Board‘s decision

to place her candidacy on hold who delivered the coup de grace: in order to improve her

chances for partnership, Thomas Beyer advised, Hopkins should ‗walk more femininely,

talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and

23



wear jewelry.‘ ‖ (Price Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 235, quoting Hopkins, supra,

618 F.Supp. at p. 1117, citations omitted.) Hopkins‘s candidacy was put on hold in 1982,

and she was not put up for partnership again.

The district court ―found that Price Waterhouse legitimately emphasized

interpersonal skills in its partnership decisions, and also found that the firm had not

fabricated its complaints about Hopkins‘ interpersonal skills as a pretext for

discrimination.‖ (Price Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 236.) At the same time, the

district court found that Price Waterhouse had ―discriminated against Hopkins on the

basis of sex by consciously giving credence and effect to partners‘ comments that

resulted from sex stereotyping.‖ (Id. at p. 237.)

Another illustrative case in which discrimination could have been found to be a

substantial motivating factor in an employment decision, though not necessarily a ―but

for‖ cause, is Rowland v. American General Finance, Inc. (4th Cir. 2003) 340 F.3d 187

(American General). In 1990, American General, a consumer lending company, hired

Anita Rowland as an administrative assistant in its Lynchburg office. In 1991, George

Roach, the director of operations responsible for the company‘s various district offices,

promoted Rowland to branch manager of the Lynchburg office. In 1994, Roach asked

Rowland to transfer to the company‘s Danville office to turn that office around. Rowland

reluctantly agreed, and under her leadership, the Danville office improved.

Rowland ―allege[d] that Rowland promised her that she ‗would be the next person

to be promoted‘ to District Manager if she would transfer to Danville. Although it is not

clear exactly what Roach said to Rowland, there is no dispute that Roach did in fact

consider Rowland to be a candidate for the position of district manager. . . . [¶] However,

notwithstanding its need to appoint a new district manager on three occasions in 1995,

American General never promoted Rowland to that position.‖ (American General, supra,

340 F.3d at p. 189.)

24



―Indisputably, Rowland‘s performance reviews revealed sufficient qualifications

for a promotion to the district manager position. Indeed, throughout her employment

with American General, Rowland received ‗favorable annual performance reviews‘ and

annual merit-based pay increases. Her supervisors generally found that her job

performance exceeded standards, that she was extremely dedicated and hard working,

and that she comported herself with a high-level of professionalism.

―At the same time, however, Rowland‘s annual reviews from 1995 and 1996

suggested that she needed to work on her ‗people skills.‘ Moreover, shortly after

American General refused to promote Rowland for the third time, Roach received a copy

of a written complaint that a customer, who was apparently dissatisfied with the way

Rowland had handled his attempt to cancel a loan, had filed with the State Corporation

Commission. Upon inquiring into the matter, Roach learned that several employees and

former managers felt that Rowland had problems with her ‗people skills.‘ Specifically,

Roach learned that Rowland‘s supposed difficulty in checking her ambitions and her

inability to delegate sometimes alienated those who worked with her.‖ (American

General, supra, 340 F.3d at p. 190.)

When Roach met with Rowland in 1996 to explain why she had not been

promoted, ―he recounted some of the reported problems and suggested that she needed to

work on her people skills.‖ (American General, supra, 340 F.3d at p. 190.) According to

Rowland, when she pressed Roach further, ―Rowland stated plainly, ‗I just don‘t need

another woman in this position, particularly one like Shelby Bennett.‘ ‖ (Ibid.) ―[W]hen

Rowland had previously voiced her concerns to the same Shelby Bennett, a female

district manager at American General, Bennett responded: ‗that‘s just life at American

General. That‘s the way it is. The men run the company, and you just have to do what

they say.‘ ‖ (Ibid.)

25



In analyzing these facts, the Fourth Circuit said: ―It is possible that Rowland‘s

shortcomings . . . could have provided the sole basis for denying her the promotion she

sought. It is also possible, however, that her alleged ‗people skills‘ deficiency constituted

part of a larger mix of motivations, including the fact that she was a woman, that

collectively drove the decision not to promote her.‖ (American General, supra, 340 F.3d

at p. 193.) The court said that although ―Rowland had almost no chance of prevailing‖ if

sex discrimination had to be the ―but for‖ cause of her lack of promotion, the evidence of

discrimination ―certainly suffices‖ to support a finding that sex was a motivating factor in

the company‘s refusal to promote Rowland. (Ibid.; see ibid. [―In sum, Rowland provided

evidence that Roach — the supervisor who knew of her qualifications for and interest in

the district manager position and who had the power to promote her but did not do so —

told her that he did not need any more women in the position that she sought, as well as

statements by another female superior suggesting that sex was a ‗motivating factor‘ in

employment decisions at American General.‖].)

As these cases illustrate, to say that discrimination was not the ―but for‖ cause of

an employment decision is not to say that discrimination played an insignificant role or

that it necessarily played a lesser role than other, nondiscriminatory factors. Indeed,

evidence that an employer doesn‘t ― ‗need another woman in this position‘ ‖ (American

General, supra, 340 F.3d at p. 190) or that a company only promotes women who ―walk

femininely, talk femininely, dress femininely, [and] wear make-up‖ (Price-Waterhouse,

supra, 490 U.S. at p. 235) may permit the jury to conclude that improper discrimination

was a sufficient factor by itself to bring about an employment decision, even if the

employer can show that legitimate factors also would have been sufficient, absent the

discrimination, to produce the same decision. We do not suggest that discrimination

must be alone sufficient to bring about an employment decision in order to constitute a

substantial motivating factor. But it is important to recognize that discrimination can be

26



serious, consequential, and even by itself determinative of an employment decision

without also being a ―but for‖ cause.

