In Raines v. U.S. Healthworks Medical Group, the California Supreme Court expanded the definition of an “employer” under the state’s discrimination statute to include certain third-party business entities that perform employment-related functions on behalf of employers. These agents may now be deemed “employers” such that they can be directly liable for employment discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act for certain activities that they carry out on behalf of employers.
Overview of Raines
The Raines‘ plaintiffs were job applicants who received offers of employment that were conditioned on the successful completion of pre-employment medical screenings conducted by a third-party company that used automated decision-making. Plaintiffs alleged that the screening form contained intrusive questions regarding their medical history that violated FEHA. They brought claims against their employers, as well as the third-party provider that conducted the medical screening. The question for the Court was whether business entities acting as agents of an employer, can be considered “employers” under FEHA and held directly liable for FEHA violations caused by their actions.
The Court examined the plain language in FEHA’s definition of “employer” and concluded that the definition did indeed encompass third-party corporate agents like the medical provider in his case. FEHA defines an employer as “any person regularly employing five or more persons, or any person acting as an agent of an employer, directly or indirectly.” Here, the Court reasoned, recognizing the medical provider as an agent of the employer extended liability to the company most directly responsible for the FEHA violation.