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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dutra v. Mercy Medical Center: Plaintiff Cannot Rely on Labor Code Section 132a as Basis For Wrongful Termination Claim

In Dutra v. Mercy Medical Center Mount Shasta (9/26/12), the plaintiff sued her former employer for defamation and wrongful termination.  The trial court granted summary adjudication of the defamation claim and dismissed the wrongful termination claim prior to trial.  The plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.  

First, the Court held that the trial court did not err in summarily adjudicating the defamation claim because there was no triable issue of fact that the defendant had not acted with malice in disclosing its reasons for terminating the plaintiff in a meeting with her, a union steward, and certain supervisors.  Slip op. at 4-5.

Second, the Court held that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to hear the plaintiff's claim that her employer terminated her in violation of Labor Code section 132a.  Slip op. at 6-10.  Although the California Supreme Court in City of Moorpark v. Superior Court (1998) 18 Cal.4th 1143, held that section 132a does not provide the exclusive remedy for disability discrimination and that employees may pursue claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and common law wrongful termination, "section 132a does not qualify under case authority as the type of policy that can support a common law action for wrongful termination."  Slip op. at 6.  
Section 132a includes limitations on its scope and remedy that prevent it from being the basis of a common law cause of action.  The statute establishes a specific procedure and forum for addressing a violation.  It also limits the remedies that are available once a violation is established.  Allowing plaintiff to pursue a tort cause of action based on a violation of section 132a would impermissibly give her broader remedies and procedures than that provided by the statute.  Thus, the statute cannot serve as the basis for a tort claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and the trial court correctly granted Mercy's motion to dismiss the action.
Slip op. at 9.  

The Court reiterated that section 132a was not the plaintiff's exclsuive remedy, and that she could have amended her complaint to seek those remedies, but chose not to do so.  Slip op. at 9-10.

The opinion is available here.

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