We believe that allowing a same-decision showing to immunize the employer

from liability in circumstances like those facing Ann Hopkins and Anita Rowland would

tend to defeat the purposes of the FEHA. Whether or not an employee in their respective

positions would have been promoted in any event, the existence of facts from which a

jury could find that improper bias was a substantial factor motivating the employer‘s

decision is sufficient to establish discriminatory conduct that ―foments domestic strife

and unrest, deprives the state of the fullest utilization of its capacities for development

and advancement, and substantially and adversely affects the interests of employees,

employers, and the public in general.‖ (§ 12920.) Such discrimination, even if not a ―but

for‖ cause of the disputed employment action, would breed discord and resentment in the

workplace if allowed to be committed with impunity.

The FEHA‘s express purpose of ―provid[ing] effective remedies that will . . .

prevent and deter unlawful employment practices‖ (§ 12920.5) suggests that section

12940(a)‘s prohibition on discrimination is not limited to instances where discrimination

is a ―but for‖ cause of the employment decision. An adverse employment decision

substantially corrupted by racial, gender, or other improper discrimination may be

indicative of a recurrent policy or practice. A company‘s practice of sex stereotyping or a

supervisor‘s refusal to promote ―another woman‖ may not be determinative for a

particular job applicant, but it may be determinative for a future applicant if left

unsanctioned and allowed to persist as a lawful employment practice. We do not believe

the Legislature intended to legitimize such practices, and the FEHA does not envision

that individuals and the general public must tolerate discriminatory treatment in

employment decisionmaking until it finally costs someone a job or promotion. Instead,

the Legislature expressly sought to ―prevent and deter unlawful employment practices‖

27



(§ 12920.5, italics added) — in other words, to keep unlawful practices from happening

in the first place. When discrimination has been shown to be a substantial factor

motivating an employment action, a declaration of its illegality serves to prevent that

discriminatory practice from becoming a ―but for‖ cause of some other employment

action going forward.

Moreover, without such prevention and deterrence, a person in Hopkins‘s or

Rowland‘s position may well decide against applying for a job, seeking a promotion, or

persisting in a training program in view of an employer‘s demonstrated bias. An uneven

playing field tends to discourage people from entering the competition. The

understandable reluctance of an individual to submit herself to an employment process

that is demonstrably stacked against persons who share her protected characteristic

further insulates the employer‘s discriminatory practice from judicial sanction, while also

―depriv[ing] the state of the fullest utilization of its capacities for development and

advancement.‖ (§ 12920.) Given the FEHA‘s statement of its purposes and the harms it

sought to address, we cannot ascribe to the Legislature an intent to deem lawful any

discriminatory conduct that is not the ―but for‖ cause of an adverse employment action

against a particular individual. When a plaintiff has shown that an employment decision

has been substantially motivated by discrimination, its harms cannot be assessed solely

by reference to its consequences for that individual. As we have said, the public policy

against employment discrimination ― ‗inures to the benefit of the public at large rather

than to a particular employer or employee.‘ [Citation.]‖ (Rojo v. Kliger, supra, 52

Cal.3d at p. 90, italics added.) It was precisely to address these wide-ranging harms that

the Legislature recognized through the FEHA ―the fundamental public interest in a

workplace free from the pernicious influence of [discrimination].‖ (Ibid.)

28



We are mindful, however, that section 12940(a) does not purport to outlaw

discriminatory thoughts, beliefs, or stray remarks that are unconnected to employment

decisionmaking. Racist, sexist, or other biased comments in the workplace may give rise

to a claim for unlawful harassment under a separate provision of the FEHA. (§ 12940,

subd. (j); see Lyle v. Warner Bros. Television Productions (2006) 38 Cal.4th 264, 277–

278.) But such comments alone do not support a claim under section 12940(a), nor do

bigoted thoughts or beliefs by themselves. Were it otherwise, the causation requirement

in section 12940(a) would be eviscerated. Section 12940(a) does not prohibit

discrimination ―in the air.‖ It prohibits discrimination that causes an employer ―to refuse

to hire or employ the person or to refuse to select the person for a training program

leading to employment, or to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a

training program leading to employment, or to discriminate against the person in

compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.‖ (§ 12940(a).)

In Price Waterhouse, Justice O‘Connor cautioned that neither ―stray remarks in

the workplace,‖ ―statements by nondecisionmakers,‖ nor ―statements by decisionmakers

unrelated to the decisional process itself‖ can establish, by themselves, that improper bias

was in fact a motivating factor behind a particular employment decision. (Price

Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 277 (conc. opn. of O‘Connor, J.).) ―Race and gender

always ‗play a role‘ in an employment decision in the benign sense that these are human

characteristics of which decisionmakers are aware and about which they may comment in

a perfectly neutral and nondiscriminatory fashion. For example, in the context of [Price

Waterhouse], a mere reference to ‗a lady candidate‘ might show that gender ‗played a

role‘ in the decision, but by no means could support a rational factfinder‘s inference that

the decision was made ‗because of‘ sex.‖ (Ibid.)

