Ex-SVP of HR sues former California employer for wrongful termination, retaliation

HR leader alleges she was fired for protesting CEO's discriminatory comments

Ex-SVP of HR sues former California employer for wrongful termination, retaliation

The plaintiff in a recent California case sued for wrongful termination and retaliation. She alleged that her former employer terminated her because she protested against the chief executive officer’s discriminatory comments and reported workplace-related legal violations.

The RealReal, Inc. – the defendant in the case of Taska v. The RealReal, Inc. – was an online consignment company selling luxury fashion goods, including clothing, fine jewelry, watches, art, and other home accessory items consigned to it.

In 2017, the company hired the plaintiff as the company’s senior vice president of human resources. An arbitration agreement required the plaintiff to arbitrate disputes regarding her employment’s terms or termination.

The company’s CEO, under whom the plaintiff directly worked, terminated the plaintiff in 2018. In accordance with the arbitration agreement, an arbitrator handled the plaintiff’s claims against her former employer.

In April 2020, the arbitrator dismissed the plaintiff’s claims against the company. She determined that the plaintiff failed to prove her unlawful termination and retaliation claims and was thus not entitled to attorney fees or costs. She decided that the company was also not entitled to attorney fees and costs since the plaintiff’s claims were not frivolous or meritless.

On June 11, 2020, the arbitrator awarded $53,705.43 to the company. She said that the company was entitled to recover some of its attorney fees and costs based on the plaintiff’s repeated and substantial failure to testify truthfully. On June 29, 2020, the arbitrator issued the corrected final award to address a calculation error. This increased the award of attorney fees and costs to $73,756.43.

The trial court ruled that the arbitrator exceeded her authority when she amended the April 2020 award to add attorney fees and costs. The trial court struck the award of attorney fees and costs but otherwise agreed with the arbitrator’s decision. The company appealed.

The California Court of Appeal for the First District affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The appellate court held that the arbitrator lacked authority to amend the April 2020 award to add attorney fees and costs. The trial court’s order to strike the award of attorney fees and costs was factually and legally correct, the appellate court said.

According to the Court of Appeal, the April 2020 award met all the requirements under the law to be considered a final award since it was written, was served on the parties, resolved all the issues reserved in the interim award, and determined all the issues raised in the arbitration.

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