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Retaliation in the Workplace: California Employee Sues Employer After Being Fired for Reporting Stolen Wedding Ring

retaliation-in-the-workplace-california-employee-sues-employer-wrongful-termination.jpg

California employment and labor laws may protect employees from retaliation in the workplace and negative employment actions enforced by their employers, but a California dental hygienist recently faced retaliation, prompting her to sue and ultimately win her case.

Dental hygienist, Rosa Lee Cardenas, alleged wrongful termination by M. Fanaian, D.D.S., Inc. in 2010 after reporting to police that her expensive 25th anniversary wedding ring was stolen at work. Reedley Police Department officers questioned staff at the dental office two times, then Cardenas' employer fired her due to the tension the investigation caused with other staff members. The day after Cardenas was let go, the ring was found at the office.

retaliation-in-the-workplace-california-employee-sues-employer-wrongful-termination.jpg

California employment and labor laws may protect employees from retaliation in the workplace and negative employment actions enforced by their employers, but a California dental hygienist recently faced retaliation, prompting her to sue and ultimately win her case.

Dental hygienist, Rosa Lee Cardenas, alleged wrongful termination by M. Fanaian, D.D.S., Inc. in 2010 after reporting to police that her expensive 25th anniversary wedding ring was stolen at work. Reedley Police Department officers questioned staff at the dental office two times, then Cardenas' employer fired her due to the tension the investigation caused with other staff members. The day after Cardenas was let go, the ring was found at the office.

Employer Violates California Labor Code Section 1102.5, Files an Appeal

Approximately a year later on November 7, 2011, Cardenas filed a retaliation lawsuit in violation of Labor Code Section 1102.5 and wrongful termination in violation of public policy, where the jury found in her favor on both claims. In January 2014, the court entered judgment on the verdict, but the employer appealed.

Dr. Fanaian argued that there wasn't a fundamental public-policy violation in connection with Fanaian's firing of Cardenas, and that the police report was unrelated to the employer's business activities, but was instead a personal matter.

Where Fanaian Went Wrong

While California Labor Code Section 1102.5 prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for reporting information to a governmental or law enforcement agency that he or she reasonably believes discloses a violation of state or federal law, it does not require that an employee prove his or her termination (or another adverse action) violated a fundamental public policy. There is also no requirement under this Section that the violation reported be related to an employer's business operations. Further, a Section 1102.5 claim isn't simply limited to disclosing wrongdoing to law enforcement or governmental agencies, and can pertain to internal reports to supervisors or other employees with the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation.
The employee's disclosure also remains protected activity as long as the employee has reasonable cause to believe the information disclosed is violation of state or federal law.

Jury Awards Cardenas $118,000 in Damages

Ultimately, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in favor of Cardenas because a Section 1102.5 claim does not require proof of a violation of a fundamental public policy and need not involve violations of law arising from a California employer's business operations.

The jury awarded Cardenas $118,000 in damages.

Read the full story on HR.BLR.com: California employee fired for reporting theft of her wedding ring

If you are facing employer retaliation or wrongful termination in California, our expert employment attorneys are here to fight for your rights. Contact us today for your free consultation.

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