Friday, June 29, 2012

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Businesses use many names, words, and titles in an attempt to define relationships with workers.  The California courts, however, are not bound by mere titles or words, and instead look to a company’s conduct to determine the real nature of its relationship with workers.

The Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal recently held that a franchisor could be held accountable for workplace harassment at one of its franchises when the franchisor exercises control over personnel decisions.  In Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, an employee of a Domino’s restaurant alleged sexual harassment and assault at her job against both the local Domino’s franchisee and its parent company, the Domino’s franchisor.

The Court of Appeal rejected the franchisor’s attempt to dismiss the case against it on the grounds that plaintiff’s only employer was the local restaurant.  The Court held that despite the restaurant’s contract with Domino’s establishing it as franchisee and an independent contractor, there was evidence that the Dominos’ maintained substantial control over the franchisee’s local operation, management-employee relations and employee discipline.  

Further, the alleged harasser in Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC was the plaintiff’s supervisor, and in California an employer is held strictly liable for workplace harassment by its supervisors.             

You should contact an attorney experienced in matters involving employment law as soon as possible, if you believe you are the subject of workplace discrimination.