Former Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Barbara C. Greenstein has been named one of this year’s California Lawyer of the Year award recipients (“CLAY Award”) for her work in successfully arguing Harris v. City of Santa Monica before the California Supreme Court in 2013.
Also receiving recognition for their contributions to the Harris outcome were Chief Deputy City Attorney Jeanette Schachtner, Deputy City Attorneys Carol Rohr, Anthony Serritella, Meishya Yang and Assistant City Attorney Joseph Lawrence, who accepted the CLAY Award on behalf of Greenstein and the office as Greenstein was unavailable due to travel out of the country.
The CLAY Awards are given annually by the California Lawyer magazine. The award recognizes the past year’s most significant legal accomplishments.
The 2014 CLAY Award ceremony occurred March 11, 2014 at the Civic Club of San Francisco. California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakuaye presided over the ceremony.
The Harris decision has been described as the most significant California Supreme Court opinion in years dealing with employment discrimination.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded that for employment discrimination to occur, the claimed act of discrimination must be the substantial reason why someone was fired or disciplined.
The Court also determined how so-called “mixed-motive” situations should be analyzed – these occur when there may be both legitimate and prohibited reasons for an employment action.
The Court decided that, if an employer can prove that it would have made the same employment decision anyway and despite any claim of discrimination, the employer should prevail even assuming there was some act or inference of prohibited discrimination.
Harris involved a probationary City bus driver who had both work performance and attendance issues.
While her supervisors were making their final decisions about whether she should be retained past probation, she disclosed that she was pregnant. Soon afterwards she was fired.
The factual and legal debate became whether she was fired because she was pregnant or was she fired because of poor attendance and poor work performance, and what legal rules help to sort that out.
The City lost at trial but prevailed at the Court of Appeal and before the Supreme Court with the City claiming before each court that improper jury instructions were given at trial.
Both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court agreed with the City that the jury instructions were wrong and that they failed to properly describe the requirements of California employment discrimination law.
This marks the second time in the past few years that the City Attorney’s Office has received an award for its work.
In August 2010 the City Attorney’s Office received the American Bar Association’s State and Local Government award as the most outstanding public law office for its accomplishments, especially in dealing with water contamination.