Melony Light began working as a seasonal Park Aide at the California Department of Parks and Recreations’s Ocotillo Wells District in San Diego County in 2010. In 2011 she was promoted to a permanent position as an Office Assistant.
Kathy Dolinar was the Superintendent of the Ocotillo Wells District and Leda Seals’s supervisor. Seals and Dolinar were close friends.
In fall 2011, Seals recommended Light for an “out-of-class” assignment as an Office Technician. An “out-of-class” assignment is a temporary assignment to a position in a higher classification with an accompanying increase in pay. Before the end of that assignment, in approximately February 2012, Seals recommended Light for a second out-of-class assignment as a Management Services Technician.
Melony Light was friends with a coworker, Delane Hurley. Seals believed Hurley to be a lesbian. Seals repeatedly made comments to Light intended to make her uncomfortable about her friendship with Hurley, to enlist Light in Seals’s harassment of Hurley based on her sexual orientation, and to encourage Light to cease all contact with Hurley. Seals’s actions allegedly caused Light to suffer emotional distress.
Hurley eventually took medical leave for stress. While she was absent, Seals asked Light to go through Hurley’s workspace and remove any personal items. Light objected because she did not feel comfortable going through Hurley’s things, but Seals insisted. Seals also told Light to move into Hurley’s office because Hurley would not be coming back to the District. Light again objected, but Seals told her the move was nonnegotiable. This situation escalated ultimately involving Kathy Dolinar as Superintendent and a convoluted series of related events.
Ultimately Light filed civil litigation against the Department for retaliation, disability discrimination, and failure to prevent retaliation and discrimination, all in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The trial court ruled in favor of the Recreation Department, and her former supervisors, defendants Leda Seals and Kathy Dolinar, following orders granting defendants’ motions for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal reversed in the partially published case of Light v Calif. Dept. of Parks and Recreation.
As to Seals and Dolinar, the court concluded contrary to the trial court that workers’ compensation exclusivity does not bar Light’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under the circumstances here. As to the Department, the court concluded that triable issues of material fact preclude summary adjudication of Light’s retaliation claim, but not her disability discrimination claim.
“[T]he exclusive remedy provisions are not applicable under various circumstances, sometimes various identified as ‘conduct where the employer or insurer stepped out of their proper roles’ [citations], or ‘conduct of an employer having a “questionable” relationship to the employment’ [citations], but which may be essentially defined as not stemming from a risk reasonably encompassed within the compensation bargain.”
“Because our discussion of the interplay between workers’ compensation exclusivity and intentional infliction of emotional distress addresses an important legal issue, and our interpretation differs from a recent opinion by our colleagues in Division Three of this court (Yau v. Santa Margarita Ford, Inc. (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 144) , we will publish that discussion, as well as our discussion of the FEHA retaliation claim on which it relies.”
Yau interpreted the California Supreme Court’s 2008 opinion in Miklosy v. Regents of the University of Cal. (2008) 44 Cal.4th 876, 902 to allow only a single exception to the workers’ compensation exclusivity rule and concluded,that the “exception does not, however, allow a ‘distinct cause of action, not dependent upon the violation of an express statute or violation of a fundamental public policy.’ ” (Ibid., quoting Miklosy, supra 44 Cal.4th at p. 902.).
“We believe Yau reads Miklosy too narrowly……..In sum, absent further guidance from our Supreme Court, we are unwilling to abandon the longstanding view that unlawful discrimination and retaliation in violation of FEHA falls outside the compensation bargain and therefore claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress based on such discrimination and retaliation are not subject to workers’ compensation exclusivity.”