Yanowitz v. L’Oréal USA, Inc., 36 Cal. 4th 1028 (2005)

Elysa Yanowitz, a regional sales manager for L’Oréal USA, Inc., alleged that after refusing to carry out an order from a male supervisor to terminate the employment of a female sales associate who was not sufficiently sexually attractive, Yanowitz was subjected to hostile adverse treatment, resulting in her leaving the company. Among other things, Yanowitz alleged that L’Oréal’s actions constituted unlawful retaliation under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Yanowitz and held that the court of appeal properly reversed the summary judgment that had been granted in favor of L’Oréal. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that an employee’s refusal to follow a supervisor’s order that the employee reasonably believes to be discriminatory constitutes protected activity under the FEHA even if the employee does not specifically state to the supervisor her belief that the order is discriminatory. The Court further held that the proper standard for defining an adverse employment action is the “materiality” test (i.e., the adverse action must materially affect the terms or conditions of employment) and that the “continuing violation” doctrine should be applied in determining when the applicable statute of limitations began to run. See also Horsford v. Board of Trustees, 132 Cal. App. 4th 359 (2005) (applying the “materiality” test in a race discrimination case); Porter v. California Dep’t of Corrections, 419 F.3d 885 (9th Cir. 2005) (applying the “continuing violation” doctrine to sexual harassment and retaliation claims arising under Title VII).