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LAW510 LEGAL RESEARCH

WEEK 10 ASSIGNMENT 01: RESEARCH PLAN


HYPOTHETICAL LEGAL DISPUTE
Since 2008, Niki Gregory has acted on the daytime soap opera To The Moon and Back. Playing
an astronaut with a passion for danger, Nikis character is best known for becoming the first
female captain of Moon Station, an outpost located on one of Jupiters moons, and for breaking
the hearts of several of the shows characters. Niki is popular with her colleagues and with the
shows fans, always agreeing to take pictures with them and providing autographs.
To the Moon and Back, filmed in Los Angeles, is the brainchild of Scott Wagner, the executive
producer, and is overseen by Tall Charles Productions, Scotts company. Since Niki joined the
cast, To the Moon and Back has been Tall Charles Productions most profitable show and has
consistently received the highest ratings in its category. The show airs every weekday from
September to June.
Niki signed her first employment contract with Scott and Tall Charles Production in 2008. The
initial contract was for an August May term and stated that Niki would appear in all episodes of
To the Moon and Back filmed during the term of the contract. The contract was renewed several
times. Niki signed a new August May term contract year after year, up to and including a
contract for August 2014 May 2015. Niki appeared in every episode during the terms of those
contracts. Niki typically begins renegotiating renewal of her contract in April of each year.
On April 5, 2015 while on a break from filming, Niki was chatting with some of the To the Moon
and Back crew. One crewmember complained to Niki that he was working a lot of overtime
hours, but Tall Charles Productions did not pay him overtime even though Scott told him that the
extra work hours would be required. Several other crewmembers made similar complaints.
Enraged, Niki went straight to Scotts office and told him that it was illegal and immoral to
refuse to pay overtime. He nodded and Niki returned to set, still angry. That same day, Niki sent
a letter to the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), Californias agency in
charge of wage issues (including overtime), informing them of Scotts and Tall Charles
Productions failure to pay overtime in violation of state law. Niki sent Scott a copy of her letter
to DLSE.
At the season wrap party on May 21, 2015 Scott pulled Niki aside and told her that he felt that
her performance on the show was lacking its usual flair. Niki was told that her character was
going to be sent on an expedition into deep space and that she may not be appearing in every
episode. Niki was surprised because the shows ratings had continued to soar. As she walked
away from Scott after their conversation, Niki overheard Scott tell another actor Niki got what
she deserves.

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When Niki returned for filming on August 5, 2015 she was offered a new contract specifying that
she would be paid per episode like the extras on the show. The contract did not specify that she
would appear in all episodes filmed during the contracts term. Niki reluctantly signed the new
contract. Since that time, Niki has filmed only short scenes for three episode of To the Moon and
Back, appearing only when her character communicates with the staff at Moon Station from her
deep space explorer vehicle or when one of the other characters has a flashback about her. In the
last couple of months, Niki has made far less money than she used to make, hasnt been
interviewed by talk shows or magazines, and feels that her fans think less of her.
Niki is furious and wants to sue Scott Wagner and Tall Charles Productions. She feels that she
has been retailed against and that her character was sent to deep space because she reported the
illegal conduct. Our firm is representing Niki in her potential lawsuit, which would be filed in
Los Angeles Superior Court. Your supervising attorney has told you there is a cause of action for
wrongful termination in violation of public policy. You have been asked to research whether this
type of claim can be applied in Nikis case. Your supervising attorney directed you not to
research any other possible claims, such as breach of contract, employment discrimination,
statutory, or federal claims, because other associates are handling those.
RESEARCH PLAN:
I.

STEP 1: PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS (maximum word limit: 200)

Provide a factual and legal analysis of the hypothetical. Use the who, what, where and when
questions and state the broad area of law (e.g., real property law, torts). As part of your
preliminary analysis, briefly summarize the issue you have been asked to research. Then
list the key legal and factual terms, including possible synonyms. Your preliminary analysis
may be in narrative or outline format, so long as it is organized and complete.
WHO

WHAT

WHERE

Niki Gregory (lead actress, ongoing employee)


Tall Charles Productions (employer, private company)
Scott Wagner (executive producer, owner of Tall Charles
Productions, employer)
Crewmembers of To The Moon and Back (employees)
Wrongful termination
Believes she was demoted because she reported Scotts illegal
conduct (unpaid overtime to workers)
Since being demoted Niki makes far less than what she has in the
past from the show seeking damages
Since Niki joined the show its been Scotts most profitable show
with the highest ratings
The situation takes place in Los Angeles, CA where the show To
The Moon and Back is filmed
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WHEN

