September 20, 2013

Court of Appeal reverses order granting summary adjudication of punitive damages in harassment case (Davis v. Kiewit)

This unpublished opinion provides some useful guidance about what exactly a corporate defendant must do to obtain summary adjudication on the ground that misbehaving employees were not "managing agents" within the meaning of Civil Code section 3294.

The plaintiff sued her employer for gender discrimination and harassment, seeking punitive damages.  The trial court granted the defendant's motion for summary adjudication on the issue of punitive damages, finding there were no triable issues of fact as to whether the employees who committeed the alleged misconduct were managing agents.  At trial, the jury awarded $270,000 in compensatory damages.  The plaintiff appealed from the order granting summary adjudication on her request for punitive damages.

The Fourth Appellate District, Division One, reversed.   According to the court, the defendant had not met its burden of producing sufficient evidence to negate all triable issues of fact on the managing agent issue. The defendant had submitted declarations from the two employees involved, stating that "I have never drafted corporate policy or had substantial discretionary authority over decisions that ultimately determine . . . corporate policy."  The Court of Appeal said the declarations simply parroted the legal standard set forth in White v. Ultramar, and did not contain a sufficient description of the employees' job duties and responsibilities, and the nature and extent of their authority and discretion.  Accordingly, the court ordered the trial court to reinstate plaintiff's claim for punitive damages.