Mokler v. County of Orange, 157 Cal. App. 4th 121 (2007)

Pamela Mokler was employed as the executive director of the County’s Office on Aging (“OoA”). Following her termination, she sued the County for breach of contract, wrongful termination, hostile work environment and unlawful retaliation under Labor Code § 1102.5 (the “whistleblower statute”). The jury awarded Mokler $14,089.60 in past economic damages and $1,681,823 in past and future emotional distress damages (which the trial court reduced to $125,000 if Mokler would not agree to a new trial on damages). Although the jury found in favor of Mokler on the sexual harassment/hostile work environment claim, it awarded her no damages on that claim. Both sides appealed. The Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to enter judgment in favor of defendants on the sexual harassment claim, holding that County Supervisor Chris Norby’s acts vis-à-vis Mokler (making various rude and inappropriate comments and placing his arm around Mokler while rubbing against her breast) were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to establish a hostile work environment. The Court found that substantial evidence supported Mokler’s retaliation claim, which was based on her termination following her complaint to her supervisors that the County had engaged in illegal activity by reorganizing the OoA. Finally, the Court affirmed the new trial order, holding that the non-economic damages were excessive in light of the fact that Mokler had no trouble finding a new job (two weeks later) and her reputation was not damaged.