In Dutra v. Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 3 Dist., September 26, 2012), a California Court of Appeal considered whether a lawsuit alleging that an employee had been wrongfully terminated due to the filing of a workers' compensation claim could proceed. The court ruled that because the law provides the Workers Compensation Appeals Board ("WCAB") exclusive jurisdiction over such matters, the lawsuit could not proceed.
Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta (“Mercy”) terminated employee Michelle Dutra in 2008. At a meeting attended by various staff and supervisors, Mercy announced Dutra was terminated for gossiping on duty after being told not to, altering a check that had been issued to her, and falsifying her timecard. Dutra sued Mercy for wrongful termination and defamation of character alleging that she was terminated because she had filed a workers’ compensation claim and that Mercy defamed her when it communicated its reasons for her termination at a meeting of Mercy staff members.
The trial court granted Mercy’s motion to dismiss. Dutra appealed.
The court first agreed with the trial court that Mercy’s communication about the reasons for Dutra’s dismissal was a protected communication pursuant to Civil Code Section 47(c). Under that law, Dutra would have had to make a showing of material fact that the communication was motivated by malice. The court found Dutra had not made that showing.
The court then addressed Labor Code Section 132a, which bars discrimination against employees for making workers’ compensation claims and provides for reinstatement, reimbursement, and increased compensation for employees subject to such discrimination. The statute states that the WCAB has “full power, authority, and jurisdiction to try and determine finally all matters specified in this section.” The statute further establishes a specific procedure and forum for addressing a violation. Therefore, allowing Dutra to pursue a tort action based on a violation of Section 132a would “impermissibly give her broader remedies and procedures than that provided by the statute,” the court said.
Therefore, the trial court correctly granted Mercy’s motion to dismiss the action. The judgment was affirmed.
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