Carry: A California Labor Code violation can also occur when an employee moves out after being promised a certain salary and being told they must take a pay cut shortly after starting their new job.
Despite his at-will status, a former employee can sue under the California Labor Code alleging his employer intentionally misrepresented the nature of the job he was supposed to perform, a California appeals court has ruled. .
Section 970 of the California Labor Code prohibits employers from persuading job applicants to accept employment and move by knowingly making false statements about the type, character, or existence of the work (or duration of this work).
The employer in this case develops and markets consumer applications with a specialty in musical social applications.
Before the applicant accepted the position, the employer told him that the company had significant problems with its development process, was not operating efficiently and needed an experienced project manager to help with growth. She indicated that she also needed an experienced project manager to train, supervise and recruit other experienced project managers.
The employer wanted the applicant to develop a functional project management team that would allow the employer to grow their business; and he wanted the applicant to join the company to revamp the company’s project management operations and enable it to grow and operate more efficiently.
The plaintiff said he wanted a director title and the employer accepted the senior project manager title. The claimant also said he was only interested in a secure, long-term position where he could grow with a company growing its business, and the employer said that was exactly what he was offering.
The plaintiff claimed that the employer’s representations caused him to resign from his job and move his family to the Bay Area. Five months after his start date, the employer eliminated his employment and terminated his employment.
The plaintiff sued, alleging a violation of section 970 because the representations the employer had made to him about the nature of his work were false and the employer knew they were false.
The employer noted that the company had an at-will employment relationship with its employees, which meant that it had the right to terminate the plaintiff’s employment at any time and for any reason. The plaintiff asserted that he was not alleging wrongful dismissal, but alleged that specific representations were made to him as to the nature, kind and character of the work for which he was hired and the length of time the work would require. He claimed that a jury could reasonably conclude that the employer had never intended to give him the professional functions that were presented to him during the recruitment process.
The lower court dismissed the suit, finding that the plaintiff was an at-will employee and could not reasonably rely on the employer’s statements.
The Court of Appeal disagreed and decided that the plaintiff could take his complaint to court.
Prove a claim under Section 970
To prevail over a claim under Section 970, the court said, a plaintiff must prove:
- The defendant made representations to the plaintiff on the kind or character of the work, or on the duration of the work.
- The defendant’s representations were not true.
- The defendant knew when the representations were made that they were not true.
- The defendant wanted the plaintiff to rely on the representations.
- The plaintiff reasonably relied on the statements and moved in order to work for the defendant.
- The plaintiff was wronged.
- The plaintiff’s reliance on the defendant’s statements was a significant factor in the prejudice suffered by the plaintiff.
The Court of Appeal concluded that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the employer had made false statements to the plaintiff about the tasks for which he was hired, the objectives he was to achieve and of the time it was supposed to achieve in order to achieve these objectives. ; and the plaintiff relied on those representations to accept the offer of employment.
The plaintiff was an at-will employee, so he could not rely on any promises as to the duration of his employment, but he could base his legal action on the alleged misrepresentations about the nature of the employment that was offered.
An at-will employer “does not have carte blanche to lie to an employee about any matter to induce him or her to accept employment,” the court said.
White vs. SmuleCalif. Ct. App., No. A161858, (February 18, 2022).
Joanne Deschenaux, JD, is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Md.