Intel Must Face Retaliation Claims in Ex-Worker’s Bias Suit

One Intel employee recently filed a suit claiming that the company retaliated against her after complaints were made regarding a coworker’s harassment. A recent ruling from a California federal judge rejected the company’s counterargument that the retaliation accusations aren’t related to her allegations of discrimination.

U.S. District Judge, Kimberly J. Mueller, in her nine-page order, denied Intel Corp.’s motion to dismiss Sonia Randhawa’s two claims of retaliation, part of a broader suit also alleging race and sex discrimination. The judge seemingly viewed her allegations in the most favorable light, stating the claims are “reasonably related” to charges of discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Judge Mueller further claimed, “Both the administrative charge and the federal complaint describe the same scenario, the same position, and the same adverse actions: a high performing woman of a different race and heritage than others at the company was terminated with neither a warning nor justification after her persistent complaints of sexual harassment went unanswered.”

Judge Mueller further added that Randhawa’s administrative charge could have been clearer – she didn’t include the word “retaliation” in her narrative and failed to check off a corresponding box – but said administrative claims “must be interpreted liberally to protect employee rights and remedies.

"Intel can prevail only if it is obvious or clear from the face of Randhawa's complaint that her retaliation claim is inconsistent with or not reasonably related to her administrative charge," Judge Mueller said. "The court cannot reach that conclusion."

Randhawa sued Intel in January 2021, accusing the company of sex discrimination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment and wrongful termination.

According to the complaint, Randhawa was hired as a technical project manager in February 2015 and was regularly praised for her work. Shortly after starting at Intel, though, Randhawa said a co-worker began harassing her.

Randhawa complained to the human resources department, according to the suit, and was subsequently accused of poor performance. Randhawa said she filed another complaint with human resources alleging that the notice about her poor performance was issued in retaliation for her initial complaint, and the notice was then removed from her file.

Randhawa said she changed positions at Intel in February 2016 and got a new manager. The new manager, however, would regularly choose male employees for work assignments or projects instead of Randhawa, according to the complaint. Additionally, Randhawa said her co-worker continued to harass her, and though she complained again to human resources, nothing was done.

In January 2017, Randhawa was denied a promised promotion, and she complained to her department's vice president, whose assistant allegedly advised her to ignore both the harassment and the lack of promotion, she said.

Then, in January 2018, Intel told Randhawa she would be laid off in conjunction with the company's reorganization efforts. Randhawa said she applied for over 50 positions at Intel in advance of her termination, but when she asked for a layoff extension in order to be rehired, her request was denied.

Luke Peters, who is representing Randhawa, told Law360 that he's pleased with Judge Mueller's decision "as it will allow the full story to come out."

"It has been a long and difficult road toward redress for Ms. Randhawa but with this decision, we are one step closer," he said.

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