Veronese v. Lucasfilm Ltd.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtRichman
Citation212 Cal.App.4th 1,151 Cal.Rptr.3d 41
Decision Date28 December 2012
PartiesJulie Gilman VERONESE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. LUCASFILM LTD., Defendant and Appellant.

212 Cal.App.4th 1
151 Cal.Rptr.3d 41

Julie Gilman VERONESE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
LUCASFILM LTD., Defendant and Appellant.

Court of Appeal,
First District, Division 2, California.

A129535 & A131660
Filed December 10, 2012
As Modified on Denial of Rehearing December 28, 2012



Marin County Superior Court, Honorable Lynn O«M¨alley Taylor.
(Marin County Super. Ct. No. CIV-091548)
Law Offices of Steven Drapkin, Steven Drapkin; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, Paul W. Cane, Jr., for Defendant and Appellant.

Altshuler Berzon, Michael Rubin, Caroline P. Cincotta; Law Offices of Mayor Joseph L. Alioto and Angela Alioto, Angela M. Alioto, Joseph Alioto Veronese, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


Richman, J.

[212 Cal.App.4th 4]This is an employment discrimination case, specifically pregnancy discrimination. It is an unusual case in several respects, including that the interactions between plaintiff and defendant's representatives were relatively brief, over a period of less than four months; save for four in-person interviews or meetings and a handful of telephone calls, those interactions were all via email; and plaintiff never worked one day in defendant's employ.

Plaintiff Julie Gilman Veronese sued defendant Lucasfilm, Ltd. (Lucasfilm), alleging six causes of action. Following 11 days of testimony, five causes of action were submitted to the jury in a special verdict form. After three days of deliberation, the jury found for Veronese on three claims—pregnancy discrimination, failure to prevent pregnancy discrimination, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The jury found for Lucasfilm on

[151 Cal.Rptr.3d 44]

the other two claims—retaliation and failure to accommodate disability. The jury awarded Veronese $93,830 for past economic damages and $20,000 for noneconomic damages, a total of $113,830. The trial court later awarded Veronese $1,157,411 in attorney fees.

Lucasfilm appeals from both the judgment and the fee award. The former appeal makes two arguments, the first asserting six separate claims of instructional error: the giving of two erroneous instructions, the refusal to give two proper instructions, and the failure to instruct on the elements of two of the claims submitted to the jury. Lucasfilm's second argument is that the damages awarded were the result of juror misconduct and have no support in the record. We agree there was instruction error, and conclude it was prejudicial. We thus reverse the judgment and vacate the attorney fee order.

BACKGROUND
Introduction

As indicated, the relationship between the parties here was brief, and most of the interactions between them were in emails, the effect of which is that many of the facts could be said to be undisputed, especially as, with one exception, there was little disagreement as to the in-person interactions and the telephone calls. But whether undisputed or not, to the extent there are differing versions of what occurred, the appeal involves issues relating to jury instructions, and the prejudicial effect of any such error. Thus, “ ‘[W]e do not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the successful [party] and [212 Cal.App.4th 5]draw all inferences in favor of the judgment. Rather, we must assume that the jury, had it been given proper instructions, might have drawn different inferences more favorable to the losing [party] and rendered a verdict in [that party's] favor on those issues as to which it was misdirected. [Citations.]’ ” (Whiteley v. Philip Morris, Inc. (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 635, 655, 11 Cal.Rptr.3d 807.) So, “we recite the facts in the light most favorable to the claim of instructional error [citations] and we assume the jury might have believed [Lucasfilm's] version of the facts.... [Citations.].” (Mize–Kurzman v. Marin Community College Dist. (2012) 202 Cal.App.4th 832, 839, fn. 1, 136 Cal.Rptr.3d 259.)

The Parties and the Participants

Veronese was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area. She attended community college, left school for a couple of years, and ultimately transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, from which she graduated with a degree in ethnic studies. Veronese was 36 years old in mid–2008, the time of the events involved here.

In 2006, Veronese married Joseph Alioto Veronese. Mr. Veronese is the son of San Francisco attorney (and former supervisor) Angela Alioto and the grandson of the late attorney (and San Francisco Mayor) Joseph L. Alioto. Mr. Veronese is himself an attorney, and Ms. Alioto and he represented Veronese throughout the case below and are co-counsel on the brief on appeal.

