California Supreme Court Clarifies the Role of Stray Remarks
By George W. Abele & Gina Guarienti Cook
The California Supreme Courts recent decision in Reid v. Google, Inc. creates yet another distinction between California and federal employment discrimination law and provides California employers with another reason to convey to employees the potential dangers of casual remarks.
In Reid, an age discrimination case, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. The court of appeal reversed after considering allegedly discriminatory statements made by the employees coworkers and supervisors. The Supreme Court granted review to decide whether to adopt the stray remarks doctrine in California and thereby deem irrelevant any remarks made by non-decisionmaking coworkers or remarks made by decisionmaking supervisors outside of the decisional process. After a thorough analysis of the origin and development of the doctrine, the California Supreme Court chose not to adopt a bright-line rule regarding stray remarks. Instead, the Supreme Court held that a trial court must review and base its summary judgment determination on the totality of the evidence in the record, including any relevant discriminatory remarks. Nonetheless, the Court also recognized that a slur, in and of itself, does not prove actionable discrimination.