In an appeal from a Los Angeles County case, Wynona Harris alleged that the city of Santa Monica terminated her job as a bus driver because she was pregnant. The city submitted a wealth of evidence regarding the plaintiff’s poor performance on the job, including excessive absenteeism and tardiness. The legal issue involved is the “mixed motive”� defense. The trial court refused to give an instruction that would have allowed the city to argue that it couldn’t be held liable because even if there were discrimination, Harris would have been fired anyway. In reviewing the jury instruction, the appellate court reversed the trial court and stated that the following instructions should apply:
“If you find that the employer’s action, which is the subject of the plaintiff’s claim, was motivated by discriminatory and non-discriminatory reasons, the employer is not liable if the employer can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that its legitimate reason, standing alone, would induce it to make the same decision.”
The court sent the case back to trial using the revised jury instruction; it’s up to the jury to determine whether the alleged reason for the plaintiff’s termination was legitimate or, in fact, a pretext for actual discrimination.
To read the case, click here.