2008 Niki signed her first employment contract with Scott and
Tall Charles Productions (August May term) renewing her
contract with the company agreeing to the same terms till 2014
April 5th 2015 Crewmembers complained to Niki about unpaid
overtime
April 5th 2015 Niki writes a letter to the DLSE sending a copy to
Scott regarding the unpaid overtime violation of state law
May 21st 2015 Scott tells Niki her role is being cut down and
that she got what she deserves
August 5th 2015 Niki signs a new contract which gives her a
status and salary of an extra not a lead actress

Area of Law: Employment law, Labor law


Issue Statement: Does Ms. Gregory have a viable federal claim against Tall Charles Productions
for wrongful termination in violation of public policy?
Key Legal and Factual Terms & Phrases: wrongful termination, wrongful dismissal without
cause, labor law, unpaid overtime, public policy for unpaid overtime, actors compensation,
constructive discharge

II.

STEP 2: SECONDARY SOURCE RESEARCH (maximum word limit: 700)

Begin your research by using secondary source to learn more about the claim you have
been asked to research. You need only research one secondary source. Describe your
steps/process with sufficient details to that your supervising attorney can replicate your
research with ease. Be sure to address the following:
Provide the name of the source used (whether it is on Lexis or Westlaw);
Why you choose this secondary source?
Discuss the methods employed to find relevant information within the source,
including any finding and/or navigation tools;
Identify the most relevant section(s) of the source by both the heading name(s) and
section number(s); and
In your own words, summarize the applicable legal issues
As we have completed our preliminary analysis deconstructing the four Ws and issue of the
present case, we start our legal research consulting secondary sources as it will provide us with
the general background on the topic our case involves. For this search we will be using a natural
language search method using the following set of words/phrase:
wrongful termination without cause violation of public policy
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Using the search phrase, and the legal database of LexisNexis I conducted the following search
on the legal search engine doing the following:
LexisNexis
To conduct the appropriate search of the relevant secondary source for our legal issue in question
on LexisNexis, prior to conducting my search I went into Lexis Advance Research, narrowed my
search results to secondary materials, as well as narrowed the topic to labor & employment law.
After inputting my search phrase beginning my search, as I was overwhelmed with results I
decided to narrow my search using the jurisdiction tab narrowing my results to only show
material for the state of California, as our case takes place in California so reviewing applicable
California law would be relevant. Now with 524 results still, I believed there was a way to
narrow this search even more to find the most relevant information needed for our case, so I
decided to look at the practice areas & topics tab narrowing our search just showing the relevant
materials for wrongful termination. The first result that is shown upon completing our search is
the one I decided to analyze in more detail and is entitled 4-60 California Employment Law
ss.60.04 (2015).
The reason why I chose this particular secondary material is because it bring attention to most
important legal issues involving private employers that may arise under California and Federal
law as a result of the employment relationship. If we were to navigate the specific section and
subsection relevant to our case from the beginning of the secondary material the following steps
would be required: firstly, as we start from the beginning of California Employment Law we look
at the Table of Contents and based on the facts of the case we are being asked to research in my
opinion the relevant Division would be Division IV: Wrongful Termination And Related
Disputes. Looking at the extensive list of chapters available I have identified Chapter 60:
Liability for Wrongful Termination and Discipline to be a relevant chapter for the issue we are
being asked to research. Under this particular chapter the subsections that would be relevant for
our case would be:
ss. 60.01 Employment At Will, Generally provides a definition for the traditional atwill rule where either the employer or the employee can end the employment
relationship at any time, for any reason or no reason
ss. 60.02 Emergence of Exceptions to At Will Doctrine ss.60.02(1) statutory
exceptions which outlines that in our modern society there are exceptions to the at-will
rule which is primarily the product of state and federal legislation restricting the
employers right to terminate or otherwise discriminate/discipline against its employees.
ss. 60.02 (2)(a) public policy which outlines the first judicial exception, wrongful
termination in violation of public policy, which has been reiterated in the case of Tameny
v. Atlantic Richfield Co., a relevant case and significant sector related to our legal issue at
hand.
ss. 60.03 Statutory Prohibitions and Limitations on Employers Right to Terminate
or Discipline Employees In summary this sections looks at the numerous California
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and federal statutes that limit employers rights to discipline, terminate or discriminate
against employees. ss. 60.03(2)(b) discrimination against employee for filing claim with
labor commission (Labor Code Sections 98.6, 98.7) in particular is relevant to our case
in question as it brings attention to the prohibition for employers to discriminate against
an employee in this case Ms. Gregory for filing a complaint with the DLSE. Also ss.
60.03(2)(c) whistleblowing activities reiterates that retaliation by an employer against an
employee is prohibited if the employee reported the employer for violating state or
federal statute.
ss.60.04 Violation of Public Policy This particular section outlines elements of a cause
of action from wrongful discharge that may be in violation of public policy. Relevant to
our case as Ms. Gregory satisfies the elements listed in ss.60.04 (1)(a).
ss.60.08 Remedies in Wrongful Discharge Action This section is relevant as it relates
to Ms. Gregorys right to claim damages for wrongful discharge. Tort damages are
available in an action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, therefore Ms.
Gregory can possibly obtain damages for lost wages and benefits.

