Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Stray Remarks" Doctrine Repudiated

Back in December 2009, I posted regarding Reid v. Google, Inc. (2007) 155 Cal. App. 4th 1342,66 Cal.Rptr.3d 744, review granted, 72 Cal.Rptr.3d 112. One issue addressed by Reid was whether California law should recognize the so-called "stray remarks" doctrine when ruling on summery judgment. The “stray remarks” rule set forth in the Federal Courts, allows courts to deem racist or sexist remarks insufficient to support denial of summary judgment if the remarks are considered “stray.” [see Reid v. Google, Inc., 66 Cal.Rptr.3d 744, 759]

In August 2010, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion on this issue in Reid v. Google (2010) 50 Cal. 4th 512, 113 Cal.Rptr. 3d 327. There, the Supreme Court essentially repudiated application of the "stray remarks" doctrine in California, holding that even stray remarks must be viewed in context of all the plaintiff's evidence. The Court found that it was impermissible on a motion for summary judgment to "weigh and assess the remarks in isolation, and to disregard the potentialy damaging nature of discriminatory remarks simply because they are allegedly 'stray remarks' made by 'ondecisionmakers or [made by those] unrelated to the decisional process.'" [Reid, supra, 50 Cal. 4th at 540]

The significance of this decision is that employers cannot argue that discriminatory or harassing comments made within the workplace are merely "stray remarks" as a way of avoiding liability. The Supreme Court reaffirmed the rule in California that the plaintiff's evidence in such discrimination and/or harassment cases must be decided using a "a totality of circumstances analysis." [Reid, supra, 50 Cal. 4th at 541]

1 comment:

  1. In a more recent Federal case out of the Northern District of California, the Court, citing to Reid, 50 Cal.4th at 541, 113 Cal.Rptr.3d 327, 235 P.3d 988, viewed these types of “stray” comments in light of the “totality of evidence in the record” enunciated in Reid. [see Rudwall v. Blackrock, Inc. 2011 WL 767965 (N.D.Cal., 2011)]