Desperate housewife loses one claim, wins one

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

An original cast member of TV’s “Desperate Housewives” series has won a partial victory in her lawsuit over Touchstone Television Productions’ decision to kill off her character. Actress Nicollette Sheridan lost her argument that the studio’s refusal to renew her contract could be the basis for a wrongful-termination-in-violation-of-public-policy claim.

However, she won the right to pursue a retaliation claim for reporting workplace safety violations.

Recent case: Sheridan played a character named Edie Britt on “Desperate Housewives,” working under a contract that called for up to six seasons, with annual renewals. All went well for the first four seasons. Then, during the fifth season, Sheridan complained that the show’s creator allegedly hit her during a dispute on the show’s set.

Shortly after, she learned that her contract would not be renewed for the sixth season.

Instead, scriptwriters had her character killed in a car accident. She was, however, paid for the remainder of the fifth season, and reappeared in one episode as a ghost.

Sheridan sued, alleging that she was fired in violation of public policy and in retaliation for complaining about workplace safety and violence.

Touchstone argued that California law doesn’t recognize the workplace tort of wrongful termination when the issue is the nonrenewal of a contract.

It also pointed out that it paid Sheridan for the entire fifth season—that is, to the end of her yearly contract. The court agreed that Sheridan couldn’t claim wrongful termination.

But it disagreed with the studio on retaliation. It said that California does allow a retaliation claim based on nonrenewal of a contract after reporting workplace safety violations. Sheridan’s retaliation lawsuit can continue. (Touchstone Television Productions v. Superior Court, No. B241137, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2012)

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