Harvey v. Sybase, Inc., 161 Cal. App. 4th 1547 (2008)

Marietta Harvey was hired and supervised by Nita White-Ivy in the human resources departments of two different companies, including Sybase. When Sybase terminated Harvey, she alleged discrimination on the basis of race or gender. The jury agreed and returned a verdict in Harvey’s favor in the amount of $1.3 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. In its unsuccessful motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, Sybase argued the jury’s verdict was not supported by substantial evidence because the “same actor rule” raised a strong inference that White-Ivy did not discriminate against Harvey in terminating her since she had also hired her. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of Sybase’s motion, holding that “same actor” evidence is simply evidence and should be treated like any other piece of proof – but it is not a “rule” or “presumption” in the employer’s favor. The Court of Appeal affirmed dismissal of Harvey’s public policy claims founded upon Labor Code § 232 (prohibiting discharge for disclosing the amount of wages) and § 232.5 (prohibiting discharge for disclosing information about “working conditions”) in the absence of evidence to support the former claim and a “well established public policy” to support the latter. Cf. Davis v. Team Elec. Co., 520 F.3d 1080 (9th Cir. 2008) (summary judgment in favor of employer in Title VII gender discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation case is reversed).