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Satyadi v. West Contra Costa Healthcare District

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fifth Division

December 31, 2014

CAROLYN SATYADI, Plaintiff and Appellant,
WEST CONTRA COSTA HEALTHCARE DISTRICT et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Superior Court of the County of Contra Costa, No. C12-02087, Steven K. Austin, Judge.

Page 1023


Che Hashim and Alex Coolman, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

The Narayan Law Firm, S.D. Narayan, Gregory M. Franchi and Mukesh Advani for Defendant and Respondent West Coast Contra Costa Healthcare District.

Page 1024


Jones, P.J.

After respondent Doctor’s Medical Center (DMC) terminated Carolyn Satyadi’s employment, Satyadi sued DMC, its owner the West Contra Costa Healthcare District (the District), and various DMC officials. Satyadi claimed she had been fired in retaliation for reporting and refusing to participate in her employer’s allegedly illegal activities. Her complaint alleged causes of action under Labor Code section 1102.5.[1]

Respondents filed a demurrer, arguing Satyadi had not filed a complaint with the Labor Commissioner under section 98.7 before bringing her action, and thus her suit was barred by her failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The trial court agreed with respondents, ruling that Campbell v. Regents of University of California (2005) 35 Cal.4th 311 [25 Cal.Rptr.3d 320, 106 P.3d 976] (Campbell) required Satyadi first to seek relief from the Labor Commissioner before filing suit in court. It therefore entered a judgment dismissing Satyadi’s action, and Satyadi appealed to this court.

While her appeal was pending, the Legislature amended the Labor Code to specify that employees such as Satyadi need not exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit for violations of the Labor Code, unless the provision under which suit is brought expressly requires exhaustion. We asked the parties to brief whether these amendments apply to this appeal. We conclude they do, and we therefore reverse the judgment and remand the matter for further proceedings on Satyadi’s complaint.

Factual and Procedural Background

Because this appeal follows a successful demurrer, we draw our statement of facts from Satyadi’s first amended complaint, which is the operative pleading. (E-Fab, Inc. v. Accountants, Inc. Services (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 1308, 1313, fn. 1 [64 Cal.Rptr.3d 9].) "While we accept appellant[’s] allegations as true for purposes of this appeal, nothing in this opinion should be construed as proven fact for purposes of later proceedings. Such facts are properly determined by the trier of fact.” (Kempton v. City of Los Angeles (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1344, 1347, fn. 1 [81 Cal.Rptr.3d 852].)

Satyadi’s Employment and Termination

Satyadi is an American citizen of Indonesian origin. She holds six national board certifications in the area of clinical laboratory science. In November 2010, she interviewed for, and later accepted, the position of Clinical Laboratory Director for DMC.

Page 1025

During the interview process, Satyadi was told the laboratory she would be managing had no material deficiencies in staff and equipment performance and accreditation. Despite those assurances, within two days of reporting to her new position, Satyadi was handed a list of performance deficiencies in the laboratory. She was directed to reduce overtime and to “clean up problem personnel.” Her initial performance was praised, and her reviews indicated she met DMC’s standards in every area of her job.

Beginning in December 2010 and continuing through March 2012, Satyadi informed DMC and its executive staff about numerous operational practices she believed were violations of state and federal laws relating to the laboratory’s operations.[2] While employed at DMC, Satyadi refused to engage in these and other activities she believed to be violations of the law.

In approximately January 2012, during negotiations with the union representing laboratory employees, a DMC executive made derogatory comments and gestures about Satyadi in the presence of her subordinates. The executive had previously asked Satyadi what country she was from. She complained in writing about what she viewed as harassment and was assured the matter would be reviewed by DMC’s interim chief executive officer, but the latter never contacted Satyadi about her complaint. In March 2012, DMC’s medical director told Satyadi, “ ‘It’s not working.’ ”

In March 2012, Satyadi was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into allegations against her by other DMC employees. An attorney who had been hired to investigate the allegations against Satyadi interviewed her, but DMC, the District, and a DMC executive intentionally withheld information from ...

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