An Employer Cannot Retaliate Against an Employee For Filing a Police Report

Plaintiff Rosa Lee Cardenas, a dental hygienist, lost an expensive wedding ring in the workplace.  Suspecting that a coworker stole the ring, Ms. Cardenas wanted to file a police report.  However, her employer expressed his disapproval and requested that Ms. Cardenas not tell the police that she left the ring on the Gear-and-Gavel_goldbreakroom table at work.  Despite her employer’s objections, Ms. Cardenas filed a police report.  After the police came to the dental office on two occasions to investigate, Ms. Cardenas’ employer told her the situation was causing great tension and fired her.

Under California Labor Code section 1102.5(b), an employer is prohibited from retaliating against an employee who discloses information to a law enforcement agency where the employee has a reasonable cause to believe the information discloses a violation of federal or state law.  Courts generally construe Labor Code section 1102.5 as protecting an employee from retaliation by his or her employer even if the disclosed information did not concern the employer.

A plaintiff establishes a prima facie case by demonstrating that (1) she engaged in a protected activity; (2) the employers took an adverse employment action against her; and (3) there is a causal link between the two.  Under 1102.5(b), reporting a reasonably based suspicion of illegal activity to a governmental agency is a protected activity.  The employee’s motives for engaging in the protected activity do not factor in to the analysis.

Ms. Cardenas filed a complaint in state court alleging two causes of action against her employer:  wrongful termination in violation of public policy and retaliation in violation of Labor Code section 1102.5.  A jury found in Ms. Cardenas’ favor and the trial court entered judgment on the verdict against the defendant. Defendant appealed.

On appeal, the defendant employer argued that Ms. Cardenas did not engage in a protected activity because her complaints did not concern any wrongdoing by the business.  Defendant argued that because Ms. Cardnenas filed a police report regarding her co-worker and not her employer, her actions were not protected by California’s whistleblower protection law.  According to the Defendant, this served the plaintiff’s private interest, not but was not an issue of public concern.

The Court refused to adopt the defendant’s position which would add limiting language to the statute and run contrary to the Legislature’s intent.  Section 1102.5 does not require an employee to show that an alleged illegal activity violates public policy and inures to the benefit of the public at large rather than to a particular individual.  The plain meaning of section 1102.5 was clear and unambiguous, so the Court declined to go beyond the operative words of the statute and treated the plain language of that statute as conclusive.  Thus, a statutory claim under Labor Code section 1102.5 stands on its own without depending on another statute and provides for a private right of action.

The Fifth Appellate District affirmed, holding that an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for reporting a theft of property in the workplace to law enforcement.

If you feel that your employer retaliated against you or if you have questions about your work situation, please feel free to call Hunter Pyle Law for a free consultation at (510)-663-9240 or  Hunter Pyle Law has handled numerous cases involving retaliation by an employer against its employee.