Thursday, January 29, 2009
California Supreme Court Agrees to Hear CSU Whistleblower Lawsuit
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide whether a California State University employee must seek writ review of an adverse employment decision prior to filing a whistleblower suit.
By a vote of 6-0, with Chief Justice Ronald M. George absent and not participating, the justices voted at yesterday’s conference to review the Oct. 30 ruling of this district’s Court of Appeal, Div. One, in Runyon v. Board of Trustees of California State University, B195213.
The plaintiff, Dr. L. Richard Runyon, claims he was terminated from the chairmanship of the Finance, Real Estate and Law Department of the College of Business Administration at CSU Long Beach—a post he held from 1991 to 2004—in retaliation for his numerous complaints of alleged mismanagement by the college’s dean, Luis Ma Calingo.
Calingo said he lost confidence in Runyon as a result of the chairman’s failure to conduct an adequate review of the department’s curriculum. Runyon filed an administrative complaint of retaliation, but the university determined that there was no relationship between Runyon’s complaints and his termination.
He then filed suit under a whistleblower retaliation statute that applies specifically to CSU employees, Government Code Sec. 8547.12. The statute permits employees to seek damages following administrative review of their internal whistleblower complaints.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jane L. Johnson granted the university’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that the damage action authorized by the statute was precluded if the university conducted an investigation in good faith and rendered a timely decision adverse to the employee, unless that decision was overturned by writ of administrative mandate.
Retired Justice J. Gary Hastings, who authored an unpublished opinion while sitting on assignment in Div. One, said the trial judge was correct. In doing so, he rejected the contention that a provision in the statute allowing an employee to sue without exhausting administrative remedies if an administrative complaint has not been “satisfactorily addressed” within 18 months applied.
Hastings concluded that a complaint is satisfactorily addressed if a decision is rendered within the 18-month period. There is no requirement, he said, that the university offer a particular level of due process, as Runyon contended.
The justice cited Miklosy v. Regents of the University of California, (2008) 44 Cal.4th 876, in which the court held that employees who obtained a timely administrative decision on their retaliation complaint against the University of California could not sue under a similar provision of the whistleblower statute.
In other conference action, the justices:
•Denied requests for publication of a Nov. 12 decision of the First District’s Div. Three upholding a $403,548 attorney fee award against Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs and the Town of Woodside. The fees were awarded under the private attorney general statute after the preservation group Uphold Our Heritage successfully challenged the San Mateo County town’s decision allowing Jobs to demolish an historic 17,000-foot mansion to build a smaller residence.
•Asked the State Bar Court for a recommendation as to whether former Orange Superior Court Judge Kelly MacEachern should be allowed to resume practicing law. MacEachern was ousted from the bench by the Commission on Judicial Performance last June.
The CJP said the onetime prosecutor engaged in willful misconduct by claiming reimbursement for attending judicial education classes that she did not, and was not authorized to, take.
•Agreed to answer a certified question from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as to whether the broadband telephone company Vonage’s alleged sending of unsolicited e-mails from multiple domain names in order to bypass spam filters violated the ban on falsified, misrepresented, or forged header information in the anti-spam law, Business and Professions Code Sec. 17529.5.
The Ninth Circuit said the answer may be dispositive of the plaintiff’s appeal in Kleffman v. Vonage Holdings Corp., 07-56171. U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess of the Central District of California dismissed the putative class action complaint for failure to state a cause of action.
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