Tuesday, May 29, 2007
C.A. Revives Suit Claiming Firing Was Based on Threat Reports
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A former employee sufficiently stated a cause of action for wrongful termination when he alleged he was fired because he complained about a coworker’s threats of violence in the workplace, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Five last week reversed a dismissal order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Conrad R. Aragon in a suit by local resident Calvin Franklin against his former employers, Monadnock Company and Hi-Shear Corporation, which design and manufacture industrial fasteners.
The defendants had demurred to Franklin’s first amended complaint, which alleged a single cause of action for wrongful termination of employment in violation of public policy. Aragon sustained the demurrers without leave to amend on the ground that the plaintiff’s allegations were insufficient to constitute a cause of action.
Franklin—hired by the defendants in June 2004 to work as a “heat-treater”—claimed that he and three fellow employees were threatened in the workplace by coworker Richard Ventura. After Ventura allegedly told them he would have them killed, the group of employees chose Franklin to complain about the threats on their behalf to the human resources department, “in order to protect the health and safety of everyone in the facility.”
Franklin made the complaint but to no avail, he alleged.
Rather than intervene in the situation, he claimed, the defendants “maintained a[n] unsafe place of employment by allowing the threats of violence and attempted violence to continue unheeded in the workplace.” They allegedly refused to keep Franklin and his colleagues safe from Ventura, failed to counsel, warn or segregate Ventura and failed to prevent him from directly assaulting the group of employees.
One week after Franklin spoke to human resources, Ventura attempted to stab him with a metal screw driver and another unspecified weapon. The plaintiff reported the attempted assault to police and told them that Ventura was endangering employees’ safety.
Franklin’s amended complaint alleged he was terminated by the defendants as a proximate result of his complaints to them and the police department.
On appeal, the defendants contended Franklin’s complaints to them and police did not involve a fundamental public policy embodied in a constitutional or statutory provision.
The Court of Appeal held they did.
Justice Richard M. Mosk wrote for the panel:
“Labor Code section 6400 et seq. and Code of Civil Procedure section 427.8, when read together, establish an explicit public policy requiring employers to provide a safe and secure workplace, including a requirement that an employer take reasonable steps to address credible threats of violence in the workplace.”
He rejected the defendants’ attempt to distinguish between the public policy of preventing foreseeable occupational injuries and illnesses and that of preventing injuries due to foreseeable violence or credible threats of violence in the workplace.
“There is no logic in drawing such an artificial distinction…,” the justice said.
It was “self-evident,” he added, that the policy of protecting employees from violence or threats of violence in the workplace is fundamental and substantial.
Mosk also cast aside the contention that Franklin’s complaints did not benefit the “public” but rather only him and his three colleagues.
“Plaintiff’s complaint about Ventura’s threats and report to the police served the public interest in promoting workplace safety, the interest in deterring workplace crime, and the interests of innocent coworkers who could have suffered harm,” he wrote.
“The public has a vital interest in ensuring, to the extent possible, that employees are provided a workplace that is free from credible threats of violence and physical assaults.”
Presiding Justice Paul Turner and Justice Sandy R. Kriegler concurred in the opinion.
Counsel on appeal were local attorneys Mark Weidmann and Lee K. Franck for Franklin; and Eric M. Steinert and Michael D. Mandel, of Seyfarth Shaw’s Los Angeles office, for the defendants.
The case is Franklin v. The Monadnock Company, 07 S.O.S. 2693.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company