Nicollette Sheridan Loses Again
February 10, 2017
by Jerry Glover
Remember the TV series “Desperate Housewives”? Remember one of the cast members, Nicollette Sheridan (the blonde who was killed off before the series ended its run)? She’s been in court for several years claiming she was terminated from that job because she complained of unsafe working conditions including an incident on set during which Marc Cherry, the series creator and producer, allegedly hit her. We wrote about an earlier stage of the case here.
After several rounds in court, a California trial court seems to have ended the litigation saga by granting summary judgment to the studio and finding that Sheridan did not complain about unsafe working conditions in the first place. Sheridan v. Touchstone Television Productions, LLC, No. BC435248 (Cal. Super. Ct. January 12, 2017).
Sheridan claimed that Touchstone had, among other things, violated Section 6310(b) of the California Labor Code which provides firing an employee who complains about unsafe work conditions. But that statute clearly requires an actual complaint against unsafe working conditions. Sheridan also had to show that but for her complaint her employment agreement would have been renewed.
Here’s a summary of the real life soap opera: during an argument, Cherry supposedly hit Sheridan on the head. Sheridan told him “that was not okay” and returned to her trailer on the set. Cherry later apologized to Sheridan that same day and Sheridan continued working on the show. She made no further complaints that day. The day after the incident Sheridan spoke to the show’s executive producer. That producer had heard what had happened and apologized to Sheridan. Sheridan said she was OK but said that Cherry could not continue to behave like that adding that Cherry should send her flowers. The executive producer agreed.
Later, Sheridan’s lawyer called Touchstone’s executive vice president and told him that Cherry had “hit his client hard.” Although the lawyer later claimed he believed that if this happened to Sheridan it could happen to some else, he never expressed that belief out loud to any one. The attorney did not request anything from Cherry since he had already apologized. The attorney even told the Touchstone exec that his client wanted no action taken against Cherry.
Sheridan never made another complaint. But she argued that the sole complaint was sufficient under Labor Code Section 6310(b). Touchstone disagreed arguing that no unsafe working conditions were implicated in Sheridan’s comments so that Touchstone was never put on notice of any workplace safety issues.
The court agreed with Touchstone holding that the evidence did not establish that Sheridan had a reasonable belief that her working conditions were unsafe or that she had even mentioned unsafe working conditions when she complained. The court added that she never voiced any fear, demanded an investigation or requested that any action be taken at all. The court described her complaint as merely informing Touchstone about an incident and requiring that this “mistreatment” cease. Nothing showed Sheridan was in fear for her safety. Finally, the court noted that Sheridan did not complain about her fear of future incidents.
The trial court noted that the safe working conditions language in the Labor Code usually refers to the physical condition of the place of work rather than activities of other employees. Although Sheridan’s complaint claimed that Cherry had engaged in a pattern of abusive behavior and made statements to the effect that he wished for Teri Hatcher’s death (another actress on the show), those incidents had occurred long before the Sheridan/Cherry confrontation and that they had never been raised after the Sheridan/Cherry incident.
Touchstone noted that there was not nexus between the Cherry incident and her firing from the series. Touchstone claimed that the decision to kill off her character had been made prior to the Cherry incident. Touchstone proved with witnesses connected to the decision making process on the show that the decision had been made approximately four months before the Cherry incident. The court concluded that there was no causal link between the Sheridan complaint about the single incident with Cherry and the decision to let her go.