Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Price is Right Model-Suit Update

We previously reported about the $7.7 Million verdict won by former "Price is Right" Model, Brandi Cochran, in her pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.  (See http://themploymentlaw.blogspot.com/2012/12/price-is-right-model-wins-77-mil-in.html) However, according to the Hollywood Reporter (see link below), that $7.7 Million verdict in favor of Ms. Cochran, has been set aside, and a new trial ordered.

After Cochran won her trial, the California Supreme Court made a decision about jury instructions in a mixed motive discrimination case. In Harris v. City of Santa Monica, No. S181004 (Cal. Feb. 7, 2013), the Supreme Court held that to establish liability in “mixed motive” employment discrimination cases under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the employee must show that unlawful discrimination was a substantial factor motivating the adverse employment decision. Thus, per Harris, Judges need to instruct the jury that discrimination is not just a "motivating factor/reason" for termination but a "substantial motivation factor/reason." 

In the Cochran case, Judge Kevin Brazile failed to issue this "substantial" guidance despite a request from the defendants. Judge Brazile was then asked by the defense to set aside the verdict and dismiss the case.  Judge Brazile rejected this argument, noting that  "the evidence established that Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff, terminating her on the grounds of her prior pregnancy and complications ... the evidence is sufficient to support the verdict." However, given the decision in Harris, Judge Brazile said the "instruction error cannot be considered harmless," and was compelled to grant a new trial. 

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