Pantoja v. Anton, 198 Cal. App. 4th 87 (2011)

Lorraine Pantoja sued attorney Thomas J. Anton and his firm for wrongful termination, violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), battery, sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. By the time of the trial, only the FEHA claims remained. In their motions in limine, defendants sought to exclude any reference to the term “Mexicans” because Pantoja had only heard Anton use that word one time. Defendants also sought to exclude all evidence of acts of discrimination or harassment unless Pantoja had “personally witnessed such acts” and the acts “adversely affected her working environment.” The trial court granted both motions. The jury found for the defense. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment, holding that the trial court erred by excluding so called “me-too” evidence of sexual harassment by Anton of other employees that occurred outside Pantoja’s presence or that did not affect her working environment. The court also concluded the trial court erred by excluding evidence of Anton’s references to “Mexicans” and other evidence of Anton’s alleged racial discrimination. Finally, the court found error in the trial court’s jury instruction concerning a hostile work environment because it was not accompanied by additional special instructions. See also Life Techs. Corp. v. Superior Court, 197 Cal. App. 4th 640 (2011) (employer should not have been ordered to provide further answers to plaintiff’s special interrogatories seeking identities and circumstances regarding termination of third parties in the absence of procedural and substantive safeguards designed to protect third parties’ privacy interests).