Jersey v. John Muir Med. Ctr., 97 Cal. App. 4th 814 (2002)

Ester Jersey was employed as a nursing assistant and technician at a hospital when she was injured by a patient in the rehabilitation unit who was suffering from head trauma. Less than one year later, Jersey filed a personal injury action against the hospital’s former patient. When Jersey’s superiors at the hospital found out about the lawsuit, they demanded that she dismiss the action or be considered to have resigned her position. When Jersey refused to dismiss the action, she was deemed to have resigned. In her subsequent lawsuit against the hospital, Jersey alleged, among other things, wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The trial court granted the hospital’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that “there is no public policy that bars … employers from reacting adversely to lawsuits filed by their employees.” The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal, holding that it is not “against public policy for an employer to insist that its employees not sue its customers, clients or patients.” The Court similarly affirmed dismissal of Jersey’s claims for sex discrimination (no evidence); breach of contract (plaintiff was employed at-will); and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (no outrageous conduct). However, the Court reversed the order awarding attorneys’ fees to the employer because there was no evidence that Jersey’s unsuccessful sex discrimination claim was “frivolous.”