29



In order to limit the range of evidence from which a rational fact-finder could

conclude under Title VII that an employment decision was made ―because of‖ an

illegitimate criterion, Justice O‘Connor proposed that ―a disparate treatment plaintiff

must show by direct evidence that an illegitimate criterion was a substantial factor in the

decision.‖ (Price Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 276 (conc. opn. of O‘Connor, J.),

italics added.) Although a number of federal courts adopted Justice O‘Connor‘s direct

evidence standard, it was ultimately rejected in Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa (2003) 539

U.S. 90. We agree with the high court in Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa that the law

generally makes no distinction between circumstantial and direct evidence absent some

affirmative indication in a statute and that both types of evidence can be persuasive in

discrimination cases. (See id. at pp. 99–100.)

Nevertheless, we believe Justice O‘Connor‘s concurring opinion in Price

Waterhouse was correct to say that ―the plaintiff must produce evidence sufficient to

show that an illegitimate criterion was a substantial factor in the particular employment

decision.‖ (Price Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 278 (conc. opn. of O‘Connor, J.),

italics added; see id. at p. 277 [concluding that ―decisionmakers [in Hopkins‘s case]

placed substantial negative reliance on an illegitimate criterion‖].) Requiring the plaintiff

to show that discrimination was a substantial motivating factor, rather than simply a

motivating factor, more effectively ensures that liability will not be imposed based on

evidence of mere thoughts or passing statements unrelated to the disputed employment

decision. At the same time, for reasons explained above, proof that discrimination was a

substantial factor in an employment decision triggers the deterrent purpose of the FEHA

and thus exposes the employer to liability, even if other factors would have led the

employer to make the same decision at the time.

30



Given the wide range of scenarios in which mixed-motive cases might arise, we

refrain from opining in the abstract on what evidence might be sufficient to show that

discrimination was a substantial factor motivating a particular employment decision. In

the present case, the jury was instructed under CACI No. 2500 to determine whether

discrimination was ―a motivating factor/reason‖ for Harris‘s termination. We hold that

that the jury should instead determine whether discrimination was ―a substantial

motivating factor/reason,‖ and that the trial court on remand should determine in the first

instance whether the evidence of discrimination in Harris‘s case warrants such an

instruction.

B.

We turn now to consider the issue of remedies. If a plaintiff has shown that

discrimination was a substantial factor motivating a termination decision, but the

employer has shown that it would have made the same decision in any event, what relief

is available to the plaintiff?

At the outset, we reject Harris‘s contention that a plaintiff who shows that

discrimination was a motivating factor in a termination decision may be entitled to an

order of reinstatement or backpay even when the employer proves it would have made

the same decision without any discrimination. In the context of an allegedly unlawful

termination, an order of reinstatement or backpay would not ―redress the adverse effects

of [discriminatory] practices on aggrieved persons‖ (§ 12920.5) if legitimate,

nondiscriminatory reasons would have led the employer to terminate the employee in any

event. Although such remedies might help to ―prevent and deter unlawful employment

practices‖ (ibid.), they would do so only at the cost of awarding plaintiffs an unjustified

windfall and unduly limiting the freedom of employers to make legitimate employment

decisions. Curtailing employers‘ prerogatives in this way — that is, forcing an employer

to retain someone when it had sufficient and legitimate reasons not to do so — would

31



cause inefficiency and would thus tend to ―deprive[] the state of the fullest utilization of

its capacities for development and advancement,‖ contrary to the FEHA‘s purposes.

(§ 12920.) The same is true with respect to any remedy for economic loss, such as front

pay for loss of future income. Such an award would provide the plaintiff with an

unjustified windfall.

We come to the same conclusion with respect to noneconomic damages, although

the issue is closer. There is no question that an employment decision motivated in

substantial part by discrimination inflicts dignitary harm on the affected individual, even

if the employer would have made the same decision in the absence of discrimination.

The same-decision showing is a hypothetical, counterfactual construct. In mixed-motive

cases like Price Waterhouse and American General, what happened in actuality is that

discrimination played a substantial role in the employment decision (or at least a jury

could so find), even if discrimination was not a ―but for‖ cause of the decision. For a

person in Ann Hopkins‘s or Anita Rowland‘s position, the sting of unequal treatment can

be quite real even if the challenged employment action would have occurred in any event.

Although we do not doubt the stigmatic harm that discrimination can cause, we are

reluctant to find such harm compensable in damages under the FEHA when other,

nondiscriminatory factors would have brought about the plaintiff‘s discharge.

Theoretically, it may be possible to distinguish, for example, between a plaintiff‘s

emotional distress resulting specifically from discrimination and the plaintiff‘s emotional

distress resulting from the termination itself. Practically, however, as Harris‘s counsel

conceded at oral argument, it is unrealistic to ask the trier of fact to parse the plaintiff‘s

past mental state so finely and to award only the quantum of damages that corresponds to

the emotional distress resulting specifically from discrimination rather than the

termination itself if the employer makes a same-decision showing. When an employee is

fired, and when discrimination has been shown to be a substantial factor but not a ―but

32



for‖ cause, we believe it is a fair supposition that the primary reason for the discharged

employee‘s emotional distress is the discharge itself. Such distress is not compensable

under the FEHA — indeed, compensation for such distress would be a windfall to the

employee — if the employer proves it would have fired the employee anyway for lawful

reasons.

