In Yanez v. Plummer, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Nov. 5, 2013), the California Court of Appeal (Third Appellate District) reversed the Placer County Superior Court court’s order granting summary judgment for defendant employer.

Plaintiff sued his former employer for wrongful discharge and the company’s in-house counsel for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud.  Plaintiff was fired for dishonesty because of a discrepancy between a witness statement he wrote and an answer he gave in deposition pertaining to a coworker’s on-the-job injury.  At the deposition, Plaintiff was represented by the company’s in-house counsel.  The in-house counsel moved for summary judgment, claiming that Plaintiff could not meet the causation element of any causes of action against him.  The trial court granted the motion and Plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court reversed, concluding that Plaintiff raised a triable issue of material fact that but for the in-house counsel’s conduct, the company would not have terminated Plaintiff’s employment.  The fundamental issue on appeal was whether the in-house counsel’s conduct caused the termination. Specifically, the in-house counsel “played a substantial role . . .  in uncovering the deception . . . and . . . without that deposition testimony, [Plaintiff] likely would not have been charged with dishonesty [resulting in his termination].  This evidence presents a triable issue of material fact that but for [the in-house counsel’s] alleged malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud [Plaintiff] would not have been terminated.”