Gay Man's Employment Case Tests California's Discrimination Protection

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Lambda says jury trial is needed
May 11, 1998

(LOS ANGELES, May 11, 1998) -- In a test of California's ban on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, the state Court of Appeals in San Diego this week hears argument on behalf of a former insurance agent who suffered severe anti-gay harassment on the job, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Monday.

To be heard Friday, May 15, by the state Court of Appeal in San Diego, this is one of the first appellate cases to test California employment discrimination protections based on sexual orientation.

Dan Kovatch an award-wining salesman at California Casualty Management Co., became the target of relentless anti-gay epithets and abuse after being moved to the company's San Diego office. The company refused to transfer him to a less hostile location and fired him when harassment-related stress symptoms prevented him from returning to work at the end of a six-month leave of absence.

Kovatch asserts that his former employer constructively fired him based on his sexual orientation when it refused to address the hostility he suffered, but a trial judge dismissed that claim before a jury could hear it. Lambda and Kovatch's attorney, Nick DeBiase, are urging the appeals court to reverse that dismissal and order a jury trial so Kovatch can prove his case.

"If judges are free to determine that allegations such as Dan's are not to be taken seriously, then non-discrimination laws will be subject to judicial veto," said Jennifer Pizer, managing attorney of Lambda's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles and co-author of Lambda's amicus brief in the case. "We now urge the Court of Appeal to give Dan a fair chance to present his case and give California law a chance to address anti-gay bias at work," she said.

Said Kovatch, "I was among the top-ranked employes in the company -- it just boggles my mind that they could treat me like that and then fire me." Kovatch, 33, is now self employed in Los Angeles.

What: Oral argument in Kovatch v. California Casualty Management Company Who: Nick DeBiase, Kovatch's counsel, and Lambda Cooperating Attorney Jim Emery of San Francisco's Keker & Van Nest, to argue on behalf of Kovatch When: Friday, May 15, 9 a.m. (Pacific Time) Where: California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One 750 "B" Street, Suite 500, San Diego Contact: Peg Byron, 212-809-8585, ext 230 or 888-987-1984 (pager)

(Kovatch v. California Casualty Management Co., #D025565)


Contact: Jennifer Pizer 213-937-2728; Peg Byron 212-809-8585, 888-987-1984


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