Defendant Lucasfilm is a privately-held film and entertainment company founded by George Lucas (Lucas) in 1971. It has a campus in the Presidio in San Francisco and two properties in Marin County, Skywalker Ranch and Big Rock Ranch. Lucas lives in San Anselmo, at a property that was frequently referred to below as “Parkway” or the estate; it is a large complex with as many as nine houses on it. Sarita Patel, who had been hired by Lucas in 1993, was the estate manager. Patel

[151 Cal.Rptr.3d 45]

generally supervised six employees, though if there were construction or other projects at the estate, she would oversee as many as 50 people. It is Patel who would become the focus of Veronese's claim here.

The Position

In April 2008 Veronese was working for the Archdiocese of San Francisco when she received a call from her friend Erin Meyers, a recruiter at Lucasfilm, who told Veronese that at a meeting she heard of an open position as the assistant to the manager of Lucas's home—a position, as will be seen, that involved significant family caretaking.

[212 Cal.App.4th 6]Meyers's call, Veronese said, triggered her job search, and with help from Meyers she created a resume, which she sent to Kim Diaz, another recruiter at Lucasfilm. Following a series of email exchanges, Veronese had a telephone “screening” with Diaz, followed by an in-person interview with her at the Lucasfilm campus in the Presidio. After the interview, they toured the campus and Diaz said she was going to recommend that Veronese meet Patel.

Veronese's resume was routed to Janetta Wood in Human Resources (HR), and from her to Patel, who described her initial reaction as “skeptical”: in light of Veronese's connections, her family status, and the experiences listed on her resume, she was “too high profile” for a job that included many less-than-glamorous—if not downright menial—aspects.

On May 1, Patel sent Veronese's resume to Jane Bay, Lucas's long-time assistant, advising that she was interviewing Veronese the following day, and asking if Bay knew her. Bay responded that she “looks good on paper. I don't know her, sorry.” Patel replied, “She's married to an Alioto and is incredibly connected in [San Francisco].... I'm going to see what she's like just so I know.” Bay responded minutes later: “Hmmmmmm, may be too high class for the Parkway position.... I mean, will she pick up poop?” Patel responded: “Exactly.... This is what our hour [ sic ] department is giving me. What the???!”

The interview did not take place the next day, but following some rescheduling, on May 7 at Parkway. The meeting lasted some five hours, and both Veronese and Patel testified at length about what was discussed, with little discrepancy between the two accounts. Of significance here is that Patel asked Veronese if she “wanted to have children,” to which Veronese responded, “yes,” she did. Asked if she or Patel said anything else about that, Veronese testified on direct examination as follows:

“VERONESE: I don't recall that I said anything more than that. I mean, I was 36, so ... this is something I have been looking to do. I have been trying since 2006. So this is just something that I was planning to do, and I just didn't think it was an issue.

“MS. ALIOTO: Okay. What did she say about having children, or being pregnant?

“VERONESE: She just said it was something that she needed to know, and that she said oftentimes when women get pregnant, that their hormones change, and they could change their mind about their work hours, or how they want to work, or how they see themselves. And she gave me an example [212 Cal.App.4th 7]of a girl that worked there, a name wasn't mentioned, who changed her mind about her work hours and where she wanted to live after she got pregnant. [¶] ... [¶]

“MS. ALIOTO: What was your response to her telling you that the other person's mind changed once they were pregnant?

[151 Cal.Rptr.3d 46]

“VERONESE: I just said that I don't consider myself that type of person. Both my parents are entrepreneurs. I grew up with them working my entire life, and it's just kind of who I am, and how I feel some sort of ... working for me is how I feel some sort of worth, I guess just to find a better word, in the world. So it just wasn't an issue.

“MS. ALIOTO: What did you say about working while pregnant?

“VERONESE: That was something that I planned to do. [¶] ... [¶]

“MS. ALIOTO: What did [Patel] say about the question she was asking?

“VERONESE: She just said she knew it was inappropriate, but it was something that she felt she needed to know.

“MS. ALIOTO: What did she say about HR?

“VERONESE: That sometimes I am out of step with HR.”

Concerning this, Patel acknowledged she asked Veronese about plans for a family, a question, she further acknowledged, that was inappropriate in the eyes of the HR department. Patel asked the question, she said, because she wanted to know Veronese's view of family values, adding that is important to know how a person applying for a position that included family caretaking felt about family. In fact, Patel had asked similar questions of others who would come to work at Parkway, including nannies and babysitters.

One other thing Veronese recalled about her interview with Patel she described this way: “There wasn't a discussion about mutual friends. However, she said that she was like a private investigator, so she...

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