What is Failure to Prevent Discrimination and Harassment?

Failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment is a “separate actionable tort enforceable upon the establishment of the usual tort elements of duty of care, breach of duty (a negligent act or omission), causation, and damages.” Dickson v. Burke Williams, Inc. (2015) 234 Cal. App. 4th 1307, 1313.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) makes it unlawful for an employer “to fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.” Govt. Code § 12940(k); Scotch v. Art Inst. of California-Orange Cnty., Inc. (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 986, 1003 (citing the old Govt. Code § 12940(h)). Reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination include prompt investigation of discrimination claims, establishment and promulgation of antidiscrimination policies, and implementation of effective procedures to handle discrimination complaints. Cal. Fair Employment and Housing Commission v. Gemini Alum. Corp. (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 1004, 1024-1025.

A claim of failure to prevent FEHA violations must be predicated on an actionable claim of those violations, such as discrimination or harassment. Trujillo v. N. Cty. Transit Dist. (1998) 63 Cal. App. 4th 280, 289; Scotch v. Art Institute of Cal. (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 986, 1021 (“the ‘Failure to Maintain’ cause of action can survive only if a ‘Retaliation’ cause of action survives.”). “There’s no logic that says an employee who has not been discriminated against can sue an employer for not preventing discrimination that didn’t happen, for not having a policy to prevent discrimination when no discrimination occurred. Employers should not be held liable to employees for failure to take necessary steps to prevent such conduct, except where the actions took place and were not prevented.” Trujillo v. N. Cty. Transit Dist. (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 280, 289 (citations and quotation omitted).

The elements of a claim for failure to prevent harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. To succeed on this claim, plaintiff must prove that:

  1. she was an employee of defendant;
  2. she was subjected to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in the course of employment;
  3. defendant failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment, discrimination, or retaliation;
  4. she was harmed; and
  5. defendant’s failure to take preventative steps was a substantial factor in causing the harm

CACI No. 2527; see also BAJI 12.11 (the elements of a cause of action for Failure to Prevent Discrimination are: (i) Plaintiff was subjected to discrimination; (ii) Defendant failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination; and (iii) This failure caused plaintiff to suffer injury, damage, loss or harm); Lelaind v. City and County of San Francisco (N.D. Cal. 2008) 576 F.Supp.2d 1079, 1103.

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