Harris contends that we should not limit noneconomic damages remedies because

the FEHA, unlike Title VII, does not and has not historically placed limitations on

damages remedies. (See Peatros v. Bank of America (2000) 22 Cal.4th 147, 163, 166–

167.) But the fact that the FEHA permits ―all relief generally available in noncontractual

actions‖ (Commodore, supra, 32 Cal.3d at p. 221) does not provide authorization to

award damages that reflect the significant possibility of a windfall. Of course, the

unavailability of noneconomic damages for a termination decision substantially

motivated by discrimination does not preclude the possibility of liability in tort for

intentional infliction of emotional distress. (See Agarwal v. Johnson (1979) 25 Cal.3d

932; Alcorn v. Anbro Engineering, Inc. (1970) 2 Cal.3d 493.) Emotional distress

damages also may be available when an employee is subject to unlawful harassment

under the FEHA. (See, e.g., Rehmani v. Superior Court (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 945,

958–959.) But given the inherent difficulties in disentangling the possible sources of a

plaintiff‘s emotional distress upon being fired, we conclude that a termination decision

substantially motivated by discrimination is not compensable in damages under section

12940(a) when an employer makes a same-decision showing.

At the same time, however, the unavailability of damages upon an employer‘s

same-decision showing does not make a finding of unlawful discrimination an empty

gesture. Such a finding has several key consequences. First, proof that an adverse

employment decision was substantially motivated by discrimination may warrant a

judicial declaration of employer wrongdoing. Declaratory relief, where appropriate, may

33



serve to reaffirm the plaintiff‘s equal standing among her coworkers and community, and

to condemn discriminatory employment policies or practices. (See Code Civ. Proc.,

§ 1060 [a court may make a binding declaration of contested rights and duties].)

Second, upon a finding of unlawful discrimination, a court may grant injunctive

relief where appropriate to stop discriminatory practices. (See Aguilar v. Avis Rent-A-

Car System, Inc. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 121, 131 [courts may grant injunctive relief under the

FEHA to prevent discriminatory conduct from recurring]; cf. EEOC v. Ilona of Hungary

(7th Cir. 1997) 108 F.3d 1569, 1579 [finding unlawful discrimination on the basis of

religion under Title VII and upholding injunctive relief ―where the individuals who were

found to have discriminated remain the defendant‘s primary decision-makers‖].)

Third, when a plaintiff has proven unlawful discrimination, the plaintiff may be

eligible for ―reasonable attorney‘s fees and costs.‖ (§ 12965, subd. (b).) Eligibility for

attorney‘s fees fulfills the objectives of the statute for several reasons. An employee who

has evidence that she has suffered employment discrimination is often not in the position

to assess, at the start of litigation, whether the employer would have made the same

decision without the discrimination. As between employer and employee, it may be

appropriate that the employer pay reasonable attorney‘s fees and costs for litigation for

which its own wrongdoing has been shown to be substantially responsible. When the

employer has made a same-decision showing, an award of reasonable attorney‘s fees and

costs to the plaintiff, unlike an award of damages, carries no risk that the plaintiff will be

put in a better position than if she had not suffered any discrimination. Instead, it

compensates the plaintiff and her counsel for bringing a meritorious claim of unlawful

discrimination.

Moreover, requiring an employer to absorb the costs of litigation for which its own

wrongdoing is substantially responsible furthers the FEHA‘s goal of preventing and

deterring unlawful employment practices. As explained earlier (ante, at pp. 27–29), the

34



fact that discrimination does not result in compensable injury for a particular plaintiff

does not mean that the employer‘s conduct will not have adverse consequences for other

individuals or for society as a whole. A plaintiff‘s eligibility for reasonable attorney‘s

fees and costs will cause the employer to internalize to some degree the significant social

costs of its discrimination, thereby promoting the FEHA‘s goal of deterring such

discrimination.

An award of attorney‘s fees is discretionary under section 12965, subdivision (b).

An award may take into account the scale of the plaintiff‘s success, and it must not

encourage ―unnecessary litigation of claims that serve no public purpose either because

they have no broad public impact or because they are factually or legally weak.‖ (Weeks

v. Baker & McKenzie (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1173.) Like Congress in enacting

Title VII, our Legislature did not ― ‗ enact[] legislation whose benefit inures primarily to

lawyers in the form of a substantial fee recovery, even if relief to the plaintiff is otherwise

trivial and the lawsuit promotes few public goals.‘ ‖ (Stevens v. Gravette Medical Center

Hospital (W.D.Ark. 1998) 998 F.Supp. 1011, 1018.) The touchstone is

―reasonable[ness].‖ (§ 12965, subd. (b).) In sum, we hold that a plaintiff subject to an

adverse employment decision in which discrimination was a substantial motivating factor

may be eligible for reasonable attorney‘s fees and costs expended for the purpose of

redressing, preventing, or deterring that discrimination.

C.

The City cites several cases not involving employment discrimination statutes in

support of its contention that an employer‘s same-decision showing should be a complete

defense to liability. In Bekiaris v. Board of Education (1972) 6 Cal.3d 575 (Bekiaris), a

terminated probationary teacher sought reinstatement on the ground that his termination

was caused by his exercise of First Amendment rights rather than performance-related

reasons alleged by school authorities. We held that if the school board would have

35



dismissed the teacher notwithstanding its dissatisfaction with the teacher‘s exercise of

constitutional rights, then the dismissal must be upheld. (Id. at p. 593.) We said that ―we

cannot allow a teacher genuinely dismissed for valid causes to be reinstated because

school authorities were also displeased with his exercise of constitutional rights,‖ because

―were [it] otherwise a teacher about to be dismissed for valid causes could insulate

himself from dismissal simply by engaging in political activities offensive to his

superiors.‖ (Id. at p. 593, fn. 12.)

