Unlawful actions committed by separate business entities that perform employment-related tasks on behalf of an employer can be held equally liable for discrimination. This rule was made clear in a recent decision from the California Supreme Court.
Plaintiff Kristina Raines applied for a position as a Food Service Aide with a company called Front Porch Communities and Services. She was offered the job on the condition that she pass a pre-employment medical screening to be conducted by U.S. Healthworks Medical Group (“USHW”), one of the country’s largest provider of occupational health services.
As part of the medical screening, USHW required Raines to provide a complete health history, including as to matters that seemed unrelated to her ability to perform the job she had applied for. For example, USHW’s comprehensive screening asked whether Raines has or ever had a venereal disease, painful or irregular vaginal discharge or pain, problems with or irregular menstrual periods, genital pain or masses, cancer, HIV, permanent disabilities, painful or frequent urination, hair loss, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, black stool, constipation, tumors, organ transplant, stroke, or a history of tobacco or alcohol use. USHW’s screening also asked whether Raines was pregnant, and whether she had any prior job-related injuries or illnesses.
When Raines objected to the intrusiveness of USHW’s health-related inquires, the examination was terminated and her job offer as a Food Service Aide was revoked.
Raines filed a class action against USHW under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). This law makes it unlawful for any employer “to make any medical or psychological inquiry” of a job applicant. USHW moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was not an employer within the meaning of FEHA. Raines argued that USHW could be held liable under FEHA, which defines “employer” to include “any person acting as an agent of an employer.”
The California Supreme Court agreed with the employee. Noting that FEHA defines “person” to include any partnerships, associations, corporations, and limited liability companies, the Court ruled that a business-entity agent of a FEHA plaintiff’s employer is, for purposes of FEHA, an employer of the plaintiff. The California Supreme Court explained: “If a business entity contracts with an employer to provide services that
will affect that employer’s employees, and if, in providing those services, the business entity agent violates FEHA’s antidiscrimination policies, causing injury to the employer’s employees, it is consistent with sound public policy to treat the business entity as an employer of the injured employees for purposes of applying the FEHA.”
This interpretation imposes FEHA liability not only on the employer but also extends it to the entity that is most directly responsible for the FEHA violation.”
The California Supreme Court’s ruling in Raines v. U.S. Healthworks Medical Group broadens protection of employees against discrimination. It emphasizes the state’s strict enforcement of its anti-discrimination laws.
Companies that violate the law but claim to be a mere third-party service provider rather than a direct employer—whether it be unaffiliated or affiliated with the direct employer—can be held liable for harm or injuries employees.
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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.
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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]