This year, the California appellate courts decided several cases that involved “mixed-motive” terminations. For example, in Harris v. City of Santa Monica, an employee, a bus driver for the City of Santa Monica, was terminated after informing her employer that she was pregnant. The employee also had a history of on the job negligence which included several accidents. The employer maintained that the employee’s termination had nothing to do with her pregnancy and that the timing of her termination immediately after notifying her employer that she was pregnant was purely coincidental. The court held that when an employer can show by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made the same termination decision for lawful reasons, the plaintiff is not entitled to damages, back pay or reinstatement.
Mixed-motive cases are not limited to cases based on discrimination. They can also include cases where the employee is retaliated against for reporting misconduct of the employer. In Alghabra v. CVS, an employee was fired after reporting to federal authorities sexual harassment and welfare fraud by the pharmacy with which he was employed. He sued the employer claiming that he was terminated because he reported the misconduct. The court in that case found that there was no mixed-motive issue because the sole motive for termination of the employee was retaliation for his whistleblowing. However, the court stated that when there is insufficient evidence to show that a firing was causally connected to whistleblowing, there is no argument for a retaliatory termination claim.
As you can see from the cases above, mixed-motive cases are often difficult to determine without and extensive review of the facts surrounding the situation. This is why contacting an experienced employment law attorney is the best step you can take to determine your legal options.