CHA News Article

Calif. Supreme Court Rules on Health Care Whistleblower Claim
Determines no right to jury trial

The California Supreme Court recently held there is no statutory right to a jury trial on a health care whistleblower claim brought under Health & Safety Code Section 1278.5. In Shaw v. Superior Court, Shaw, a former human resources coordinator, sued her former employers (a hospital and related entities) for retaliation under Section 1278.5, as well as for wrongful termination in violation of public policy under Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co. Shaw claimed her employment was terminated after she raised complaints about the quality of patient care. The trial court ruled that Shaw was not entitled to a jury trial on her Section 1278.5 claim, but the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that there was a right to a jury trial on the whistleblower claim.

On review by the California Supreme Court, CHA submitted an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting the hospital defendants’ arguments. CHA also argued that finding a right to a jury trial on health care whistleblower claims would undermine medical staff peer review activities, as the threat of layperson juries second-guessing physicians’ medical judgment and disciplinary decisions will discourage them from participating in the peer review process.

In its decision, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Court of Appeal, consistent with the arguments advanced by the defendants and CHA. Carefully reviewing the language of the statute and portions of its legislative history, the Court concluded that the Legislature, in enacting Section 1278.5, did not intend to confer a right to jury trial. However, the Supreme Court also noted that because Shaw was entitled to a jury trial on her closely related Tameny claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, any trial should be sequenced so that a jury trial on the Tameny claim precedes adjudication by the judge of the Section 1278.5 claim.