Smedley v. Capps, Staples, Ward, Hastings and Dodson

820 F. Supp. 1227 (1993)

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Smedley v. Capps, Staples, Ward, Hastings and Dodson

United States District Court for the Northern District of California
820 F. Supp. 1227 (1993)

Facts

Laura Smedley (plaintiff) was hired to work at the law firm of Capps, Staples, Ward, Hastings and Dodson (the firm) (defendant). After her employment began, the firm learned that Smedley was gay. Smedley’s supervisor, Kenneth Ward (defendant), told Smedley not to start discussions about controversial issues, such as sexual orientation, at the firm’s social gatherings. Ward also wrote Smedley a note in reference to the firm’s social events explaining that in view of the firm’s clients, talking about issues involving lesbian rights and various lesbian groups would not be appropriate. Because of Ward’s instructions, Smedley, who held a leadership position with the Bay Area Lesbian Feminist Bar Association (the bar), cut back on her activities with the bar. Also, Smedley did not discuss sexual orientation at the firm’s social events because she feared she might be terminated. However, when a local journal wrote an article about the bar, the article mentioned Smedley, listed her position with the firm, and quoted her comments regarding the importance of lesbian attorneys being known at work and helping other gay attorneys deal with discrimination. Almost one month after publication of the article, Smedley was fired. Smedley filed multiple claims against the firm and various individual partners (defendants), one of which alleged a violation of California’s labor code, which forbade an employer from making rules and regulations and enacting policies that prevented employees from engaging in political activity. Political activity had been interpreted to include the gay community’s struggle for equal rights, especially in the employment context. Smedley moved for summary judgment. However, on the evidence Smedley presented, it was not clear that Ward’s comments constituted a regulation, policy, or rule under the labor code. Likewise, it was also not clear that having a discussion about sexual orientation with the firm’s clients at a social event of the firm, as distinguished from conduct outside the work environment, constituted protected political activity. Smedley also presented no evidence of a link between the publication of the article and her termination.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Caulfield, J.)

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