Touchstone Television Prods. v. Superior Court, 208 Cal. App. 4th 676 (2012)

Touchstone had an agreement with actress Nicollette Sheridan that gave it the exclusive option to renew Sheridan’s contract on an annual basis for an additional six seasons (after the first season) of the television show “Desperate Housewives.” Sheridan sued Touchstone for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, claiming she had been fired because she had complained about a battery allegedly committed upon her by Marc Cherry, the creator of the show. When the jury deadlocked on this claim, Touchstone moved for a directed verdict, contending that it had not terminated Sheridan, but rather had simply not renewed her contract for an additional season. The trial court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeal issued an alternative writ of mandate compelling the trial court to grant the directed verdict motion on the ground that a cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy does not lie if an employer decides simply not to exercise an option to renew a contract. The Court also ordered the trial court to permit Sheridan to file an amended complaint alleging a cause of action under Labor Code § 6310(b) (prohibiting retaliation against an employee who complains about unsafe working conditions, etc.) See also Howard Entertainment, Inc. v. Kudrow, 2012 WL 3704928 (Cal. Ct. App. 2012) (entertainer’s former personal manager could proceed with breach of contract claim in which he seeks a percentage of the entertainer’s income from the services rendered during the period of his retention).