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Kelley v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board

California Court of Appeal, Second District, Eight Division

February 10, 2014

Stephanie KELLEY, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
CALIFORNIA UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE APPEALS BOARD, Defendant and Respondent; Merle Norman Cosmetics, Inc., Real Party in Interest and Appellant.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles. James C. Chalfant, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS 135139)

Page 1068

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1069

COUNSEL

O'Melveny & Myers, Michael G. McGuinness and Usama Kahf, Los Angeles, for Real Party in Interest and Appellant.

Teren Law Group and Pamela M. Teren, Redondo Beach, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Phillip Juntai Matsumoto, Office of the Attorney General, Los Angeles, for Defendant and Respondent.

OPINION

[167 Cal.Rptr.3d 804]RUBIN, J.

Page 1070

Merle Norman Cosmetics, Inc., appeals from the judgment overturning the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board's decision to deny unemployment benefits to Stephanie Kelley. We affirm because there was substantial evidence that Kelley did not constructively quit and was instead fired.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

1. Factual Overview

In May 2010 Stephanie Kelley went on a stress leave from her job as marketing director for Merle Norman Cosmetics, Inc., one month after she filed a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging that the company was retaliating against her for reporting ongoing sexual harassment.

Page 1071

Kelley's physician eventually cleared her to return to work as of November 15, 2010. In the interim she hired a lawyer to represent her for a possible civil action against Merle Norman. Beginning on November 13, Kelley's lawyer had an email exchange with counsel for Merle Norman concerning certain assurances Kelley wanted before she returned. Merle Norman characterized this as the imposition of unreasonable conditions and therefore terminated Kelley's employment.

Kelley applied for unemployment benefits, but Merle Norman contended she was ineligible for those benefits under the seldom-used " constructive voluntary quit" doctrine because Kelley insisted on conditions that Merle Norman had no obligation to satisfy, making it impossible to take Kelley back. The state's Employment Development Department (EDD) agreed and denied her claim for benefits. That decision was reversed on appeal to an administrative law judge. The California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (the Board) disagreed, and reinstated the EDD's denial of her claim. Kelley then brought an administrative mandate action, where the trial court found that Kelley had not constructively quit.

2. The email Exchange

Kelley was medically cleared to return to work as of November 15, 2010. In the months before, counsel for Merle Norman and Kelley had discussed a possible settlement of Kelley's sex harassment claim. On November 13, 2010, Kelley's lawyer— Pam Teren— sent an email to Merle Norman's lawyer— Mike McGuiness. Teren wrote that Kelley was ready and able to return to work on November 15, and reminded McGuiness of her previous request for materials that would help Kelley's transition back to work: (1) a written job description; (2) a written statement of goals and objectives; (3) written confirmation of her job title, duties, pay, and benefits; and (4) the status of her earlier request for vacation during the upcoming Christmas holiday period.

Teren followed up with another email less than 20 minutes later. Teren restated the requests from the previous email, and added another: written confirmation that Kelley would not be subjected to retaliation for her earlier complaints of sex harassment. Teren wrote that Kelley could not continue on unpaid leave and needed to return to work. She asked McGuiness to " [p]lease ... provide me ... [or Kelley] the above materials and let me know of any documents or ...


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