In conclusion, I believe the secondary source entitled 4-60 California Employment Law
Chapter 60 Liability for Wrongful Termination and Discipline (2015) can be very helpful
regarding the legal research needed for this particular case. Along with the relevant sections
listed above, the Chapter as a whole can be helpful favoring Ms. Gregorys case while explaining
in detail how the facts of her case can be used to determine whether she has a claim for wrongful
discharge and what she can claim in terms of damages.
III.

STEP 3: LOCATE AND ANALYZE PRIMARY LAW (maximum word limit:


700)

Identify three different cases that are relevant to the legal issues involved. To find these
three cases, use the secondary source you used in Step II to find one case, and use full-text
searching in an appropriate case law database to find the other two cases. Choose cases
that you think are most useful or important for this problem, using the case selection
factors discussed in this class. Refer to the Case Selection Factors selection and the
Methodology Chart in the Course Reader for detailed explanations.
For each case selected provide the case name and case citation
For each case you identify using the secondary source, provide the section number
and heading from the secondary source where the case was found
For the two cases you identify using free-text searching, provide the case name and
citation information, the name of the case law database you searched in, and the
full-text search you ran to identify your cases
Please state how each case is relevant to the legal issue you are researching and if it
favors your clients position
Case using Secondary Source
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Using the secondary source entitled 4-60 California Employment Law (2015) I focus on
ss.60.04 Violation of Public Policy to try and find a primary source to further my research on
wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. I decided to analyze the case of Petermann v.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1959) 174 Cal. App. 2d 184, 188-189, 344 P.2d 25
which can be found under ss.60.04 (1)(b) which after clicking the hyperlink it takes you to
Footnote 2. The reason I chose this particular case and why I believe it is relevant to our
research is because the case of Petermann v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters was the
first California case to consider public policy exception in detail; holding that the right to
terminate may be limited by statute or public policy, and that public policy would be offended by
a termination of refusal to commit a wrongful act. Legally this case is relevant as it involves the
issue of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, factually while relatable to our case
in the case of Petermann it involves the plaintiff (employee) filing a complaint against the
defendants, an employer and a union, it does not however, mirror the facts of our present case.
As the case of Petermann v. Intl Brotherhood of Teamsters was held in 1959, this case hold
historic significance in my opinion however because of its aged judgment I would say it perhaps
effects the treatment of the case, with a judge/jury wanting to rely on a much more recent case.
The reason why I believe this case is significant to our current case is to bring an historic context
on the issue of wrongful termination in violation of public policy as stated above.
Cases using Full-Text Searching
As we move on to our full-text searches, we used the following phrase to conduct our search:
wrongful termination without cause violation of public policy
The reason we used this full-text search phrase is to stay consistent in our research and to focus
on using the factors available to us on to narrow our search to find the most relevant and useful
cases.
Westlaw
Using the database of Westlaw I had inputted the search phrase as stated above, while also
narrowing the results by selecting California State, including related Federal content rather than
search all content. With 52 results from our search, I decided to narrow the search down by using
the following filters:
Jurisdiction California
Reported status Reported
Topic Employment & Labor
After applying the following filters, the search resulted in 38 cases. From the results the case that
stood out was that of Holmes v. General Dynamics Corp. (1993) 17 Cal. App. 4th 1418 (7th
result from the top). The reason why I chose this case and believe its relevant to our current case
is because in the case of Holmes v. General Dynamics Corp. the plaintiff, former employee filed
action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy based on the belief that he was fired in
retaliation for disclosing violations of False Statement Act committed by his employer. It is clear
that this case we identified is legally relevant to our current case involving Ms. Gregory and her
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employer Tall Charles Productions. Ms. Gregory believes she was discharged because of the
complaint she filed with the DLSE for Scott Wagner failure to comply with fair pay to
employees with regards to overtime pay. Factually, while our current case and the case we
identify in our research Holmes v. General Dynamics Corp. differs with regards to the field of
work, and does not essentially mirror one another, there are some factual relevance with regards
to both employees in each case filing a complaint against their employer for violating public
policy and as a result were terminated relatively around the time they filed their complaint.
Another similarity between the cases is that both employers are being questioned whether their
termination of their employees are disguised as actions of retaliation for the complaint filed
against them. Because the case of Holmes is a California case held in the Court of Appeals,
Fourth District, this judgment is binding and relevant to that of our current case. The judgment
for the case of Holmes was held in 1993 which may have some effect to how this case is treated
in the present time, however I believe that would be up for the judge/jury to decide as the
relevance of this case is significant and is a useful example to how an employer terminates an
employee as means of retaliation, as well as outlines the elements of wrongful discharge in
violation of public policy and what needs to be satisfied prior to the court finding in favor of the
plaintiff of the case, the employee.
LexisNexis
Using the database of LexisNexis I had inputted the search phrase as indicated above, and
narrowed my search by looking for cases only in the area of Labor & Employment law as well as
Contract law, and by leaving the jurisdiction open. With a big number of results I decided to
narrow the search to Federal Circuit Courts, Supreme Court, the state of California cases that
were reported as it holds a more influential decision, as well as narrowing the timeline to 20052016. From my results I decided to analyze the case of Baxter v. Natl Safety Council, 275 Fed.
Appx. 632 (2008). While this particular case is more recent, I would say that factually it is quite
different in the way the employee went about their claim for wrongful termination in violation of
public policy. The employer argued that it was part of a company wide reduction in force which
resulted in the employee termination. Legally this case is relevant to that of Ms. Gregorys. The
reason I believe this case is significant is because as the law changes and the public policies
changes, the elements that need to be satisfied to state a claim for wrongful termination in
violation to public policy continuously evolve to represent the present time as accurately as
possible. The case of Baxter is the most recent case that mentions the updated elements to satisfy
a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and therefore relevant to the issues
and facts of our case.
IV.

