Edward Vaca pursued both a tort claim, and a number of workers’ compensation claims against his employer, Vons, including a 132a claim for discrimination.
A 132a was filed in each WC case, and was the subject of a Finding and Award in 2015, which stated that damages for the Section 132a claim would be informally adjusted by the parties with jurisdiction reserved. A Finding of violation of Labor Code section 132a was affirmed by Opinion on Decision After Reconsideration in 2019,
While the workers’ compensation claim was pending, Vons and Varga entered into a Confidential Settlement Agreement and General Release of Claims in the civil action in 2016.
The Settlement Agreement contained language that Vons claims provided for the disposition of the 132a claim, although the Settlement Agreement did not specifically provide for that in a clear and unambiguous way.
For example, Paragraph 5 provided that “Plaintiff shall withdraw any and all pending charges and complaints of discrimination filed against any of the defendants in the Action with any governmental agency that are open at the time of Plaintiff’s execution of this Agreement.”
Paragraph 9 provided that “The Claims released herein include . . . any Claims in any way arising out of or based upon Plaintiff’s employment with Defendant, or the termination thereof, . . . Plaintiff will not institute, . . . and/or continue any legal, administrative or grievance proceeding against the Releasees . . .”
Paragraph 13 provided that “It is expressly understood and agreed that Plaintiff is not eligible for reinstatement . . . Plaintiff will neither seek nor accept any such employment . . .”
However, In Paragraph A of Page 1, provided that the “Action’ that is the subject of the entire agreement is defined as Case BC589377.” This civil case is not the same action as the workers’ compensation claims bearing case numbers ADJ9770846 et al.
On February 11, 2020, the matter proceeded to trial in the workers’ compensation case of the issue of whether “applicant’s 132a claim and accompanying remedies are barred, estopped or precluded or otherwise invalid as a matter of law.” The WCJ concluded that it was not released. Reconsideration was denied in the panel decision of Varga v Vons. The Court of Appeal recently denied a Petition for Writ of Review, and the decision is now final.
Labor Code 5000(a) plainly prohibits contracts such as releases that purport to exempt employers from liability for workers’ compensation benefits without without WCAB approval. “We are therefore unable to discern statutory support for defendant’s position.”