“Desperate Housewives” Star’s Whistleblower Case Revived by Court of Appeal
In a unanimous decision, a California Court of Appeal held that an employee is not required to exhaust his or her administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the Labor Commissioner before commencing a civil action under California Labor Code sections 98.7 and 6312. Sheridan v. Touchstone Television Productions, LLC, No. B254489 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 20, 2015).
Nicole Sheridan, known for her role as Edie Britt in the television series ‘Desperate Housewives’, originally brought suit against her employer for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Sheridan alleged she was terminated in retaliation for her complaint that the show’s producer had slapped her after she attempted to question him about a script. After the jury deadlocked and the court declared a mistrial, the employer asked the court to enter a verdict in its favor on the wrongful termination claim. The Court of Appeal, however, permitted Sheridan to file an amended complaint under Labor Code section 6310.
Labor Code section 6310, subdivision (a)(1), prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee who makes “any oral or written complaint.” Subdivision (b) provides that “[a]ny 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 . . . his or her employer . . . of unsafe working conditions, or work practices . . . shall be entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits caused by the acts of the employer.” Labor Code section 6312 provides that “[a]ny employee who believes that he or she has been discharged or otherwise discriminated against by any person in violation of Section 6310 or 6311 may file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner pursuant to [Labor Code] Section 98.7.”
In the Sheridan case, the employer argued that before bringing a civil action Sheridan was first required to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner under Labor Code sections 98.7 and 6312. This omission would have been fatal to Sheridan’s claim; however, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the employer. The court reasoned that the permissive language of Labor Code section 6312, which states the employee “may” file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner, evidenced the legislature’s intent to permit, but not require, that an employee file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner before bringing a civil action. The court, therefore, permitted Sheridan to proceed with her retaliation claim under Labor Code section 6310.