Bekiaris presaged the United States Supreme Court‘s decision in Mt. Healthy City

Board of Education v. Doyle (1977) 429 U.S. 274 (Mt. Healthy), where a teacher

similarly alleged he was discharged for exercising his First Amendment rights and sought

reinstatement with backpay. The high court said that once a plaintiff shows that the

protected speech was a ― ‗substantial‘ ‖ or ― ‗motivating factor,‘ ‖ the burden shifts to the

employer to show ―by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have reached the

same decision as to [the plaintiff] even in the absence of the protected conduct.‖ (Id. at

p. 287.) If the employer makes such a showing, then the dismissal is lawful, and the

school board need not rehire the teacher. (Id. at pp. 285–286.) The high court explained

that the employee should not be put ―in a better position as a result of the exercise of

constitutionally protected conduct than he would have occupied had he done nothing.‖

(Id. at p. 285.)

In Williams v. City of Los Angeles (1988) 47 Cal.3d 195 (Williams), a police

officer was discharged without receiving proper advisements under the Public Safety

Officers Procedural Bill of Rights (§ 3300). Citing Mt. Healthy and Bekiaris, we held

that ―reinstatement is not mandated if the employer can demonstrate that it would have

reached the same decision even had the employee not engaged in protected conduct.‖

(Williams, at p. 205.) In addition, in Martori Brothers Distributors v. Agricultural Labor

Relations Bd. (1981) 29 Cal.3d 721 (Martori Brothers), a case arising under the

36



Agricultural Labor Relations Act, we considered whether an employee was entitled to

reinstatement after being discharged in part because of his union activities and in part

because of other factors. The court adopted the test elucidated in Mt. Healthy and in a

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision, Wright Line, a Division of Wright

Line, Inc. (1980) 105 L.R.R.M. 1169, 1171–1173. ―Under Wright Line, once the

employee has shown that his union activities were a motivating factor in the employer‘s

decision to discharge him, the burden shifts to the employer to show that discharge would

have occurred in any event.‖ (Martori Brothers, at p. 730.) ―When it is shown that the

employee is guilty of misconduct warranting discharge, the discharge should not be

deemed an unfair labor practice unless the board determines that the employee would

have been retained ‗but for‘ his union membership or his performance of other protected

activities.‖ (Ibid.; see also NLRB v. Transportation Management Corp. (1983) 462 U.S.

393, 401–402, 404 (Transportation Management) [finding Wright Line‘s interpretation of

the National Labor Relations Act to be reasonable].)

The City argues that we should follow these cases and hold that an employer‘s

same-decision showing defeats liability under section 12940(a). However, the cases

above focused on the unavailability of reinstatement and backpay where such remedies

would result in a windfall to the discharged employee. (See Transportation

Management, supra, 462 U.S. at pp. 397–403; Mt. Healthy, supra, 429 U.S. at pp. 276,

285; Williams, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 204–205; Martori Brothers, supra, 29 Cal.3d at

pp. 729–730; Bekiaris, supra, 6 Cal.3d at pp. 580, 592–593.) Our opinion today affirms

that reinstatement and backpay are unavailable under the FEHA upon an employer‘s

same-decision showing because a terminated employee should not be put in a better

position than she would have occupied had the discrimination not occurred. What the

cases above do not hold is that a same-decision showing precludes a finding of unlawful

motive that provides a predicate for declaratory or injunctive relief. Indeed, in Williams,

37



even as we held that ―the trial court abused its discretion in ordering Williams reinstated‖

(Williams, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 206), we said ―[i]t is uncontested that his rights were

violated‖ under the applicable statute (id. at p. 201).

IV.

We now address a few remaining issues raised by Harris and then summarize our

holding in this case.

A.

Harris argues that if we permit any type of same-decision showing, we should hold

the employer to a higher standard of proof. A same-decision defense, Harris contends,

must be proven by clear and convincing evidence rather than by a preponderance of the

evidence. We reject this view.

The rationale for requiring clear and convincing evidence is similar to the rationale

for shifting the burden to the employer to negate ―but for‖ causation upon a showing that

discrimination substantially motivated an employment decision. As Day v. Matthews

(D.C. Cir. 1976) 530 F.2d 1083 explained in the context of Title VII: ― ‗Unquestionably,

it is now impossible for an individual discriminatee to recreate the past with exactitude.‘

[Citation.] Such a showing is impossible precisely because of the employer‘s unlawful

action; it is only equitable that any resulting uncertainty be resolved against the party

whose action gave rise to the problem.‖ (Id. at p. 1086, fn. omitted.) In Price

Waterhouse, however, the high court rejected the clear and convincing standard, noting

that exceptions to the preponderance of the evidence standard generally applicable to

civil litigation ―are uncommon, and in fact are ordinarily recognized only when the

government seeks to take unusual coercive action — action more dramatic than entering

an award of money damages or other conventional relief — against an individual.‖

(Price Waterhouse, supra, 490 U.S. at p. 253 (plur. opn. of Brennan, J.); see id. at p. 260

(conc. opn. of White, J.); id. at p. 261 (conc. opn. of O‘Connor, J.).) As examples, the

38



plurality cited cases involving termination of parental rights, involuntary commitment,

deportation, and denaturalization. (Id. at p. 253.) The plurality further noted: ―Only

rarely have we required clear and convincing proof where the action defended against

seeks only conventional relief, see, e.g., Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 342

(1974) (defamation), and we find it significant that in such cases it was the defendant

rather than the plaintiff who sought the elevated standard of proof — suggesting that this

standard ordinarily serves as a shield rather than, as [plaintiff] seeks to use it, as a

sword.‖ (Price Waterhouse, at p. 253.)

