Ali v. L.A. Focus Publication, 112 Cal. App. 4th 1477 (2003)

Najee Ali, who worked as the community affairs columnist for L.A. Focus Publication, was terminated after he expressed support while a guest on a local radio program for Antonio Villaraigosa, a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, and criticized United States Representative Maxine Waters for supporting another candidate, James Hahn, in the upcoming election. Ali alleged that Waters was upset by Ali’s public criticism of her on the radio and that Waters prevailed upon Jheryl Busby, a part owner of L.A. Focus, to terminate Ali. In response to Ali’s claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy, L.A. Focus successfully moved for summary judgment on the ground that Ali was a freelance/independent contractor without standing to assert employment-related claims. The Court of Appeal reversed the summary judgment, holding that there were triable issues of material fact as to whether the articles Ali submitted to L.A. Focus were written under the direction and control of the publication, whether he was provided the instrumentalities of doing the work and whether he was required to attend regular staff meetings. Additionally, the Court held that L.A. Focus did not have the right to terminate Ali for contravening the publication’s editorial policy since Labor Code § 1101 prohibits employers from terminating an employee for engaging in political activity. Finally, the Court affirmed summary adjudication of Ali’s claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing since Ali himself conceded that his employment relationship with L.A. Focus was terminable at will.