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Michelle Dutra v. Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta et al

September 26, 2012

MICHELLE DUTRA, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
MERCY MEDICAL CENTER MT. SHASTA ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



(Super. Ct. No. SCCVCV09-0371) APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Siskiyou County, Karen L. Dixon, Judge.

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

CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1

Affirmed.

Plaintiff Michelle Dutra sued her former employer, defendant Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta (Mercy), for defamation and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Plaintiff alleged Mercy committed libel per se by communicating to her and others in a private meeting its grounds for terminating her employment. She alleged Mercy discharged her in violation of the public policy codified at Labor Code section 132a, which generally prohibits discharging an employee for filing a workers' compensation claim.

The trial court granted Mercy's motion for summary adjudication against the defamation cause of action. It concluded Mercy's communicating its grounds for terminating plaintiff was a conditionally privileged communication under Civil Code section 47, subdivision (c), and that plaintiff had failed to introduce triable issues of material fact that would defeat the privilege, including showing the publication was motivated by malice.

After selecting the jury for trial on the remaining wrongful termination cause of action, the court granted Mercy's motion to dismiss the action on the ground the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) has exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate claims under Labor Code section 132a. The court gave plaintiff an opportunity to amend her complaint, but she refused.

Plaintiff contends (1) the trial court improperly granted the motion for summary adjudication because, she asserts, the issue of malice can be decided only by a jury and not on summary adjudication; and (2) the trial court has jurisdiction to hear claims for wrongful termination in violation of Labor Code section 132a.

We conclude the trial court did not err, and we affirm the judgment.

FACTS

Because plaintiff's appeal raises only issues of law, we will not recite the undisputed facts in detail. Plaintiff worked for Mercy as a housekeeper. She injured her back at work on January 31, 2008, while pulling a linen barrel across a snow-covered alley. She filed a workers' compensation claim that day.

Mercy terminated plaintiff's employment on March 19, 2008. Mercy informed plaintiff the grounds for her termination in a confidential meeting attended by plaintiff, a union steward, and Mercy supervisors. Mercy terminated her for (1) continuing to gossip while on duty and after being counseled about it; (2) altering a check that had been issued to her from a discretionary fund provided by a religious order affiliated with the hospital, an action the letter referred to as "check fraud;" and (3) falsifying her timecard and abandoning her post by leaving work without clocking out.

Plaintiff did not include a copy of her complaint in the record. According to the trial court, plaintiff alleged Mercy committed libel per se when it communicated in the confidential meeting with others present she was being terminated for check fraud. She also alleged she was wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy for filing a workers' compensation claim.

DISCUSSION

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