Steele v. Youthful Offender Parole Bd., 162 Cal. App. 4th 1241 (2008)

Lisa Steele worked as an office assistant/receptionist for the YOPB. In her spare time, Steele competed in several bikini contests that were sponsored by a local radio station. On the day of the final contest, Raul Galindo, chairman of the YOPB, asked Steele if she was going to participate in any other bikini contests, and Steele told Galindo that there was one scheduled for that night. Galindo attended the contest and, after it was over, tried to kiss Steele on the mouth. Steele told a co-worker about the incident who in turn told another co-worker (Kym Kaslar) who later filed a DFEH complaint, claiming she was retaliated against for reporting the incident. Although Steele told the YOPB that she was not offended by Galindo’s behavior, Galindo was reprimanded for fraternizing with the staff and for being involved in a “social situation of questionable taste.” Steele was subsequently reprimanded for various performance deficiencies and misconduct. Eventually, Steele resigned her employment but before she left, she was asked to and did sign statements denying the kissing incident and any inappropriate conduct on Galindo’s part. In her subsequent lawsuit, Steele alleged she had been constructively terminated because she was a potential witness in Kaslar’s retaliation case and because the YOPB wanted the DFEH investigators to rely exclusively on the (false) statements Steele had been asked to sign before she quit. The jury awarded Steele $9,046 in lost wages and $146,705 in attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, finding substantial evidence of constructive termination of Steele’s employment that was causally linked to her potential participation as a witness in Kaslar’s DFEH proceeding. Cf. CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, 553 U.S. 442, 128 S. Ct. 1951 (2008) (retaliation claim may be asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1981); Gómez-Pérez v. Potter, 553 U.S. 474, 128 S. Ct. 1931 (2008) (federal employee may sue for retaliation under ADEA).