Grant-Burton v. Covenant Care, Inc., 99 Cal. App. 4th 1361 (2002)

Sharron Grant-Burton alleged that her employment was terminated in retaliation for having participated in a group discussion with other marketing directors about the company’s bonus structure. The company’s director of human relations testified at her deposition that Grant-Burton’s discussion of bonuses in a public forum was one of the reasons for the termination. Following the termination, Grant-Burton went to work at another skilled nursing facility; Grant-Burton’s former supervisor later told a meeting of Covenant Care department heads that “[Grant-Burton] is out there stealing our patients.” Grant-Burton sued for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, violation of California Labor Code Section 232 (prohibiting discrimination against an employee who discloses his or her wages), defamation and breach of contract. The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, but the Court of Appeal reversed the dismissal of the public policy claim. The Court held that Grant-Burton’s public policy claim was supported by the National Labor Relations Act and California Labor Code Sections 232 and 923. In affirming the dismissal of Grant-Burton’s defamation claim, the Court held that the statement that she was “stealing” the company’s patients was protected by a conditional privilege, and there was no evidence that the statement was made with malice.