In California, we have recognized that ― ‗the standard of proof may depend upon

the ―gravity of the consequences that would result from an erroneous determination of the

issue involved.‖ ‘ [Citations.] The default standard of proof in civil cases is the

preponderance of the evidence. (Evid. Code, § 115.) . . . [¶] We applied the clear and

convincing evidence standard, for example, in Conservatorship of Valerie N. [(1985)] 40

Cal.3d 143, 168, to ensure that a conservator‘s decision to authorize sterilization of a

developmentally disabled conservatee was truly in the latter‘s best interests. We have

also applied the clear and convincing evidence standard to findings necessary to

terminate parental rights [citation] and to findings supporting the discipline of judges

[citations]. The Courts of Appeal have required clear and convincing evidence of a

person‘s inability to provide for his or her personal needs as a prerequisite to the

appointment of a conservator [citation], and of a conservatee‘s incompetence to accept or

reject treatment as a prerequisite to permitting involuntary electroconvulsive therapy

[citation].‖ (Conservatorship of Wendland (2001) 26 Cal.4th 519, 546, fn. omitted.) We

also applied the clear and convincing evidence standard in Wendland in the context of a

conservator‘s decision to withdraw nutrition and hydration from a severely disabled

conservatee. (Id. at p. 524.)

39



But we have not applied a heightened proof standard to cases with ordinary civil

remedies, and we are aware of no mixed-motive case since Price Waterhouse and the

1991 amendments to Title VII (which also declined to adopt a clear and convincing

evidence standard) that has applied anything but a preponderance of the evidence to an

employer‘s same-decision showing. Harris points to Labor Code section 1102.6, which

requires the employer to prove a same-decision defense by clear and convincing evidence

when a plaintiff has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer‘s

violation of the whistleblower statute (id., § 1102.5) was a ―contributing factor‖ to the

contested employment decision. Yet the inclusion of the clear and convincing evidence

language in one statute does not suggest that the Legislature intended the same standard

to apply to other statutes implicating the same-decision defense. (See Scientific Cages,

Inc. v. Banks (1978) 81 Cal.App.3d 885, 889 [― ‗[T]he use of interpretation by reference

to analogous but unrelated statutes . . . . is to be used with caution ―for the reason that by

way of contrast an inclusion or exclusion may show an intent exactly contrary to that

expressed by the analogous legislation.‖ ‘ ‖].) Because employment discrimination

litigation does not resemble the kind of cases in which we have applied the clear and

convincing standard, we hold that preponderance of the evidence is the standard of proof

applicable to an employer‘s same-decision showing.

B.

Harris also contends that even if we conclude that a jury should receive some type

of same-decision instruction in cases potentially involving mixed motives, the instruction

should not have been given here because the same-decision showing was an affirmative

defense that the City did not plead in its answer to Harris‘s complaint. We hold that the

City‘s failure to plead this defense did not bar such an instruction.

40



Code of Civil Procedure section 431.30, subdivision (b) provides that an answer to

the complaint ―shall contain,‖ in addition to a ―general or specific denial‖ of the

complaint‘s allegations, ―[a] statement of any new matter constituting a defense.‖ It has

long been held that ―if the onus of proof is thrown upon the defendant, the matter to be

proved by him is new matter.‖ (Piercy v. Sabin (1858) 10 Cal. 22, 27; see also 5 Witkin,

Cal. Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Pleading, § 1081, pp. 514–515.) Because the burden is on

a defendant to make a same-decision showing, it should plead this defense. In other

words, if an employer wishes to assert the defense, it should plead that if it is found that

its actions were motivated by both discriminatory and nondiscriminatory reasons, the

nondiscriminatory reasons alone would have induced it to make the same decision.

However, ―[n]o error or defect in a pleading is to be regarded unless it affects

substantial rights.‖ (Buxbom v. Smith (1944) 23 Cal.2d 535, 542, citing Code Civ. Proc.,

§ 475.) The primary function of a pleading is to give the other party notice so that it may

prepare its case (Leet v. Union Pac. R.R. Co. (1944) 25 Cal.2d 605, 619), and a defect in

a pleading that otherwise properly notifies a party cannot be said to affect substantial

rights. This principle is consistent with the rule that leave to amend a pleading should be

liberally granted as long as there is no timeliness problem under a statute of limitations or

prejudice to the opposing party. (Kolani v. Gluska (1999) 64 Cal.App.4th 402, 412; see

also 5 Witkin, Cal. Procedure, supra, Pleading, § 1194, pp. 625–627.)

In the present case, the City pleaded in its answer that ―[a]ny alleged adverse

employment actions of which plaintiff complains . . . were not based on plaintiff‘s gender

and/or sex, pregnancy or any other alleged discriminatory practice, but instead were

based on one or more legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons. Nor were any of the

employment actions of defendant taken under pretext.‖ This put Harris on notice that the

City intended to defend on the basis that it had not discriminated against her and had a

legitimate reason for discharging her. The City‘s defense at trial was consistent with that

41



intention. Harris would not have been prejudiced by an instruction that informed the jury

how to arrive at a verdict if the jury partly believed plaintiff‘s evidence of discrimination

and partly believed the City‘s defense that the discharge was nondiscriminatory.

Therefore, the fact that the City did not plead a same-decision defense did not adversely

affect Harris‘s substantial rights, and the omission did not bar the trial court from giving a

same-decision instruction.

