Briley v. City of W. Covina, 66 Cal. App. 5th 119 (2021)

Jason Briley worked for the City of West Covina as a deputy fire marshal. During his employment, Briley complained that various city officials, including his former supervisor, had ignored his reports of safety issues and engaged in misconduct. The city investigated Briley’s complaints and concluded they were unfounded, but while that investigation was still pending, the city commissioned a second investigation of allegations that Briley had repeatedly engaged in misconduct and unprofessional behavior. At the conclusion of the second investigation, Briley’s employment was terminated. In this lawsuit, Briley alleged whistleblower retaliation under Cal. Lab. Code § 1102.5. At trial, the jury awarded Briley over $500,000 in lost wages, $2 million in past emotional distress damages and $1.5 million in future emotional distress damages – though Briley’s attorney had asked the jury to award only $1.5 million in past and $1.5 million in future emotional distress damages.

In this opinion, the Court of Appeal held that “the jury’s total award of $3.5 million in noneconomic damages is shockingly disproportionate to the evidence of Briley’s harm and cannot stand.” Although Briley testified that the termination was “pretty devastating” and that he had had some “sleep-related issues,” there was no evidence that any of the problems Briley described was particularly severe. The Court held that $1,700 per day for past emotional distress damages was excessive and determined that Briley’s demeanor on the witness stand (he cried) may have resulted in passion rather than measured judgment on the part of the jury. Further, the Court held that the $1.5 million award of future noneconomic damages “stands on even shakier ground” because the $500,000 in economic damages the jury awarded should have eliminated any remaining financial concerns tied to his termination and “also vindicated Briley and counteracted any false or unfair allegations against him.” The Court also determined that Briley’s counsel’s “personal attack” on the city’s counsel (calling him a liar) shortly before the jury began its deliberations may have prejudiced the jury against the city. The Court vacated the damages award and remanded the case for a new trial unless Briley accepted a reduction of the awards to $1 million in past emotional distress damages and $100,000 in future emotional distress damages (i.e., a total reduction of $2.4 million).

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Photo of Tony Oncidi Tony Oncidi

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including…

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including litigation and preventive counseling, wage and hour matters, including class actions, wrongful termination, employee discipline, Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, executive employment contract disputes, sexual harassment training and investigations, workplace violence, drug testing and privacy issues, Sarbanes-Oxley claims and employee raiding and trade secret protection. A substantial portion of Tony’s practice involves the defense of employers in large class actions, employment discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination litigation in state and federal court as well as arbitration proceedings, including FINRA matters.

Tony is recognized as a leading lawyer by such highly respected publications and organizations as the Los Angeles Daily JournalThe Hollywood Reporter, and Chambers USA, which gives him the highest possible rating (“Band 1”) for Labor & Employment.  According to Chambers USA, clients say Tony is “brilliant at what he does… He is even keeled, has a high emotional IQ, is a great legal writer and orator, and never gives up.” Other clients report:  “Tony has an outstanding reputation” and he is “smart, cost effective and appropriately aggressive.” Tony is hailed as “outstanding,” particularly for his “ability to merge top-shelf lawyerly advice with pragmatic business acumen.” He is highly respected in the industry, with other commentators lauding him as a “phenomenal strategist” and “one of the top employment litigators in the country.”

“Tony is the author of the treatise titled Employment Discrimination Depositions (Juris Pub’g 2020;, co-author of Proskauer on Privacy (PLI 2020), and, since 1990, has been a regular columnist for the official publication of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of California and the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Tony has been a featured guest on Fox 11 News and CBS News in Los Angeles. He has been interviewed and quoted by leading national media outlets such as The National Law JournalBloomberg News, The New York Times, and Newsweek and Time magazines. Tony is a frequent speaker on employment law topics for large and small groups of employers and their counsel, including the Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”), PIHRA, the National CLE Conference, National Business Institute, the Employment Round Table of Southern California (Board Member), the Council on Education in Management, the Institute for Corporate Counsel, the State Bar of California, the California Continuing Education of the Bar Program and the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills Bar Associations. He has testified as an expert witness regarding wage and hour issues as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and has served as a faculty member of the National Employment Law Institute. He has served as an arbitrator in an employment discrimination matter.

Tony is an appointed Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission Board of Rights and has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law and a guest lecturer at USC Law School and a guest lecturer at UCLA Law School.