Ventura v. ABM Indus., Inc., 2012 WL 6636255 (Cal. Ct. App. 2012)

Sylvia Ventura worked as a janitor for ABM. Ventura alleged a history of harassment and an act of violence by her supervisor, Carlos Manzano, and ratification by ABM. The jury awarded Ventura $100,000 in compensatory damages for past mental suffering. The trial court entered judgment in Ventura’s favor in the amount of the compensatory damages plus a $25,000 civil penalty under Civil Code § 51.7; the trial court also awarded Ventura $550,000 in attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that ABM had waived the defense of the workers’ compensation bar to the negligence-based claims because it had failed to ask the trial court to dismiss those claims (even though it had raised the defense in its answer). The Court also held that it was not error for the trial court to permit Ventura to file a second amended complaint asserting the section 51.7 claim on the eve of trial. For reasons that are unclear, Ventura asserted no claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and, according to the concurring and dissenting opinion, “turned to a novel and unprecedented avenue for an attorney fees and penalty award by successfully invoking Civil Code section 51.7.”