California Labor Code section 1102.5 Applies To Disclosures Unrelated To Employer's Own Business Activities

In California, employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee for disclosing a violation of state or federal statute to a government or law enforcement agency. (Cal. Lab. Code section 1102.5.) Generally speaking, these "whistle-blower" claims are in the context of employees complaining about the alleged illegal conduct of his or her employer.

However, the California Court of Appeal recently held in Cardenas v. Fanaian (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 1167 that Cal. Lab. Code section 1102.5 also protects employees who disclose a violation of law unrelated to the employer's own business activity.

The plaintiff in Cardenas was a dental hygienist who had lost her wedding anniversary ring at the office. For reasons not discussed in the opinion, Cardenas believed that the ring was stolen by a coworker and reported the alleged theft to the police. Shortly after, she was terminated by Dr. Fanaian because the resulting police investigations caused great tension and discomfort among the staff. Cardenas sued under California Labor Code section 1102.5 and wrongful termination in violation of public policy and won by jury trial. The employer appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.

The Court of Appeal based its decision on the plain reading of the statute, where there was no mention that the protection provided by section 1102.5 extended only to reports of unlawfulness concerning an employer's business activities or practices. All Cardenas was required to show was that she reported a violation of law (even on a personal matter) and that she was terminated because of her complaint.

The opinion in Cardenas can be found here.