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Darlene Hoyt v. Career Systems

March 22, 2011

DARLENE HOYT,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAREER SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT
CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Roger T. Benitez United States District Judge

[Dkt. No. 176]

ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

Plaintiff's motion for a new trial is before the Court. Dkt. No. 176. A jury found that Plaintiff did not establish that she was an employee of Defendant CSDC - precluding her claims for wrongful termination - and that Plaintiff did not establish that Defendant terminated her contract in a manner that violated the terms of her contract. Plaintiff challenges the jury instruction given on determining if an individual is an employee or an independent contractor and the admission of certain evidence concerning her income, claims that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence, and argues that Plaintiff did not have to be an employee to pursue her race discrimination claim. Id. Defendant filed an Opposition. Dkt. No. 179. Plaintiff filed no Reply. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion for a new trial is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

This case was tried before a jury over the course of seven days. Plaintiff pursued claims for breach of contract, wrongful termination based on race discrimination, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Plaintiff claimed that Defendant breached her contract by terminating her on 60-days notice, but within an extension-year term of the contract and that she was terminated based on her race and because she complained about the unlawful practice of psychology by an employee of Defendant.

DISCUSSION

I. Jury Instruction

Plaintiff challenges the jury instruction outlining the criteria the jury must consider in determining if Plaintiff was an employee or an independent contractor. Plaintiff claims that the Court should have given Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI) 3704, which Plaintiff proposed. "Erroneous jury instructions . . . may be grounds for a new trial. Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 187 (9th Cir. 1990).

The Court properly instructed Plaintiff on the criteria to consider in determining if an individual is an employee or an independent contractor. The instruction Plaintiff requested, CACI 3704, has been rejected by the California Court of Appeals, because it failed to "correctly instruct the jury that it must weigh all of these factors to determine whether [an individual] was an employee or an independent contractor." Bowman v. Wyatt, 186 Cal. App. 4th 286, 303 (2nd Dist. 2010). The Bowman Court emphasized that the appropriate multi-factor test "considers not only the right of control, but also secondary factors such as whether the worker is engaged in a distinct occupation or business, the skill required in the particular occupation, whether the employer or the worker supplies the tools and the place of work, the length of time for which the services are to be performed, whether the worker is paid by time or by the job, whether the work is part of the regular business of the employer, and the kind of relationship the parties believe they are creating." Id.; see also Narayan v. EGL, Inc., 616 F.3d 895, 900-01 (9th Cir. 2010) (outlining similar factors).

This Court properly rejected Plaintiff's proposed instruction that would have allowed the jury to determine if Plaintiff was an independent contractor based solely on the right of control and accurately instructed the jury to consider the multi-factor test. Narayan, 616 F.3d at 901 (finding that "no one factor is decisive").

II. Weight of the Evidence Concerning Plaintiff's Status

The Court may grant a new trial if the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence. Landes Const. Co. v. Royal Bank of Canada, 833 F.2d 1365, 1371 (9th Cir. 1987). The Court "can weigh the evidence and assess the credibility of witnesses, and need not view the evidence from the perspective most favorable to the prevailing party." Id.

Plaintiff argues that Defendant's admissions that it "awarded plaintiff a one-year extension to her employment contract" with Defendant and that a number of things happened "during plaintiff's employment with" Defendant establish Plaintiff was an employee of Defendant. First, these admissions do not establish that Defendant believed Plaintiff was an employee rather than an independent contractor because the statements do not address that particular point. Second, even if these statements did establish that Defendant believed Plaintiff was an employee, the evidence would only go to one of the numerous factors outlined above - the kind of relationship the parties believe they are creating. Third, as Defendant accurately notes, Plaintiff similarly referred to herself as a contractor, rather than an employee, through documents and in her trial testimony, providing similar contradictory evidence on this single factor of the multi-factor test.

Defendant produced significant evidence from which the jury could find that Plaintiff was not an employee. Specifically, as to the control factor upon which Plaintiff places great weight, Defendant produced evidence that Plaintiff set her own schedule, had other contractors work some of her contracted hours, and that she could ...


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