Harris further argues that for equitable reasons, an employer that wishes to make a

same-decision showing must concede that it had mixed motives for taking the adverse

employment action instead of denying a discriminatory motive altogether. But there is no

inconsistency when an employer argues that its motive for discharging an employee was

legitimate, while also arguing, contingently, that if the trier of fact finds a mixture of

lawful and unlawful motives, then its lawful motive alone would have led to the

discharge. Even if the positions were inconsistent, ― ‗ ―[i]t is well settled in California

that a defendant may plead as many inconsistent defenses in an answer as she may desire

and that such defenses may not be considered as admissions against interest in the action

in which the answer was filed.‖ ‘ ‖ (Park City Services, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., Inc.

(2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 295, 309.)

C.

In sum, we construe section 12940(a) as follows: When a plaintiff has shown by a

preponderance of the evidence that discrimination was a substantial factor motivating his

or her termination, the employer is entitled to demonstrate that legitimate,

nondiscriminatory reasons would have led it to make the same decision at the time. If the

employer proves by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made the same

decision for lawful reasons, then the plaintiff cannot be awarded damages, backpay, or an

order of reinstatement. However, where appropriate, the plaintiff may be entitled to

42



declaratory or injunctive relief. The plaintiff also may be eligible for an award of

reasonable attorney‘s fees and costs under section 12965, subdivision (b).

In the present case, the trial court gave CACI No. 2500, which required the jury to

determine whether discrimination was ―a motivating factor/reason‖ for Harris‘s

termination. The City requested that the jury be instructed pursuant to BAJI No. 12.26:

―If you find that the employer‘s action, which is the subject of plaintiff‘s claim, was

actually motivated by both discriminatory and nondiscriminatory reasons, the employer is

not liable if it can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that its legitimate reason,

standing alone, would have induced it to make the same decision. [¶] An employer may

not, however, prevail in a mixed-motives case by offering a legitimate and sufficient

reason for its decision if that reason did not motivate it at the time of the decision.

Neither may an employer meet its burden by merely showing that at the time of the

decision it was motivated only in part by a legitimate reason. The essential premise of

this defense is that a legitimate reason was present, and standing alone, would have

induced the employer to make the same decision.‖

In light of today‘s decision, a jury in a mixed-motive case alleging unlawful

termination should be instructed that it must find the employer‘s action was substantially

motivated by discrimination before the burden shifts to the employer to make a same-

decision showing, and that a same-decision showing precludes an award of reinstatement,

backpay, or damages. The trial court on remand should determine in the event of a retrial

whether the evidence of discrimination in Harris‘s case warrants a mixed motive

instruction.

43



CONCLUSION

The judgment of the Court of Appeal overturning the damages verdict is affirmed,

and the cause is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

LIU, J.


WE CONCUR:*


CANTIL-SAKAUYE, C. J.
KENNARD, J.
WERDEGAR, J.
CHIN, J.
CORRIGAN, J.


*

Baxter, J. is recused pursuant to an order filed on January 15, 2013.

44



See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion Harris v. City of Santa Monica
__________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion

Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
XXX 181 Cal.App.4th 1094
Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No.
S181004
Date Filed: February 7, 2013
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court:
Superior
County: Los Angeles
Judge: Soussan G. Bruguera

__________________________________________________________________________________

Counsel:

Marsha Jones Moutrie, City Attorney, Joseph Lawrence, Assistant City Attorney, Barbara C. Greenstein, Carol Ann
Rohr, Jeanette Schachtner, Anthony P. Serritella and Meishya Yang, Deputy City Attorneys, for Defendant and
Appellant.

Law Offices of Steven Drapkin, Steven Drapkin; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, Paul W. Cane, Jr., Katherine
C. Huibonhoa and Elizabeth MacGregor for California Employment Law Council and Employers Group as Amici
Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Melanie Poturica and Morin I. Jacob for League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties as
Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

The deRubertis Law Firm, David M. deRubertis, Michael H. Leb, Kimberly Y. Higgins; Kokozian & Nourmand,
The Nourmand Law Firm, Michael Nourmand; Pine & Pine, Norman Pine and Beverly Pine for Plaintiff and
Respondent.

Joseph Grodin, Denise Hulett, Claudia Center, Sharon Terman and Tamika Butler for Legal Aid Society-
Employment Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, ACLU Foundation of Southern
California, American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, California Women‘s Law Center,
Disability Rights Advocates, Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc.,
Disability Rights Legal Center, Equal Rights Advocates, Impact Fund, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
Inc., Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Women‘s
Employment Rights Clinic of Golden Gate University School of Law as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and
Respondent.

Charlotte E. Fishman; Law Office of David J. Duchrow and David Duchrow for California Employment Lawyers
Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.










Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

Barbara C. Greenstein
Deputy City Attorney
1685 Main Street, Room 310
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 458-8336

Paul W. Cane, Jr.
Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker
55 Second Street, Twenty-Fourth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105-3441
(415) 856-7000

David M. deRubertis
The deRubertis Law Firm
4219 Coldwater Canyon Avenue
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 761-2322

Does the "mixed-motive" defense apply to employment discrimination claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code, section 12900 et seq.)?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:Cross Referenced Cases:
Thu, 02/07/201356 Cal.4th 203; 152 Cal.Rptr.3d 392S181004A

McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)
Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 526 F. 3d 356 (2009)
Price Waterhouse Cooper v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989)


Opinion Authors
OpinionJustice Goodwin Liu

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Jun 29, 2014
Annotated by Maya Perelman

Facts:

Santa Monica's city-owned bus service hired Plaintiff Wynona Harris as a bus driver trainee in October 2004 and promoted her to the position of probationary part-time bus driver in November 2004. During Harris' first six months on the job, she incurred two "miss-outs" (absences without one hour's advance notice) and was involved in two minor accidents, which the City alleged were her fault. While Harris testified that her supervisor told her she was doing a good job, her first written performance evaluation in March 2005 indicated "further development needed."

