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Melissa Ignat v. Yum! Brands

March 18, 2013

MELISSA IGNAT, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
YUM! BRANDS, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, B. Tam Nomoto Schumann, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. 30-2008-00114748)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Reversed.

INTRODUCTION

Appellant Melissa Ignat appeals from a judgment of dismissal after the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Yum! Brands, Inc., alleged to be Ignat's employer, and Mary Shipma, her immediate supervisor, on Ignat's single cause of action for public disclosure of private facts. The basis of Ignat's suit was Shipma's alleged disclosure to Ignat's co-workers of her bipolar condition.

This is Ignat's second trip to our court. She appealed from a prior dismissal on summary judgment after the trial court refused to consider a late-filed opposition. We sent the case back for a decision on the merits. (Ignat v. Yum! Brands, Inc. (Mar. 1, 2011, G043098) [nonpub. opn.].)

That decision took the form of the trial court granting summary judgment on the ground the right of privacy can be violated only by a writing, not by word of mouth.*fn1 Because Ignat had not produced any document disclosing private facts, she could not pursue this cause of action. The trial court lamented the "irrationality" of this rule, but felt itself bound by precedent.

We believe this rule - to the extent it is still observed - is outmoded and interferes with a person's right to privacy without any corresponding benefit to any other right or policy. Other restrictions on liability for invasion of privacy serve other important interests, such as free speech or freedom of the press. But no one has come up with a good reason for restricting liability to written disclosures, and it has long been acknowledged that oral disclosures can be just as harmful.

Because the lack of a writing was the sole basis for the trial court's grant of summary judgment, we reverse. We express only one opinion about the other issues raised in respondents' motion.

FACTS

Yum! Brands is the corporate parent of several fast food franchises, such as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC (formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken). Yum employed Ignat between 2005 and 2008 in the Yum Real Estate Title Department, located in Irvine.*fn2 She assisted paralegals in the department with securing title to the real estate on which Yum's franchised stores conducted business.

Ignat suffered from bipolar disorder, for which she was being treated with medications. Sometimes these were effective, sometimes not. Side effects of medication adjustments occasionally forced Ignat to miss work.

Ignat alleged that after returning from one such absence in mid-2008, Shipma informed her that Shipma had told everyone in the department Ignat was bipolar. Ignat alleged her co-workers subsequently avoided and shunned her, and one of them asked Shipma if Ignat was likely to "go postal" at work.

Ignat was terminated in early September 2008. She filed suit against Yum! Brands and Shipma on November 12, 2008, alleging one cause of action for invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts. Respondents moved for summary judgment or summary adjudication, identifying seven issues, four of which addressed the elements of a cause of action for public disclosure of private facts. These were: (1) Shipma never told the title department about Ignat's disorder; (2) Shipma did not disclose Ignat's disorder in writing; (3) the disclosure was not highly offensive to a reasonable person; and (4) Ignat had already revealed her condition to some people in the department and therefore had no expectation of privacy.

The court held a hearing on the merits of respondents' motion on November 15, 2011. It granted the motion, basing its ruling solely on the lack of a writing disclosing the private facts. The court also addressed Ignat's argument that respondents had violated her state constitutional right to privacy, which did not require a writing. The problem with that argument, the court held, was that Ignat had not pleaded a violation of a constitutional right in her complaint, which ...


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