Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his employer for employment discrimination in violation of FEHA. The trial court granted employer’s motion for summary judgment and awarded the employer its court costs.
Plaintiff appealed and the case ended up before the California Supreme Court to decide the following issues:
- Is a prevailing defendant in a FEHA action entitled to its ordinary court costs as a matter of right under California Code of Civil Procedure § 1032, or only in the discretion of the trial court under a FEHA provision, California Government Code § 12965?
- If the trial court does have that discretion, must that discretion be exercised according to the rule applicable to attorney fee awards as stated in Christianburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412 (1978)?
The short answer is the trial court does have discretion to award costs to a prevailing party in a FEHA action, and that discretion must be exercised according to the guidelines set forth in Christianburg.
The court based this reasoning, in large part, due to the public policy behind FEHA to encourage vindication of employees’ civil rights.
There is an interesting discussion of statutory construction and an interesting history of FEHA and its predecessor statutes. But what was really interesting was the short discussion concerning dictum in a prior Supreme Court opinion which appears to be contrary to this opinion in which the current court said, “We spoke to broadly in the quoted dictum.” That opinion was Davis v. KGO-TV, Inc., 17 Cal. 4th 436 (1998).
This opinion is Williams v. Chino Valley Independent Fire Dist., 61 Cal. 4th 97 (2015).