Fired Lesbian Journalist Will Get Her Day in Court
Successful Lambda appeal leads to reinstatement of job discrimination case
(LOS ANGELES, November 23, 1999) — A California appeals court has revived a lesbian journalist's employment discrimination case, sending a strong message of fairness for lesbian and gay workers in the state, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Tuesday.
A three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal in Los Angeles unanimously ordered a new trial for Cindy Frazier, a former associate editor of the Palisadian-Post, ruling that a trial court judge should not have dismissed the case simply because Frazier did not exhaust all administrative remedies before commencing the lawsuit.
"This is a victory not only for our client, but for all Californians who suffer anti-gay bias on the job. The unequivocal decision affirms that the painful facts of discrimination must be scrutinized on their merits, not obscured by years of legal wrangling," said Managing Attorney Jennifer C. Pizer from Lambda's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles.
In her unpublished 14-page opinion released late Monday, Associate Justice Margaret M. Grignon wrote, "In this case, we conclude the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies is not applicable....An employee had the right to bring an action in court for damages...prior to the enactment of the administrative remedy..."
Said Frazer, "After five years of fighting legal roadblocks, I feel gratified that attention will finally be paid to the abuse I suffered while simply trying to do my job."
Frazier worked for nearly eight years at the Pacific Palisades weekly, receiving several merit raises and favorable annual reviews. After her supervisor saw pictures of Frazier and her partner on vacation together, however, the veteran journalist became the subject of pervasive harassment -- including being taunted and passed over for a promotion -- and eventually was dismissed in1993.
In 1998, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge dismissed Frazier's case, ruling that she could not pursue a remedy in court because she had not first filed a timely complaint with the state Labor Commissioner.
The appeals court overruled that decision, noting that the trial court erroneously based its decision on precedents interpreting the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), a state civil rights law that at the time of Frazier's firing did not apply to discrimination against lesbians and gay men.
Before the California legislature amended FEHA to include sexual orientation in 1999, lesbian and gay workers had to look to different protections in the state Labor Code to redress anti-gay bias in the workplace. Unlike FEHA, the Labor Code does not require exhaustion of administrative remedies.
"Frazier was being forced to abide by FEHA's requirements without receiving its protections. The appeals court ruling frees Frazier from that legal straightjacket. Now we can focus on the workplace discrimination she suffered," said Pizer.
Headquartered in New York and with regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta, Lambda is the nation's oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.
Contact: Jennifer C. Pizer 323-937-2728 x 223; Jon W. Davidson 323-937-2728 x 228; Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)