Governor Signs Bill Protecting Domestic Violence Victims

Senate bill was championed by San Diego area teacher, Carrie Charlesworth who was fired following a domestic violence incident involving her ex-husband

Survivors of domestic violence living in California will no longer face losing their jobs, according to a bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Friday.

Senate Bill 400, which will go into effect in January of 2014, protects victims of domestic violence from being fired or discriminated against at work because of their situation.

Championing the bill was San Diego area teacher Carrie Charlesworth, who gained national attention earlier this year after being fired from a private school following a domestic violence incident involving her ex-husband.

A 2011 study by Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center shows Charlesworth wasn’t alone: Nearly 40 percent of survivors in California reported being fired or feared termination because of domestic violence.

“Victims should not have to continue suffering in silence due to the fear they have of losing their job," Charlesworth said during her testimony before a California Judiciary committee in June. "Victims need to be able to speak up about what is happening to them so they can get the help they need to leave the situation.”

In June, NBC 7 San Diego was first to report the controversial story of Charlesworth being let go from Holy Trinity School in El Cajon after her ex-husband came to the school.

The situation began in January, when Charlesworth, then a second grade teacher, was experiencing a domestic violence situation with her ex-husband.

“Basically, we’d had a very bad weekend with him, we’d called the sheriff’s department three times on Sunday with him,” Charlesworth said of the incident.

As is true in many domestic violence cases, Charlesworth said there was a trail of 911 calls and restraining orders.

After the weekend incident, Charlesworth met with the principal at Holy Trinity School and told them to be on the lookout for her ex-husband. When Charlesworth’s ex-husband showed up in the school parking lot, the school went into lockdown.

Following the lockdown, Charlesworth was told her ex-husband’s menacing behavior posed too much of a risk for her to work at the school and in a letter the school dismissed her.

Charlesworth's four children, who attended Holy Trinity School, were also asked to leave.

"They’ve taken away my ability to care for my kids,” said Charlesworth in an interview with NBC 7 after the dismissal. “It’s not like I can go out and find a teaching job anywhere.”

Though the school did not comment on the specifics of the story, the Catholic Diocese of San Diego released a statement saying that it received an “outpouring of expression” both in support and opposition of its decision.

Meanwhile, fierce debate sparked.

The dismissal was supported by many parents who feared for the safety of their children.

“Decisions had to be made that would protect all of our kids, her kids included. So those were hard decisions and our principal and the Diocese had to do the best they could. And they did,” said parent Jennifer Grubbs.

Domestic violence advocates were outraged, saying Charlesworth’s firing would only reinforce an age-old problem where victims stay silent.

Charlesworth later sued the Diocese over her dismissal. The complaint sought damages for negligence, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation.

A few months before Charlesworth's story began grabbing headlines, SB 400 was introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.

"When I heard Carrie's story, it was clear that her situation helped illustrate the problem this legislation is solving. I am grateful for her courage in coming forward,” said Jackson in a media release. “She has put a face and a story on this issue, and that has made a difference in how we perceive domestic violence victims and in the passage of this bill," Jackson added.

Along with preventing the firing of and discriminating against victims of domestic violence, SB 400 requires employers make reasonable efforts to protect victims from their abuser. These efforts include changing phone numbers, relocating desks, or implementing a workplace safety plan.

Charlesworth said the bill showed a growing understanding of the situation survivors of domestic violence endure.

"It's incredibly gratifying to know that because SB 400 has been signed into law, thousands of domestic violence victims won't have to experience what I did," Charlesworth said. "By signing SB 400, the Governor is helping victims better their lives without the fear of losing their financial security."

Back in June, Charlesworth feared making her story public would end her career.

However, a school in Los Angeles offered her a position a short time after her story broke. An anonymous official at the school said they were willing to take the risk and give Charlesworth a job.

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