Touchstone Television Productions (Touchstone) hired actress Nicollette Sheridan to appear in the television series Desperate Housewives, a show created by Marc Cherry. Sheridan alleged Cherry battered her. Cherry said he only tapped Sheridan on the head for artistic direction. Sheridan sued Touchstone under Labor Code section 6310, alleging that Touchstone fired her in retaliation for her complaint about the battery allegedly committed on her by Cherry. The trial court sustained Touchstone’s demurrer to the complaint on the basis that Sheridan failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by filing a claim with the Labor Commissioner. The sole issue on appeal is whether Sheridan was required to exhaust her administrative remedies under Labor Code sections 98.7 and 6312. We conclude that she was not required to do so and therefore reverse.
Labor Code section 6310 provides:
(a) No person shall discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee because the employee has done any of the following:
(1) Made any oral or written complaint to the division, other governmental agencies having statutory responsibility for or assisting the division with reference to employee safety or health, his or her employer, or his or her representative.
(2) Instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or relating to his or her rights or has testified or is about to testify in the proceeding or because of the exercise by the employee on behalf of himself, herself, or others of any rights afforded him or her.
(3) Participated in an occupational health and safety committee established pursuant to Section 6401.7.
(b) Any employee who is discharged, threatened with discharge, demoted, suspended, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment by his or her employer because the employee has made a bona fide oral or written complaint to the division, other governmental agencies having statutory responsibility for or assisting the division with reference to employee safety or health, his or her employer, or his or her representative, of unsafe working conditions, or work practices, in his or her employment or place of employment, or has participated in an employer-employee occupational health and safety committee, shall be entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits caused by the acts of the employer. Any employer who willfully refuses to rehire, promote, or otherwise restore an employee or former employee who has been determined to be eligible for rehiring or promotion by a grievance procedure, arbitration, or hearing authorized by law, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Labor Code section 98.7 permits the filing of complaints of retaliation and wrongful termination with the Labor Commissioner, and authorizes the Labor Commissioner to investigate those complaints and fashion appropriate remedies if retaliation is found. Labor Code section 6312 is similar in that it permits the filing of a complaint with the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration (CalOSHA) and investigation of those complaints. Touchstone’s lawyers argued these procedures are a mandatory administrative prerequisite to filing a civil employment lawsuit in court, and the trial court judge in Los Angeles County agreed. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court holding filing a retaliation complaint with the Labor Commissioner is not mandatory before suing in court with an employment attorney or law firm.
The ruling paves the way for Sheridan to continued to pursue her wrongful termination case against Desperate Housewives in court.
The labor and employment trial attorneys at Rose Law represent employees who have been victims of retaliatory termination or wrongful termination. Lawyers in our Sacramento area law office can review your potential case if you contact us at (916) 273-1260, or send us a message using the contact form on this page.