Siri v. Sutter Home Winery, Inc., 31 Cal. App. 5th 598 (2019)

Says Siri alleged she was terminated as the general ledger staff accountant for Sutter Home Winery in retaliation for having notified the state Board of Equalization and Sutter’s general counsel in writing of her belief that the winery was out of compliance with California sales and use tax law. Sutter successfully moved for summary judgment of Siri’s lawsuit on the ground that Siri could not establish the elements of her claim without relying upon Sutter’s tax returns, which were privileged and unavailable to her in connection with the prosecution of her lawsuit. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that Sutter had not established that Siri could not prove her case without Sutter’s tax returns – “Plaintiff’s right to recover turns only on whether she was discharged for communicating her reasonable belief that [Sutter] was not properly reporting its use tax obligation.” See also Wadler v. Bio-Rad Labs., Inc., 2019 WL 924827 (9th Cir. 2019) (portion of $11 million whistleblower verdict in favor of former general counsel vacated based upon erroneous jury instructions regarding Sarbanes-Oxley Act violation, but punitive damages awarded under state common law theory upheld).