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Appeals Court Reverses $1M Award to Ex-Firefighter in FEHA Case

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 25, 2015 11:58 AM

A California Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's award of $1 million in damages to Los Angeles ex-firefighter Jubari Jumanne who sued the City of Angels under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. In reversing the lower court's ruling, the court ruled that Jumanne's claims were brought outside a critical one year statute-of-limitations and that the "continuing violation" doctrine did not apply.

Jumanne's case is reminiscent of situations in which real estate attorneys will (unethically) counsel their clients to disclaim any actual notice of hostile invasion of property.

Background Facts

Jumanne was employed as a firefighter by the city of Los Angeles since 1986. In his complaint, he alleged repeated and continued racial abuse that went on throughout the 1990s when Jumanne was reassigned to a different unit. After an incident when he failed to bring city property back to work, he was suspended from April 16 to April 30, 2001.

Award of $1,000,000

Under the FEHA, Jumanne sued the City in 2002. The City argued that the applicable statute of limitations barred Jumanne from bringing the suit because the alleged violations took place more than a year before April 16, 2001. They asked that all evidence of discrimination be excluded from the body of evidence. Additionally, lawyers for the City repeatedly asked the court to instruct the jury on the "continuing violation doctrine" but were refused. The jury awarded Jumanne $1 million and LA appealed.

Continuing Violation Doctrine

Normally, FEHA claims are blocked by the one year SOL, unless it can be saved by the "continuing violation" doctrine. That requires evidence that prior acts, those outside more than a year old, were not discrete instances, but part of a pattern of continuing conduct. A plaintiff must show that same or similar conduct occurred earlier, the conduct was frequent, and not yet permanent. In plain English, this means that the SOL began to run not with the first instance of discrimination, but either when LA stopped its discriminatory behavior, or when Jumanne reasonably thought all efforts to stop it were in vain.

Notice

Unfortunately for Jumanne, he testified that by 1999, he knew that future efforts to stop discriminatory acts would be in vain. With this, the court ruled that this automatically cut off all discriminatory acts before 1999; leaving insufficient proof of discriminatory acts within the limitations period.

Takeaways

Jumanne's case should serve as a reminder for attorneys of the importance of the FEHA's statute of limitations and continuing violation doctrine. It should also be a lesson for employers to address employee complaints of discrimination such that lawsuits can be nipped in the bud before they become a 12 year litigation nightmare that may, or may not, get reversed.

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