Category: Wrongful termination
CA Court Rules Work Comp Retaliation Claims Cannot Form the Basis of Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy Claim
Keeping with the theme of work comp exclusivity a California Appellate court ruled in Dutra v. Mercy against an employee’s effort to broaden the scope of work comp retaliation. Known in California as a 132a claim, the court declined to expand liability to a full blown wrongful termination claim (which is in fact allowed in many other states) . You could not have picked a more wonderful employee to be brave enough to make such a claim after she was fired for gossiping when she should be working, for check fraud and falsifying her time card.
Note: City of Moorpark did hold that Labor Code section 132a does not provide an exclusive remedy against disability discrimination and does not preclude an employee from pursuing remedies under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and common law wrongful termination remedies. (City of Moorpark, supra, 18 Cal.4th at p. 1158.)
In the California Court of Appeals case of Sparks v. Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, the employee filed a wrongful termination complaint against the company after he complained of various employment practices he believed violated state and federal reporting and compensation laws. The defendant, intendant to compel arbitration based on a provision found in its employee handbook. The court denied enforceability stating that, in general, arbitration agreements in employee handbooks are non-enforceable. This is because they should be signed as a separate document, employee handbooks often state that they are not contracts, that they can be unilaterally changed, etc.
In California and elsewhere, employers are having greater and greater difficulty enforcing arbitration agreements to the point where you have to ask if it is worse than the fight before the fight. What sense does it make to try and compel arbitration if losing costs you $50,000 to do so?
If you have an arbitration agreement, remember to make sure:
- It is signed as a stand-alone document.
- It is specific to coverage rights waived and any process to follow.
- Get it reviewed by a lawyer. It may cost you a few hours of their time, but you are doing it to save many thousands if you do get sued.
Touchstone Television Productions v. Nicolette Sheridan Court of Appeals, State of California Second Appellate District
In a recent case decided by the California Appellate Court, actress Nicolette Sheridan who appeared as Edie Britt in the program Desperate Housewives did not have her contract renewed because she had complained about a battery allegedly committed upon her by Desperate Housewives creator, Mark Cherry. Not only did they not renew her contract for a sixth season, in one of the episodes, they had her die off in a car accident. Then in a subsequent episode she returned as a ghost! Due to earn $4.2 million for a sixth season, when her contract was not renewed, she cried foul and filed suit.
The court ruled that Ms. Sheridan was not entitled to sue for wrongful termination in violation of public policy because of the fixed contract nature of her employment. The court did, however, allow her to amend her complaint under Labor Code §6310(d) which permits “an action for damages if the employee is discharged, threatened with discharge, or discriminated against by his or her employer because of the employee’s complaints about unsafe work conditions.” Here it is alleged that the defendant discriminated against the plaintiff by not renewing her employment contract. To prevail on the claim, she must prove that, but for her complaints about unsafe work conditions, the defendant would have renewed the contract. Damages, however, are limited to ‘lost wages and work benefits caused by the acts of the employer.’”
Looks like Hollywood doesn’t just produce dramas for us, it creates their own too!
The point is this: Just because an injured employee may not be able to return to work due to their injuries…they may be able to return to work by granting them an accommodation. Because Wal-Mart may not have engaged in an interactive dialogue the court let the case move forward. Wal-Mart was also being sued for wrongful termination. As stated by the court:
“Here, considering the facts in the light most favorable to Cox, Wal-Mart terminated her between seven and ten months after she invoked her OWCL rights. Cox has offered evidence that during those intervening months, Wal-Mart disciplined her unjustifiably on three occasions, and refused to accommodate her, even though before Cox invoked her rights, Wal-Mart found her performance acceptable and gave her accommodations. A reasonable jury could infer from this evidence that Cox’s termination was causally linked to her invocation of her OWCL rights.”