On November 13, 2014 Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP, teamed up with another nationally recognized and Washington, DC based civil rights firm, (Bernabei & Wachtel, PLLC), and filed a lawsuit against the California Institute of Technology ("Caltech") in Los Angeles Superior Court. The suit alleges that high-level Caltech administrators retaliated against senior Caltech Professor, Dr. Sandra M. Troian, and have made her working conditions intolerable because she reported violations of federal export laws to the FBI concerning the handling of sensitive information at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ("JPL") which is managed by Caltech. Along with attorneys at Bernabei & Wachtel, Dan Stormer and Cindy Pánuco represent Dr. Troian in the suit which has received worldwide publicity.
Anne Richardson's article about the recent whistleblower case in the United States Supreme Court, Lane v. Franks, was published on the CELA Voice blog. Click here to read more:
Last Friday, March 22nd, a federal court jury in San Diego awarded over $4,646,252 to Denise Steffens. Ms. Steffens (represented at trial by Cindy Panuco and Dan Stormer of HSRR and Susan Guinn) was employed as a building manager by the office rental company Regus Group PLC, but was fired in July of 2007 after reporting wage-and-hour violations. The verdict is especially monumental since it comes out of the usually conservative San Diego area. "This is a great victory," said Cindy Panuco. "It shows that jurors will not accept hollow excuses for abusing workers." In October 2006, Steffens complained that Regus' staffing plan didn't allow her to give her staff legally required lunch and rest breaks. Immediately after this, the regional vice president of the company gave the order to "Get rid of her," according to testimony from her former supervisor. Her 11 years of prior employment records were unblemished, but in April 2007 she was put on a performance improvement plan intended to result in her termination, including impossible sales goals and supposed weaknesses in performance which her supervisor testified had been copied almost directly from an improvement plan previously given to another Regus employee. In July of 2007, Steffens was terminated. Regus, however, argued that Steffens was fired because of her declining attitude toward her work. After four days of trial, the jury found Regus liable for wrongful termination in violation of public policy - a tort claim which prohibits retaliation for whistleblowing. The jury returned a verdict for $4,646,252, including $3.5 million in punitive damages after finding that Regus acted with fraud, oppression, or malice when it terminated Ms. Steffens.
Employees who feel that they have been wrongfully fired or let go from their position have the right to legal recourse. This is especially true when the reason for their termination is retaliatory. In many cases, employees who speak up about unfair or illegal practices are fired shortly afterward. By pursuing a wrongful termination suit against their employer, such employees are not only standing up for their own rights, their court victories also make a strong statement that such acts will not be tolerated by the California courts.
On June 26, 2012 a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court reversed an order of the District Court granting summary judgment on plaintiff's claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Plaintiff, a high level manager, was terminated after complaining to the Regional Vice President of Regus Management Group, that the company was unlawfully denying employees meal and rest breaks. When it reversed and remanded for trial, the Ninth Circuit found that plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to go to a jury, that she was retaliatory terminated. Read the opinion here.