Elvira Mendez worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District at Encino Elementary School until she was laid off in November 2010 as a result of budget reductions. She was an office technician assigned to special education services. In August 2010, Marcia Koff became the Encino Elementary School principal.
During a meeting in August or early September 2010, Koff told Mendez and other staff members that, to protect student privacy, parents should not be allowed to view staff computer screens. On September 15, 2010, Koff saw Mendez talking to a parent at her desk behind the counter dividing the walkway from the desk area. Koff told the parent to move to the counter. The parent attempted to explain the subject of her conversation with Mendez, but Koff insisted that she move away from Mendez’s desk. Koff then pulled Mendez out of her chair by her shoulders, grabbed her left arm, and dragged her to the counter. Mendez felt a sharp pain in her upper left arm. During the incident, Koff told Mendez: “I told you not to speak to parents so close to your workstation.” Ten minutes later, after Mendez had returned to her desk, Koff put her hands on Mendez’s shoulders and whispered into her ear: “I don’t want you to speak to parents next to your desk. That is one of the many complaints from the district.”
Based on this incident, Mendez filed a police report against Koff the next day. She contacted her union representative about it on September 20, and complained in writing to Local District Superintendent Linda del Cueto on September 28. In the first week of October 2010, Mendez refused to proceed with the workers compensation claim the LAUSD had filed on her behalf. Also in the first week of October, Koff was asked to respond to Mendez’s complaint against her during a meeting with LAUSD directors Lisa Gaboudian and Dea Tramble. Koff was interviewed by police about the incident at the end of October 2010. No criminal charges were filed against her.
By letter dated October 15, 2010, the Personnel Commission notified Mendez of her layoff effective November 30, 2010. An office technician displaced from another school took over Mendez’s position, and her duties in special education were assigned to another office technician who transferred from a different school. A total of 1161 office technicians were laid off as a result of the RIF process.
In March 2011, Mendez sued Koff for assault and battery and the LAUSD for wrongful termination under Labor Code section 1102.5, subdivision (b). The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the employer and Koff, and Mendez appealed the dismissal of her case. The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal in the unpublished opinion in Elvira Mendez v Los Angeles Unified School District.
The Court of Appeal noted that workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for injuries caused by the tortious conduct of co-workers acting within the scope of their employment. (Lab. Code, § 3601, subd. (a); Torres v. Parkhouse Tire Service, Inc. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 995, 1002 (Torres).) An exception exists for injuries caused by a co-worker’s “willful and unprovoked physical act of aggression.” (Lab. Code, § 3601, subd. (a)(1).) This exception requires that the co-worker acted with a specific intent to injure. (Torres, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 1005.)
Mendez argues that whether Koff acted with an intent to injure her when she dragged her to the counter presents a triable issue of fact. The Court of Appeal disagreed. In Torres, supra, 26 Cal.4th 995, the California Supreme Court explained: “Flare-ups, frustrations, and disagreements among employees are commonplace in the workplace and may lead to ‘physical act[s] of aggression.’ [Citations.] ‘”In bringing [people] together, work brings [personal] qualities together, causes frictions between them, creates occasions for lapses into carelessness, and for fun-making and emotional flareup. . . . These expressions of human nature are incidents inseparable from working together. They involve risks of injury and these risks are inherent in the working environment.” [Citations.]’” (Id. at p. 1009.) Because “willful acts, including aggressive physical acts, may be considered within the scope of employment,” the intent to injure requires something more. (Ibid., citing Johns-Manville Products Corp. v. Superior Court (1980) 27 Cal.3d 465, 476 [trend toward allowing actions against employer who “‘acts deliberately for the purpose of injuring the employee’”].)
Viewed in the light most favorable to Mendez, the facts do not support a reasonable inference that Koff acted with the specific intent to physically injure Mendez.