• She got pregnant, then fired, and now reversed on appeal Friday, November 20, 2009

    Wynona Harris was hired as a city bus driver by the city of Santa Monica, completed her training period, and became a probationary part-time driver.

    She had a minor accident, was late to once, and failed to call her boss telling him she would be late on another occasion because she was attending a court hearing for a child. Her supervisor wrote on her evaluation, “Keep up the Great Job!”

    In May 2005, one of her bosses told her to tuck in her shirt. During that exchange, she confided that she was pregnant. Her boss seemed surprised, and asked her for a doctor’s note stating she could continue to work. The doctor provided the note. Two days later, she was fired.

    Harris sued alleging she was a victim of discrimination. In the trial, the city requested that Superior Court Judge Soussan G. Bruguera of Los Angeles County give a jury instruction called the “mixed motives” defense. The instruction would have suggested that the firing was motivated by discriminatory and non-discriminatory purposes, and that the employer would not be liable if it could prove that the non-discriminatory reason by itself was sufficient.  Bruguera did not give the instruction.

    The jury found 9-3 that pregnancy was the motivation for her firing.

    In a decision by Justice Laurence D. Rubin, the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial, ruling that the jury should have received the “mixed motives” instruction. The Court of Appeal said that the city may have had a non-discriminatory reason to fire Harris.

    Here is a news story about the case.

    Wynona Harris v. City of Santa Monica, Court of Appeal 2nd Dist Div. 8 (B199571)

    Steve Ingram

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