August 2020 employment law decisions
Wrongful termination verdict upheld but punitive damages reduced.
August 24, 2020, Third District Court of Appeal, Timothy King v. U.S. Bank National Association: A jury found in favor of Mr. King for defamation, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and awarded almost $24.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The Third District affirmed the verdict but determined that the punitive damages award had to be reduced to a one-to-one ratio with the compensatory damages amount because U.S. Bank’s conduct was at the low end of the reprehensibility spectrum.
Physician’s independent contractor status precludes discrimination and retaliation case.
August 14, 2020, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, David E. Henry, M.D. v Adventist Health Castle Medical Center: Dr. Henry sued a medical center for discrimination and retaliation under federal law (Title VII) arising from the center’s suspension of his clinical privileges. The trial court dismissed the case (summary judgment) on grounds Dr. Henry was an independent contractor, and, therefore, not covered by Title VII. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed the center’s right to control the manner and means by which the work was accomplished (common law test). The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal after determining that a number of factors indicated an independent contractor relationship: (1) Dr. Henry was paid (per shift or emergency intervention), taxed (1099 forms), and received benefits (none) like an independent contractor; (2) Dr. Henry’s obligations to the center were limited providing him the freedom to run his own private practice; and (3) contracts between the center and Dr. Henry described him as an independent contractor.
Employee does not have enough evidence of age discrimination.
August 12, 2020, Third District Court of Appeal, Virginia M. Arnold v. Dignity Health: Ms. Arnold filed a case for employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against Dignity Health. The trial court dismissed the case (summary judgment). The Third District affirmed the dismissal of the age discrimination claim. Ms. Arnold’s evidence of age-related comments were not made by individuals involved in her termination, and the appellate court concluded the statements were benign in nature.