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California Appeals Court Affirms Substantial Verdict for Former Employee

Volume 1, Issue 6
April 8, 2002

On February 2, 2002, the California Court of Appeals affirmed a $2.66 million verdict to a former Oracle vice-president who claimed that she had been discharged for complaining about pregnancy discrimination and other workers’ alleged inappropriate use of an affiliate’s computer software. In early 1999, Plaintiff Sandy Baratta, a vice president in Oracle’s global alliance unit, expressed concern to a human resources official about comments that had been made to her by Oracle’s executive vice president that pregnancy leave was causing disruption in the organization. At the time the comments were made, Baratta was in the early stages of pregnancy. At about the same time, Baratta had complained about Oracle employees’ unauthorized access to the computer system maintained by Oracle’s German partner. Baratta received no response to her request for an internal investigation.

Within hours after sending an e-mail complaining about the unauthorized computer access, Baratta was fired for "inappropriate behavior." Apparently, Oracle had no issues with her performance, but terminated her based upon the way she had treated an employee on her staff regarding the issue of reporting relationships. Baratta filed suit for wrongful discharge based upon a violation of public policy, claiming that the discharge was in fact based upon her reporting of illegal computer access. In addition, Baratta claimed that the discharge was retaliatory based upon her opposition of pregnancy discrimination in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

In August 2000, a jury found in Baratta’s favor and granted $2.5 million in economic damages and approximately $191,000 in non-economic damages. In addition, the court awarded her $354,000 in attorney fees. The Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, finding that the evidence presented sufficiently demonstrated retaliatory motive in the Plaintiff’s discharge. This decision, while not binding in Nevada, should serve to warn employers of the dangers of potential liability presented in terminating an employee who has attempted to complain about violations of the law. Indeed, such verdicts are becoming more prevalent in this jurisdiction, particularly given the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ overly broad definition of retaliation.

Baratta v. Oracle Corp. , No. A093447 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 7, 2002).

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