Age and disability discrimination case against Zillow

Age and disability discrimination at work are illegal under California law, as is job termination in violation of public policy.

In a federal employment discrimination and wrongful discharge lawsuit brought by a 41-year-old former employee against online residential real estate giant Zillow, the judge has denied Zillow's motion to dismiss the suit. The court found that the plaintiff presented enough evidence for her discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination claims to go forward to trial.

The judge did dismiss the ex-employee's claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, finding them based on "conclusory allegations," but the plaintiff was given permission to amend the complaint in order to make these claims viable.

Plaintiff's allegations

The plaintiff filed her complaint in December 2014, shortly after her allegedly wrongful termination for so-called "job abandonment." The complaint summarizes the work environment as a "pervasive culture of retaliation and harassment," one in which lewdness and excessive drinking were the norm. The plaintiff felt that because she did not participate in these activities, she was excluded from company work events like meetings, even though she was making her required numbers.

She also alleges that her sales manager made disparaging comments about her performance based on age, behavior that did not stop even after the plaintiff complained about it.

According to the complaint, problems at work increased after she was injured in a motor vehicle accident that left her with ongoing severe pain. She alleges that despite reporting her pain, she was required to participate in group sales-call marathons done with everyone standing and no breaks.

Her pain worsened to the point that she needed hospitalization. During her hospital stay, the complaint describes a chaotic and confusing exchange of e-mails between her and Zillow human resources personnel, resulting in a Friday threat of job termination if certain medical documentation was not received by Monday morning. When it had not arrived four minutes after the imposed deadline, Zillow terminated her for "job abandonment."

GeekWire reports that in an e-mail, Zillow has responded that it is investigating these claims, but that the allegations are not consistent with its work environment.

Plaintiff's legal claims

In the complaint, the plaintiff asserts that her discharge violated public policy, which is illegal under California statute. She also claims that Zillow discriminated against and harassed her based on age, and discriminated against her based on disability, all in violation of California civil rights laws.

In addition, she made additional claims based on California common law (judge-made law):

  • Intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress
  • Negligent retention and supervision of other employees
  • Employer retaliation against her for complaining about age and disability discrimination at work

The plaintiff has requested a trial on the issues before a federal jury. Californians will be watching developments in the case with interest, but in the meantime, anyone who feels that he or she is being discriminated against, harassed or otherwise illegally treated at work should speak with an employment law attorney for advice and counsel, including information about potential lawsuits.

From offices in Calabasas, California, the experienced employment lawyers at Caskey & Holzman represent such clients from the Los Angeles area, Southern California and statewide.