STEP IV: UPDATE YOUR RESEARCH (maximum word limit: 200)

Research the validity of the cases you identified in Step III by updating them using either
Shepards or KeyCite. Be sure to give the treatment symbol for each case and description
provided by the citatory (e.g., Yellow Flag Negative treatment) and also explain why it
received that symbol.
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Petermann v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1959) 174 Cal. App. 2d 184, 188-189,
344 P.2d 25 presented with a yellow triangle on LexisNexis we are aware that there are some
possible negative treatment of the case. However it should be noted that there is no negative case
history. While I can understand the possible negative treatment of the case resulting from the
aged judgement of the case, I do believe the historic significance of the case is relevant to our
case in question. As we shepardize this case, we can conclude that while it is still in good law it
must be reviewed with caution.
Holmes v. General Dynamics Corp. 17 Cal. App. 4th 1418 (1993) presented with a yellow
flag, we know that this case has some negative history however, it has not been reverse or
overruled. I believe with the judgment being in favor of the defense this resulted in the negative
treatment of this case with regards to its application to other more recent cases. I think the
wrongful discharge in violation of public policy argument is still good law and applicable to the
present time, however I believe its the way the court applies this claim and its elements to a case
that results in a case needing to be reviewed with caution.
Baxter v. Natl Safety Council, 275 Fed. Appx. 632 (2008) presented by a blue circle with the
letter A, we are aware that this case is identified as neutral by the citatory and has citing
references with treatment available. I believe it is the elements outlined to satisfy a claim for
wrongful discharge in violation of public policy that results in other more recent cases citing
this particular case.
[NOTE: Perhaps the standards of review for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy has
changed or evolved over time. Determined on a case-by-case basis the determination of a public
policy exception to termination of at-will employment is a question of law for the court to
decide. Thus, the appellate court reviews the issue de novo, as mentioned in the much more
recent case of Wilburn v. Mid-South Health Dev., 343 F.3d 1274 (2003)]
V.

STEP V: CONCLUSION (maximum word limit: 150)

Explain whether you feel the cases sufficiently answered your research issue and, if needed,
how you would continue your research.
In conclusion, as we have conducted our research for this particular case, I believe the secondary
source provided us with a thorough understanding of the issue for wrongful termination in
violation of public policy as well as the factors in which must be considered. With regards to the
cases I do believe they are relevant to Ms. Gregorys case as they prove to be legally relevant
relating to the topic being researched, however I do believe it lacks the factual relevance. I do
think the cases analyzed are nonetheless incredibly useful to our current case, as it also provides
a historic understanding of the issue of wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
Under the burden-shifting analysis applied to the tort of wrongful discharge in violation of public
policy, a plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing the prima facie case. If/When this is
done, a presumption of retaliation arises, and the burden shifts to the Defendants to set forth a
legitimate non-retaliatory reason for its action. As we continue our research perhaps trying to
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find a similar case bearing the same factual relevance may be helpful. Therefore, I believe wrong
discharge in violation of public policy can be applied to Ms. Gregorys case against Scott Wagner
and Tall Charles Productions.

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