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Diane Colby v. Signature Properties

June 26, 2012


(Super. Ct. No. 34-2008-00025461-CU-WT-GDS)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholson , J.

Colby v. Signature Properties



California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Plaintiff Diane Colby sued defendant Signature Properties, Inc. (Signature), alleging causes of action arising from her employment and termination with Signature. After the trial court disposed of some of Colby's causes of action, a jury returned a defense verdict on the remaining causes of action. Colby appeals, representing herself. We conclude that Colby has failed to establish prejudicial error; therefore, we affirm.*fn1


We recount only the facts and procedure necessary to give context to Colby's assertions of error. The facts relevant to this appeal involve claims by Colby that Signature retaliated against her for (1) her role in the investigation of another employee's discrimination lawsuit against Signature and (2) her refusal to violate legal duties relating to real estate transactions. We therefore focus on the facts relating to those allegations. Additional facts and procedure are recounted in the discussion.

Colby worked for Signature as a new home sales representative in the Sacramento area from July 2003 to May 2008. She was an at-will employee. At the time, John Bayless was Signature's Sacramento division president. Until 2007, Alisa Boris was the Sacramento division sales manager, working under Bayless and directly supervising Colby. In 2007, Linda Kime replaced Boris.

During the time that Colby worked for Signature, Bayless and Boris signed real estate documents. Colby believed that they did not have legal authority to sign the documents because they did not have the requisite real estate license. Signature, on the other hand, believed that the supervisors had the proper legal authority to sign the documents as Signature's representatives. Colby told Bayless that she thought Boris was illegally signing documents, but she did not tell Bayless that she also thought he was illegally signing.

Signature included price guarantees (agreeing to lower the price if, before closing escrow, the price on comparable homes was lowered) in some of the contracts that Colby negotiated with homebuyers. In two instances, Colby believed that Signature was not complying with the price guarantee (the Reeves transaction and the Low transaction).

In the Reeves transaction, Signature lowered the price of comparable homes before closing escrow with the Reeveses. Colby brought the price guarantee to Bayless's attention and Bayless, after closing, arranged to refund the difference between what the Reeveses paid and what the new lower price was to the Reeveses. Colby objected to this manner of handling the price guarantee, stating that she believed the price should have been lowered on the property before closing.

The Lows also had a price guarantee in their contract to buy a home from Signature. Before the closing of the Low escrow, the Lows learned that Signature was in negotiations with another buyer on a similar home for a lower price. Colby believed that entitled the Lows to the lower price, but Bayless disagreed, believing that the Lows were not entitled to the lower price unless the negotiations on the other home resulted in a contract. Signature, through Kime, eventually negotiated a lower price with the Lows before they closed escrow.

In November 2006, Signature transferred Colby to another subdivision. When Colby complained about the transfer, Signature transferred her back to where she had been. Colby believed the transfer was in retaliation for insisting that the Reeveses receive a lower price as a result of the price guarantee.

In 2007, Colby told Boris that she (Colby) was interested in being nominated for an industry award. Boris did not nominate Colby for the industry award, but Boris recognized Colby later that year as the top sales agent in Signature's Sacramento division.

Another Signature employee, Karen Williams, sued Signature, alleging age discrimination. Signature retained Shaw Valenza LLP to represent it, and Carolyn Burnette of that firm investigated the case. In the course of that investigation, Burnette interviewed Colby, who had trained Williams. Colby claimed later that Boris and Bayless told her that she should fail to remember certain facts or lie during the interview, but Bayless denied making such statements.

Colby brought her own attorney, Michael Zinicola, to the interview. However, Burnette did not allow Zinicola to be present while she conducted the interview.

In the interview, Colby shared her beliefs concerning the legality of an unlicensed Signature employee signing real estate documents. Burnette did not solicit this information about signing documents and did not believe it was relevant to the Williams lawsuit.

Zinicola testified that, after Colby's interview, Burnette called him to discuss a "golden parachute" for Colby, saying that Colby might not be able to remain employed by Signature. Burnette testified that she spoke to Zinicola after the interview, but she did not discuss ending Colby's employment with Signature. She believed Colby's testimony in the Williams lawsuit would be favorable to Signature.

Soon after Colby's interview with Burnette, Kime approached Colby about a complaint Signature had received relating to Colby. Leslie Cheek, a real estate agent, had called Kime to tell her that one of Cheek's clients had refused to work with Colby because of Colby's appearance, that Colby was "a mess" -- her nails were too long, her hair was messed up, and her clothes were too tight. After speaking with her supervisors, Kime met with Colby and told her about the complaint. Colby wanted to know who made the complaint, but Kime, apprehensive that Colby would harass Cheek about it, would not tell her. ...

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