On May 12, 2005, Harris confided to her supervisor that she was pregnant. Harris testified that he reacted with seeming displeasure at her news. Four days later, on May 16, 2005, the City terminated Harris. In October 2005, Harris sued the City, alleging that the City discriminatorily fired her because she was pregnant in violation of the prohibition on sex discrimination in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Procedural History:

The case proceeded to a jury trial. During trial, the City requested a jury instruction stating that the City could not be held liable if it proved by a preponderance of the evidence that legitimate business reasons, standing alone, would have induced the employer to discharge Harris, regardless of whether the jury found that the action was actually induced by both discriminatory and non-discriminatory reasons. (The preponderance of the evidence standard requires just enough evidence to make it more likely than not that the fact the claimant seeks to prove is true.) The court refused to give this "mixed-motive" instruction and instead instructed the jury that Harris had to prove that her pregnancy was a motivating factor for her discharge. The jury found that her pregnancy was a motivating reason for the City's decision to discharge her and awarded her $177,905 in damages. The court also awarded Harris $401,187 in attorney's fees.

Upon appeal, the California Court of Appeal concluded that the requested jury instruction was an accurate statement of California law and that the refusal to give the instruction was prejudicial error (e.g. an error that caused substantial harm to one of the parties). The Court of Appeal therefore remanded for a new trial. The Supreme Court of California then granted Harris' petition for review to decide whether the mixed-motive jury instruction was correct.

Issues:

1) Does the "mixed-motive" defense apply to employment discrimination claims under the FEHA?

2) If so, and if a plaintiff has shown that discrimination was a substantial factor motivating a termination decision, but the employer has shown that it would have made the same decision in any event, what relief, if any, is available to the plaintiff?

Holding:

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Liu affirmed the Court of Appeal's decision overturning the damages verdict, but provided additional guidance on the remedies available to the plaintiff.

The mixed-motive defense applies under FEHA and prohibits awarding damages, backpay (the difference between what the employee was paid and the amount she should have been paid absent the unlawful employment action), or an order of reinstatement where a jury finds that unlawful discrimination was a substantial factor motivating termination, but where the employer successfully proves it would have made the same decision absent such discrimination. However, in such circumstances, the plaintiff may still be awarded declaratory relief (a binding declaration of contested rights and duties) or injunctive relief (a court-ordered act or prohibition against an act) to stop discriminatory practices, as well as reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

Analysis:

In affirming the application of the mixed-motive defense, Justice Liu examined the requirement in FEHA's Section 12940(a) that the plaintiff show that the employer's adverse employment action was "because of" a protected characteristic. In the 1989 landmark case of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989) , the Supreme Court had held that a showing by the employer that it had non-discriminatory reasons for its actions served as a complete defense to liability, even where the plaintiff showed that there was also a discriminatory motive. However, reasoning that the similarity between FEHA and federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination made it appropriate for California courts to look to the pertinent federal precedent, Justice Liu examined the legislative history of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(m) and found that the amendment largely overruled Price Waterhouse: committee reports suggested that the amendment was enacted to ensure that once the trier of fact found that a protected characteristic was a factor influencing an employer's decision, the violation was established. Thus, Justice Liu reasoned, the presence of a discriminatory motive still imposed liability even where the employer could make a showing that it had additional non-discriminatory motives. Accordingly, he rejected the City's argument that, under Price Waterhouse, it should be absolved from liability once it could show that it had legitimate business reasons for terminating Harris.

Furthermore, in light of FEHA's express purpose of providing effective remedies to deter unlawful employment practices, Justice Liu reasoned that section 12940(a)'s prohibition on discrimination should not be limited to instances where discrimination is the "but for" cause of the employment decision. Because the public policy against discrimination inures to the benefit of the public at large, absolving employers of liability would undermine the FEHA's preventive and deterrent purpose where the plaintiff proved that discrimination was a substantial factor motivating the adverse employment actions. Rather, this showing by the plaintiff should suffice to expose the employer to liability, even if other factors would have led the employer to make the same decision at the time.

Accordingly, Justice Liu found that the imposition of declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as of attorney's fees awards, was appropriate in furthering the FEHA's goal of deterring and preventing unlawful employment practices. However, orders of reinstatement or backpay were not appropriate, since they would represent an unjustified windfall to plaintiffs where legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons would have led the employer to terminate them in any event. Justice Liu also explained that practical limitations further made the imposition of non-economic damages unfeasible, since juries could hardly be expected to parse out the emotional distress that resulted specifically from the discrimination rather than the termination itself.

Finally, Justice Liu confirmed that the preponderance of evidence standard should be applied to the employer's showing that it would have made the same decision absent the discriminatory motive. Despite Harris' claim that the heightened "clear and convincing" standard should be applied, Justice Liu noted that such heightened proof standards were not typically applied to cases with ordinary civil remedies, but were reserved for cases where the government sought to take unusual coercive action beyond entering an award of monetary damages.

Tags:

Civil Rights, Fair Employment and Housing Act, Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(m), Standards of Evidence, BAJI 12.26, Cal. Gov. Code § 12940, Unlawful Employment Actions, Unfair Termination, Employment Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination, Discriminatory Motive, Discriminatory Intent, Employment Practices, Labor and Employment Law, Legislative Intent, Mixed-Motive Defense, Damages, Costs and Fees