Senate Bill 224 deals with sexual harassment. Governor Brown signed SB 224 by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson on September 30, as Chapter 951. The bill adds investors, elected officials, lobbyists, directors, and producers to the list of examples of relationships that are covered by Civil Code Section 51.9. Civil Code Section 51.9 imposes civil liability for sexual harassment in the business, service or professional context.

According to the analysis of this bill, because the current list of examples is not exclusive, it deems this bill as declaratory of existing law. Nonetheless, it serves to highlight that investors, elected officials, lobbyists, directors, and producers can be subject to liability if they engage in sexual harassment.

Existing law establishes liability for sexual harassment when the plaintiff proves certain specified elements; among other things, that there’s a business, service, or professional relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, and that there’s an inability for the plaintiff to easily terminate that relationship.

Existing law also states that a relationship may exist between a plaintiff and certain persons, including – under the law prior to SB 224 – attorneys, holders of a master’s degree in social work, real estate agents, and real estate appraisers. Senate Bill 224 not only amended Civil Code Section 51.9, but it also amended sections 12930 and 12948 of the Government Code so that it includes within the elements in a Cause of Action for sexual harassment, when the plaintiff proves that the defendant holds himself or herself out as being able to help the plaintiff to establish a business, service or professional relationship with either the defendant or a third party.

To summarize, SB 224 eliminates the element that the plaintiff proves that there’s an inability by the plaintiff to easily terminate the relationship. Next, the bill includes an investor, elected official, lobbyist, director, and producer among those listed persons who may be liable to a plaintiff for sexual harassment. Third, the bill makes the Department of Fair Employment and Housing responsible for the enforcement of sexual harassment claims. Finally, the bill makes it an unlawful practice to deny or aid, incite or conspire in the denial of rights of persons related to sexual harassment actions.

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