Veronese v. Lucasfilm Ltd., 2012 WL 6628544 (Cal. Ct. App. 2012)

Julie Gilman Veronese sued Lucasfilm on a number of theories, including pregnancy discrimination, failure to prevent pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Following 11 days of trial and three days of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Veronese in the amount of $93,830 for past economic damages and $20,000 for emotional distress damages. The trial court later awarded Veronese $1,157,411 in attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment because the trial court refused to give a special instruction involving the exercise of business judgment that was proposed by Lucasfilm:

“You may not find that Lucasfilm discriminated or retaliated against Julie Gilman Veronese based upon a belief that Lucasfilm made a wrong or unfair decision. Likewise, you cannot find liability for discrimination or retaliation if you find that Lucasfilm made an error in business judgment. Instead, Lucasfilm can only be liable to Julie Gilman Veronese if the decisions made were motivated by discrimination or retaliation related to her being pregnant.”

The court further held that it was error for the trial court to instruct the jury (at Veronese’s request) that “[a] potential hazard to a fetus or an unborn child is not a defense to pregnancy discrimination” because Lucasfilm did not assert such a concern as a defense to discrimination in this case. The court also found error based upon the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on the failure to prevent discrimination claim (even though the jury found for Veronese on that claim) and on the difference between the termination claim and the failure to hire/promote claim.