April 20, 2016

Court of Appeal reinstates punitive damages claim against DirecTV (Salinda v. DirecTV)

In this disability discrimination case against DirecTV, the plaintiff won a jury verdict for $1.18 million in compensatory damages.  But she could not get punitive damages because the trial court granted a motion DirecTV's for summary adjudication on that issue.  DirecTV argued, and the trial court agreed, that plaintiff could not obtain punitive damages because she could not prove that any corporate officer, director, or managing agent was responsible for the alleged misconduct against the plaintiff.

The Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Three) reversed in an unpublished opinion.  The court noted that, under Supreme Court precedent, an employee does not qualify as a "managing agent" within the meaning of Civil Code section 3294 unless the employee has substantial discretionary authority over decisions that ultimately determine company policy.  In this case, DirecTV submitted declarations from several employees who stated, "I have no discretion or independent authority over decisions that ultimately determine corporate policy."  The Court of Appeal said these declarations were insufficient because they merely restated the legal standard, and  the declarants should instead have provided descriptions of their job duties and responsibilities so that the trial court could decide for itself whether they might qualify as managing agents.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reinstated the plaintiff's punitive damages claims and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

This analysis of this opinion closely tracks this 2013 decision, which was originally unpublished but was later ordered published.