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Roby v. McKesson Corp.

Supreme Court of California

November 30, 2009, Filed

S149752

Opinion

 [**752]  [***777]   KENNARD, J.—A jury found that plaintiff employee, Charlene J. Roby, was wrongfully discharged based on her medical condition and related disability. The jury found both harassment and discrimination, and it awarded $ 3,511,000 in compensatory damages and $ 15 million in punitive damages  [*693]  against the employer, as well as $ 500,000 in compensatory damages and $ 3,000 in punitive damages against the supervisor who was responsible for the harassment. Defendants appealed.

The Court of Appeal concluded that some of the noneconomic damages awards overlapped one another, and that the evidence was insufficient to establish harassment. It ordered the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the supervisor, and it ordered the trial court to modify the judgment against  [****3] the employer to reflect a reduction of compensatory damages to $ 1,405,000. The court further concluded  [***778]  that the award of punitive damages against the employer exceeded the federal constitutional limit, and it ordered a reduction of punitive damages to $ 2 million.  [**753]  The Court of Appeal then affirmed the judgment as modified.

We granted plaintiff's petition for review, which raised three issues. First, did the Court of Appeal err in concluding that some of plaintiff's noneconomic damages awards overlapped one another? Second, did the Court of Appeal err in allocating plaintiff's evidence between her harassment claim and her discrimination claim, and, based on that allocation, in finding insufficient evidence to support the harassment verdict? Third, did the Court of Appeal err in concluding that the punitive damages against the employer exceeded the federal constitutional limit?

CA(1)(1) With respect to the first issue, we conclude that the jury's noneconomic damages awards are hopelessly ambiguous. In a letter to this court and again at oral argument, plaintiff's counsel stated that plaintiff preferred to concede this issue rather than face a new trial, and defendants accepted this concession.  [****4] Therefore, the validity of the Court of Appeal's conclusion that some of the noneconomic damages awards overlapped one another is no longer in dispute. With respect to the second issue, we conclude that the Court of Appeal erred in allocating the evidence between the harassment claim and the discrimination claim, and we reject its determination that the record included insufficient evidence to support the harassment verdict. With respect to the third issue, we agree with the Court of Appeal that the punitive damages exceeded the federal constitutional limit, but we disagree with the Court of Appeal on the amount of this limit. We hold that in the circumstances of this case the amount of compensatory damages sets the ceiling for the punitive damages.

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47 Cal. 4th 686 *; 219 P.3d 749 **; 101 Cal. Rptr. 3d 773 ***; 2009 Cal. LEXIS 12374 ****; 22 Am. Disabilities Cas. (BNA) 1041

CHARLENE J. ROBY, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. McKESSON CORPORATION et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Subsequent History: Reported at Roby (Charlene J.) v. McKesson Corporation, 2009 Cal. LEXIS 12397 (Cal., Nov. 30, 2009)

Time for Granting or Denying Rehearing Extended Roby (Charlene J.) v. McKesson HBOC, 2009 Cal. LEXIS 12852 (Cal., Dec. 11, 2009)

Modified by Roby v. McKesson Corp., 2010 Cal. LEXIS 875 (Cal., Feb. 10, 2010)

Prior History:  [****1] Superior Court of Yolo County, No. CV01573, Timothy L. Fall, Judge. Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, Nos. C047617, C048799.

Roby v. McKesson Corp., 146 Cal. App. 4th 63, 53 Cal. Rptr. 3d 558, 2006 Cal. App. LEXIS 2052 (Cal. App. 3d Dist., 2006)

CORE TERMS

harassment, termination, punitive damages, non economic damages, awards, award of punitive damages, reprehensibility, attendance, accommodate, compensatory damages, cause of action, medical condition, trial court, damages, occasions, disability, overlapped, economic loss, sexual, termination-related, hostile, message, wrongful termination, discipline, employees, workplace, employment action, economic damages, written warning, amounts

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, General Overview, Judgments, Remedies, Damages, Compensatory Damages, Jury Trials, Verdicts, Labor & Employment Law, Wrongful Termination, Public Policy, Torts, Reversible Errors, Discrimination, Actionable Discrimination, Harassment, Negligence, Collective Bargaining & Labor Relations, Unfair Labor Practices, Evidence, Relevance, Weight & Sufficiency, Inferences & Presumptions, Inferences, Punitive Damages, Burdens of Proof, Clear & Convincing Proof, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Business & Corporate Law, Directors & Officers, Management Duties & Liabilities