Under SB 1343, employers with five or more employees must provide at least one hour of Online California Sexual Harassment Training to their staff and two hours to supervisors. Kailikole v. Palomar Community College District, a 2019 federal case from the Southern District of California, demonstrates that fully complying with the new requirement is in the best interest of the employer.

Kathryn Kailikole was employed by Palomar Community College District (PCCD) as an Academic Dean. She alleged retaliation for engaging in a protected activity; namely, that because she received a report of sexual harassment and passed it to upper management, she was placed on leave.

In May 2017, Kailikole received a report that two professors at the college were committing racial and sexual harassment. She passed the information to the Manager of the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office (EOCO), who called in an investigator. Although the professors were found guilty of violating anti-harassment policies, no action was immediately taken.

Kailikole continued to work for PCCD until December 2017, when she was “mysteriously” placed on paid leave. She remained on paid leave for five months and was never informed of the nature of the investigation “related to a confidentiality matter.”

Kailikole later learned that in an attempt to discredit her report, her computer was searched without her knowledge. The investigator found an email message Kailikole had sent to another faculty member regarding a sexual harassment incident involving the two professors. The faculty member forwarded the email to another person. Based on that faculty member’s conduct, Kailikole was accused of “conspiring” to leak confidential information. Her employment was later terminated, which she attributed either to this accusation of conspiracy or to disability discrimination.

PCCD filed a motion to dismiss Kailikole’s retaliation claim, using the “manager rule” as a shield. The “manager rule” asserts that when a supervisor fulfills the duties of their job description, that supervisor has not engaged in a protected activity. PCCD claimed that because reporting sexual harassment was part of her job, then under the “manager rule” it was not a protected activity.

The court rejected this argument, reasoning that Kailikole was not a human resources or compliance officer. As an Academic Dean, her duties included planning and administering instructional programs within her division. Kailikole had reported the incident she was aware of to the proper person, the Manager of the EOCO. PCCD’s motion to dismiss Kailikole’s retaliation claim was denied.

The Southern District of California took the stance that even if the person reporting a complaint of sexual harassment is not the victim, they are still protected by the anti-retaliation statutes intended to encourage reporting of sexual harassment. California sexual harassment training, now required in the state, is an opportunity for employers to protect themselves and their company, both by improving internal relations between coworkers and by preventing accidental policy violations. As part of sexual harassment prevention training, employers can include a component on what is expected of employees following a report of sexual harassment.

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