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California Court of Appeal Reinstates Gay Man's Employment Case

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Ruling clarifies legal standard used for sexual orientation discrimination claims
July 9, 1998

(LOS ANGELES, July 9, 1998) -- In a decision likely to improve workplace protections for lesbian and gay Californians, the state Court of Appeal in San Diego has given the green light to a lawsuit by a man who suffered severe anti-gay harassment on the job, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Thursday.

Ruling unanimously, a three-judge panel reversed most of a lower court's decision to summarily dismiss the claims brought by award-winning insurance salesman Dan Kovatch against his former employer. The case, Kovatch v. California Casualty Management Company, will now proceed to a jury trial for a ruling on the merits of Kovatch's claims that he was forced to quit because of his supervisors' homophobic behavior.

The court's opinion, released July 2, also clarifies the legal standards applied by California courts to sexual orientation discrimination claims, making it more likely future similar claims can be evaluated by a jury.

"Kovatch's evidence was sufficient to create a triable issue of fact as to whether a reasonable person [in Kovatch's position] would have found working conditions at CCMC's San Diego office intolerable," the court said in the state's first appellate ruling to apply the "reasonable person" standard to a claim based on sexual orientation discrimination. The standard already is applied to cases involving sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

"Anti-gay discrimination at work is a serious problem, and employers must recognize that lesbians and gay men deserve fairness and respect just like non-gay workers. This decision is especially important because it recognizes the significance of eliminating sexual orientation discrimination," said Jennifer C. Pizer, managing attorney of Lambda's Western Regional Office. Lambda filed an amicus brief in support of Kovatch.

After being moved to CCMC's San Diego office in 1993, Kovatch became the target of relentless anti-gay epithets and abuse and was forced to take a leave of absence for harassment-related stress. Kovatch resigned when the company offered to remedy the harassment by transferring him to a lower position at less pay in another office.

Said Kovatch, "Both the company's management and the trial court dismissed what I went through. I am deeply gratified that the Court of Appeals really heard me, and answered by giving me back my day in court. This proves that the system can work for gay people too, and that's a major victory."

Kovatch is represented by Los Angeles attorney Nick DeBiase. Lambda Cooperating Attorney Jim Emery of San Francisco's Keker & Van Nest assisted in oral arguments and helped prepare Lambda's amicus brief.

(Kovatch v. California Casualty Management Co., No. D025565)


Contact: Jennifer C. Pizer 213-937-2728, ext. 223; Peg Byron 212-809-8585, 888-987-1984 (pager)


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