Wrongful termination of senior manager. $4M. San Diego County.
Company's controller is fired after five months of employment; she claims retaliation.
- Case Name: Shujun Qiu v. Three Rivers Provider Network, Inc.
- Court and Case Number: San Diego Superior Court / 37-2017-00035446-CU-WT-CTL
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Tuesday, October 15, 2019
- Date Action was Filed: Friday, September 22, 2017
- Type of Action: Employment, Sexual Harassment, Whistleblower, Wrongful Termination
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. John S. Meyer
- Plaintiffs: Shujun Qiu
- Defendants: Three Rivers Provider Network, Inc.
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $4,072,402
- Economic Damages:
Past lost earnings: $354,234
Future lost earnings: $800,000
Waiting time penalties (Lab. Code, § 203): $17,118
Breach of employment contract: $1,050
- Non-Economic Damages:
- Punitive Damages:
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 7 days.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Plaintiff will file motion for attorney's fees.
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Walker Law, PC by Justin O. Walker and Jared A. Veliz, San Diego.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Jackson Lewis, PC by Michael A. Hood and Richard B. Azada, Irvine.
- Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Anthony Reading, Ph.D., psychology, Beverly Hills.
- Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
- Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Heather Xitco, economics, San Diego.
- Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
Plaintiff was hired by defendant company in April 2017 to act as its controller. Plaintiff and defendant entered into an employment contract providing that plaintiff was employed at-will, but that if terminated, she would be provided 30 days' notice beforehand.
Plaintiff worked for approximately five months before defendant terminated her employment on August 25, 2017. Plaintiff filed a wrongful termination suit.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
That defendant terminated plaintiff in retaliation for (1) her disclosure of illegal conduct by the company's founder and owner ("Owner"); (2) her refusal to participate in the illegal conduct; (3) defendant's belief that plaintiff would report the illegal conduct to the authorities; and (4) plaintiff's opposition to owner's sexual harassment of another employee.
Further, that defendant's explanation for plaintiff's termination was a moving target and, in and of itself, was evidence of pretext for defendant's true reasoning. In the short time that plaintiff was employed with defendant, plaintiff excelled at her job. She was given a raise and made the company's corporate treasurer. No complaints were ever made of plaintiff's job performance.
In August 2017, plaintiff was approached by another employee who informed her of sexual harassment by the owner. Immediately thereafter, plaintiff reported owner's sexual harassment to the company's head of human resources. Unbeknownst to plaintiff, the head of HR was a long-time family friend of the company owner. Within days, the owner requested that plaintiff liquidate a subsidiary bank account. Plaintiff reasonably believed this request to be unlawful for a variety of reasons. Plaintiff disclosed the issue to management, and refused to participate in the requested action.
Plaintiff was terminated approximately one week later. Plaintiff was not given 30 days' notice before her termination, and no payment in lieu of such notice was provided to her at the time of termination. Instead, defendant's CEO sought to extort plaintiff's signature on a waiver and release of claims by refusing to pay plaintiff her final wages owed unless she signed the document. Plaintiff refused, and drew attention to the CEO's attempts to extort such a waiver. Subsequently, the CEO changed his tactic and attempted to secure plaintiff's signature on a "confidentiality" agreement, purporting to have plaintiff affirm that she was aware of no "accounting irregularities nor have I reported any." Again, plaintiff refused to sign the document.
Plaintiff filed suit and defendant paid her final wages owed approximately one week later. Plaintiff sued for multiple violations of Labor Code section 1102.5, retaliation under FEHA (Gov. Code, 12940(h)), wrongful termination in violation of public policy, conversion, waiting time penalties (Lab. Code, § 203), breach of employment contract, and unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200). Plaintiff's damages included past and future lost earnings and emotional distress. Plaintiff dismissed her conversion cause of action on the eve of trial, and prevailed on all remaining causes of action that went to the jury.
- Defendant's Contentions:
That defendant lawfully terminated plaintiff because it eliminated her position and outsourced her job duties. That defendant's decision to terminate plaintiff was motivated by a lack of trust in her. That plaintiff never reported any sexual harassment. That the request to liquidate the subsidiary bank account was not unlawful and plaintiff did not believe it to be so.
Injuries and Other Damages
- Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Sleeplessness; anxiety; depression; emotional distress and mental harm.
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff Demand during Trial: $1,000,000
- Defendant §998 Offer: $500,000 21 days before trial.