Overhill Farms, Inc. v. Lopez, 190 Cal. App. 4th 1248 (2010)

After the IRS notified Overhill Farms that 231 of its then-current employees had provided invalid social security numbers, Overhill contacted the employees identified by the IRS, advised them that their social security numbers were invalid according to the IRS, and provided them with the opportunity to correct the erroneous information in order to avoid termination of their employment. All but one of the employees either ignored Overhill’s repeated requests for information or admitted they had submitted an invalid social security number and that they were not authorized to work in the United States. Overhill terminated the 230 employees. Thereafter, several of the terminated employees, led by Nativo Lopez (a self-described “community activist”), participated in protests outside of Overhill’s two plants and outside of one of Overhill’s customer’s place of business. They asserted Overhill had used a “supposed discrepancy” in social security numbers as a pretext for “racist firings” and a targeted attack on older and more senior employees and that Overhill had exploited part-time workers “visciously [sic] as if modern slavery were in place.”

In response, Overhill sued the protestors for defamation, intentional interference with contractual relations, extortion and unfair competition. The defendants filed a special motion to strike Overhill’s lawsuit against them under the anti-SLAPP law, asserting their statements and actions were taken in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with a public issue. The trial court denied the protestors’ motion, except as it related to the unfair competition claim because there was no evidence the protestors were engaged in a business act or practice in connection with their protests. As for the other claims, the trial court determined Overhill had established a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claims against the protestors and on that basis denied the motion to strike. The Court of Appeal affirmed the order.