Scott v. Phoenix Schools, Inc., 175 Cal. App. 4th 702 (2009)

Jennifer Scott was terminated from her position as director of one of Phoenix Schools’ preschools. Her responsibilities included assigning personnel in compliance with the state regulations that set the minimum teacher-student ratios for child care centers. Scott was terminated shortly after she informed the parents of a prospective student that the school had no room for the child. Scott sued Phoenix Schools for wrongful termination in violation of the public policy embodied in the state regulations setting teacher-student ratios. A jury awarded Scott more than $1.1 million in compensatory and $750,000 in punitive damages. The Court of Appeal affirmed the compensatory damages award, but reversed the award of punitive damages on the ground that there was insufficient evidence of malice or oppression on the school’s part. Cf. McConnell v. Innovative Artists Talent & Literary Agency, Inc., 175 Cal. App. 4th 169 (2009) (employer’s anti-SLAPP motion to strike former employees’ retaliation and wrongful termination claims was properly denied because the claims did not arise from employer’s protected First Amendment activity).