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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Appellate court affirms summary judgment in PG&E wrongful termination suit

By Sara McCleary | Nov 13, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – A California appellate court has affirmed a trial court’s granting of summary judgment for the defendant in a wrongful termination suit.

The decision was filed Oct. 5 and certified for publication Nov. 1 by California's 1st Appellate District, Division Three. 

The trial court had granted defendant Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) summary judgment because the plaintiff and former employee of PG&E Steve Jameson had failed to show the existence of an implied employment contract, according to the appellate court’s written opinion, penned by Justice Peter J. Siggins.

The appellate court, however, determined that whether Jameson was an at-will employee or not was irrelevant to the case, because PG&E had had good cause to terminate his employment.

According to the decision, after hearing concerns from another PG&E employee that Jameson had retaliated against him for raising safety concerns at a testing site, PG&E human resources department hired employment attorney Jennie Lee to investigate the claims. 

Lee spent two months conducting her investigation and at the end submitted a 12-page report which, according to Siggins’ decision, concluded “It seemed to the witnesses that Jameson had misrepresented these complaints to get rid of Nelson because of the safety incident. 

Based upon the totality of the circumstances, I find that the evidence reflects Jameson complain[ed] about Nelson to orchestrate his transfer in retaliation for raising safety concerns in June 2013.”

The decision states Lee submitted her report to PG&E executives who accepted her findings and decided Jameson’s actions constituted a serious enough breach of the company’s code of conduct to terminate Jameson’s employment. They also feared that such retaliation would prevent other employees from feeling comfortable bringing forward safety concerns, the decision states.

Jameson argued to the court that his firing was based on an inadequate report, claiming that because Lee had not interviewed three of the witnesses he had asked her to, nor had she followed up with him after their interview, it was reasonable to conclude that her investigation had been biased in favor of PG&E. 

The appellate court did not accept Jameson’s arguments. 

“The issue is not whether Lee’s conclusions were correct or whether her investigation could have been better or more comprehensive,” wrote Siggins. “The question, rather, is whether PG&E’s determination that Jameson retaliated against Nelson for raising a safety issue was ‘reached honestly, after an appropriate investigation and for reasons that are not arbitrary or pretextual.’” 

The court found that the company had shown that the investigative procedure had been adequate, and therefore the report’s findings were an acceptable means for the company to determine just cause for firing Jameson.

Acting Presiding Justice Stuart R. Pollak and Justice Martin J. Jenkins concurred in the decision.

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California 1st District Court of Appeal