Wisteria Lane Retaliation Claim Revived on Appeal: Desperate Housewife Not Required to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

By Shannon Finley and Jenna Leyton-Jones

In Sheridan v. Touchstone Television Productions, LLC, a California appellate court held that a plaintiff is not required to exhaust administrative remedies for alleged violations of section 6310 et seq. of the California Labor Code (“section 6310”), which prohibits retaliation against employees for complaining about unsafe working conditions. Defendant Touchstone Television Productions, LLC (“Touchstone”) hired actress Nicollette Sheridan (“Sheridan”) for the hit television series, Desperate Housewives, and had the option to renew her contract on an annual basis. During a rehearsal in September 2008, Sheridan attempted to question the show’s creator, and he allegedly struck her in response.  Sheridan complained to Touchstone about the alleged battery. Thereafter, Touchstone declined to renew her contract for the next season. Sheridan sued her former employer for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, claiming that Touchstone fired her because she complained about the alleged battery.

Sheridan’s lawsuit has been a roller coaster of wins, losses, and unexpected turns fit for a television drama. After a mistrial and a granting of Touchstone’s motion for directed verdict, Sheridan was permitted to amend her complaint to add a retaliation cause of action pursuant to Labor Code section 6310 et seq.

Touchstone claimed that Sheridan failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by filing a claim with the Labor Commissioner; the trial court agreed. The appellate court, however, reversed the judgment in favor of Touchstone, holding that an individual may, but is not required to, exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit pursuant to section 6310 et seq. Thus, Sheridan’s fit-for-prime-time-television legal action against Touchstone continues.

Shannon Finley and Jenna Leyton-Jones represent employers in all aspects of employment litigation. The material contained in this article has been prepared for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice. Pettit Kohn expressly disclaims all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on the content of this article.