Operating Engineers Local 3 v. Johnson, 110 Cal. App. 4th 180 (2003)

Bonita Vinson and her union, Operating Engineers Local 3, filed this lawsuit against Sylvia Johnson, the Chief Probation Officer of the County of Alameda and the county, alleging violation of Vinson’s right to privacy. Vinson alleged that Johnson had made an announcement at a managerial meeting, in the presence of other employees who had no interest in the matter, that Vinson would be reprimanded and that Johnson had directed Vinson to write her own letter of reprimand. Later, Johnson distributed to an even larger group of employees minutes from the meeting in which the disciplinary action was reported in bold print. The jury awarded Vinson $10,000 for the invasion of her privacy and for the resulting mental distress. Johnson and the county challenged the judgment on the ground that the Workers’ Compensation Act was Vinson’s exclusive remedy. The trial court rejected Johnson’s argument, and the Court of Appeal affirmed on the ground that Johnson’s intentional dissemination of private information about Vinson to other employees exceeded the known and inherent risks of the workplace and, therefore, the claim was not barred by the Act.