The California Supreme Court ruled that supervisors are not personally liable for employment discrimination. In Reno v. Baird, an employee claimed that she was terminated because she had cancer. The employee sued her employer and her supervisor for discrimination based on the medical condition, as well as for wrongful termination under FEHA. The court refused to hold the supervisor individually liable, finding that FEHA, while imposing personal liability for harassment, was not intended to impose personal liability for discrimination.
The court explained that a fundamental difference exists between discrimination and harassment. Acts that might be labeled discriminatory are the very acts inherent to a supervisor’s job, for example, hiring, promotions and terminations. On the other hand, harassment consists of a type of behavior that is not necessary for a supervisor’s job. Although it is possible for a supervisor to avoid harassment, it is not possible to avoid making personnel decisions, nor to prevent the claim that those decisions were discriminatory.