Maria Elena Gonzalez (“Gonzalez”) filed for a temporary restraining order against her former partner, Maurelio Francisco Munoz (“Munoz”). She complained that Munoz violently attacked her on numerous occasions including burning her with hot grease, choking and beating her, and abusing her three-year-old daughter Flor. The trial court granted a temporary ex-parte restraining order to keep Munoz from Gonzalez and Flor. The court also issued personal conduct and stay-away orders, and granted physical and legal custody of Flor to Gonzalez with no visitation rights for Munoz. At a subsequent hearing regarding the orders, Gonzalez and Munoz both appeared without counsel and spoke through an interpreter. At the beginning of the hearing, the court told the parties it would make some “temporary orders under certain circumstances regarding custody and visitation” but could not make a paternity judgment. The court advised Gonzalez and Munoz that they would need to file a separate paternity suit to resolve issues related to custody and visitation of Flor. Munoz indicated he was not Flor’s parent but requested “reasonable visitation” on weekends. The court issued a restraining order that excluded Flor and extended for one year the portion of the prior restraining order that kept Munoz away from Gonzalez. But it did not address custody or visitation. Gonzalez then asked the court about child support, an indication she did not understand the discussion about a separate paternity proceeding. In a subsequent hearing a judge granted Munoz weekly supervised visits with Flor despite the abuse allegations. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and found it erred and violated Section 6340 of the California’s Domestic Violence Prevention Act (the “Act”) when it failed to issue permanent custody of Flor to Gonzalez. The Act directs the court when applying the Act to “consider whether failure to make any of these orders may jeopardize the safety of the petitioner and the children for whom the custody or visitation orders are sought.” The Court of Appeal noted that, given Flor’s potential exposure to violence from Munoz, the trial court was charged with eliciting evidence about Flor’s parentage and whether the earlier custody and visitation orders needed to be modified or extended to “ensure the mutual safety of Gonzalez and Flor.” Also, because Munoz failed to show or to claim a parent-child relationship with Flor, the trial court should have extended the restraining order to cover Flor and entered the permanent custody order Gonzalez requested. The Court of Appeal admonished bench officers to play a “far more active role in developing the facts,” even at the expense of a particular court’s procedures, to avoid the high potential for danger to the Act’s target population—“largely unrepresented women and their minor children.” It noted the “special burden” on bench officers who “cannot rely on the propria persona litigants to know each of the procedural steps, to raise objections, and to otherwise protect their due process rights.”
Women and Justice: Court: California Court of Appeal
In 1987, Fatmeh Badih (“Badih”), a recent immigrant from Sierra Leone, was hired by the medical offices of Dr. Leonard Myers (“Myers”) as a medical assistant. Almost three years later, Badih told Myers she was pregnant. He immediately fired her. According to Badih, when she told Myers the news he replied, “If you told me you were going to get married and have babies, I wouldn’t have hired you in the first place. I need an office girl when I need her, not a person that has responsibilities the way you do now. . . . You’re going to have to go.” Badih filed a compliant against Myers and alleged pregnancy discrimination, among other claims. Myers denied that he fired Badih because she was pregnant. The jury found that Myers had terminated Badih because of her pregnancy, awarded her $20,226 in damages, and granted Badih’s motion for attorney fees. Myers appealed the judgment and attorney fees order. He argued that because he employed less than five people he was not subject to the pregnancy discrimination provisions of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). He also argued that no other constitutional or statutory provisions prohibited pregnancy discrimination. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment and attorney fees order. It held that pregnancy discrimination in employment was a form of sex discrimination. Because article I, section 8 of the California Constitution prohibits sex discrimination in employment regardless of the employer’s size, those who work for employers not covered by FEHA can maintain pregnancy discrimination claims under the California Constitution.
Plaintiff worked as a research specialist under her supervisor, Dennis Montgomery (“Montgomery”). On several occasions during her employment Montgomery asked Plaintiff to perform oral sex on him. He also repeatedly told Plaintiff he was going to arrive at one of Plaintiff’s many jobsites to engage in sexual activity with her. Twice Montgomery masturbated in front of Plaintiff during work hours. During one of those times, Plaintiff ran from the office to her car and Montgomery followed her, grabbed her arm, tried to grab her breasts, and tried to stop her from entering her car. Plaintiff repeatedly complained to the corporation’s president and chief executive officer and others about Montgomery’s conduct. No one took action to prevent the harassment. Plaintiff took a one-month leave of absence because she suffered from severe emotional distress as a result of these incidents. Her supervisors promised her a new position when she returned. But in retaliation against Plaintiff for reporting Montgomery’s 13, they gave the position to someone else. They ultimately fired Plaintiff under the pretext that she was no longer needed. Among other claims, Plaintiff sued the corporation, the corporation’s president and chief executive officer, and Montgomery for 13, retaliation, and the creation of a sexually hostile environment that violated California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (the “FEHA”). Montgomery demurred to these claims and argued that a supervisor cannot be held personally liable for 13 or retaliation under the FEHA. The trial court sustained the demurrer. The Court of Appeal overruled the demurrer and held that the FEHA’s clear language supports imposing personal liability to supervisors for their own acts of harassment or retaliation in employment. The Court noted that this holding worked toward the deterrence and elimination of harassment and retaliation in employment.