Ells received the award based on her appellate work in Brome v. California Highway Patrol. On January 28, 2020 the California Court of Appeal ruled on behalf of Jay Brome, reversing the lower court’s dismissal of his case and sending the matter back to Solano Superior Court for trial. Ells had argued the case on January 23 on behalf of Brome, an openly gay 20-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol and former Solano County CHP Officer of the Year in 2013, who sued California’s largest law enforcement agency for harassment and discrimination in 2016. Brome’s case was dismissed in 2018 on the grounds that it was filed beyond the one-year statute of limitations, but the RBGG team of Lisa Ells, Ben Bien-Kahn, and Gay Grunfeld took on the matter and filed the successful appeal.
In a unanimous, certified for publication decision by Justice Burns, the court held that there were triable issues of fact on each element of the question whether the filing of a workers compensation claim equitably tolled the Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”) statute of limitations. The court also applied the continuing violations doctrine to allow Brome to assert his claims and held that he could alternatively prevail under a constructive discharge theory because a “reasonable finder of fact” could find the California Highway Patrol “knowingly permitted the intolerable conditions” to continue and “should have known that a reasonable employee in Brome’s position would resign.” See Brome v. California Highway Patrol (2020) 44 Cal.App.5th 786.
As Ells told the DJ: “His case and his story have now translated into a very far-reaching appellate decision that’s going to help a lot of plaintiffs tell their case to a jury so the jury can decide.”
Grunfeld, who has now received the DJ’s Top Women award ten times, was singled out for her work in Armstrong v. Newsom – the long running class action on behalf of prisoners with disabilities in California state prisons. On March 11, 2021, Judge Claudia Wilken granted in part Plaintiffs’ Motion to Stop Defendants from Assaulting, Abusing and Retaliating Against People with Disabilities (“Statewide Motion”). Judge Wilken found that systemic abuses against incarcerated people with disabilities at five of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s prisons violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and court orders previously issued in the case. Among other measures, the Court’s order requires that CDCR install security cameras and use body-worn cameras throughout the prisons, reform the staff complaint and disciplinary process, and increase supervisory staffing.
According to Grunfeld (as reported by the Sacramento Bee on March 12): “This is really a great victory for incarcerated people with disabilities. . .We will be able to get some information and visibility on where the problems are so people can be held accountable. The body worn cameras and the audio-visual surveillance systems will greatly improve the current discipline system, which all too often ignores the testimony and information from incarcerated people and takes the word of accused officers as gospel.”