Friday, February 15, 2002
Religiously Affiliated Hospital Not Immune From Employee’s Suit—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A religiously affiliated hospital that allegedly fired a worker to retaliate for his complaints of discrimination may be sued for termination in violation of public policy, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The court reinstated Frederick Phillips’ suit against St. Mary Regional Medical Center. Phillips, a social worker, claims he was terminated because he complained to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing that he was being discriminated against, with regard to pay, duties, and family leave, because he is an African American male.
Phillips alleged in his Superior Court complaint that his termination violated the public policies underlying the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the anti-discrimination clause of the state Constitution, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge John Tomberlin sustained the hospital’s demurrer on the ground that the hospital, as a religious institution, had an absolute exemption from FEHA under the law in effect when Phillips was fired in 1998.
Justice Barton Gaut, writing yesterday for the Court of Appeal, agreed that the immunity precluded Phillips from bringing public-policy claim based on FEHA, as well as from suing based on FEHA directly. But he parted company with the trial judge by concluding that the public policies expressed in the state Constitution and Title VII provide a basis for Phillips’ claim.
Those provisions, Gaut said, reflect “fundamental and firmly established public policy against employment discrimination based on certain classifications including race and sex.”
Gaut agreed with the plaintiff that Art. I, Sec. 8 of the state Constitution—which says that “[a] person may not be disqualified from entering or pursuing a business, profession, vocation, or employment because of sex, race, creed, color, or national or ethnic origin”—bars retaliatory termination as well as termination based on impermissible criteria.
Past cases dealing with termination in violation of public policy, the justice said, preclude any “attempt to draw a distinction between retaliation and discrimination.”
FEHA, the jurist went on to say, “was not intended to provide an exclusive remedy for civil rights violations.” The Supreme Court, he noted, has permitted discrimination victims to sue for termination in violation of public policy even where an employer could not be sued under FEHA, such as where the employer had fewer than five employees or where a FEHA action was barred by the statute of limitations.
The same reasoning applies to a claim based on the policy embodied in Title VII, Gaut said. While a suit based directly on Title VII cannot be brought in state court, the justice said, federal law does not bar a plaintiff from “rely[ing] on public policy based on the law of the nation, as opposed to the state.”
The case is Phillips v. St. Mary Regional Medical Center, E029143.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company