A job applicant who won a pregnancy discrimination verdict against Lucasfilm Ltd., then saw it reversed on appeal, filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court on Friday.
Attorneys for Julie Gilman Veronese said a lower court misread state law last month when it reversed the judgment against Lucasfilm, along with awards of $113,830 in economic damages and $1.2 million in attorney's fees.
A three-judge panel of the lower court, the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco, said the trial judge, Lynn O'Malley Taylor of Marin Superior Court, made numerous errors in her jury instructions. The appellate panel sent the case back to Marin for retrial.
The appellate decision conflicts with existing employment law on several key issues, so the Supreme Court review is necessary, according to Veronese's appeal. If the decision is allowed to stand, it will "create enormous confusion and undermine effective FEHA enforcement," wrote Veronese lawyer Michael Rubin, referring to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
With its focus on the jury instructions, the appeals court overturned a verdict that found "substantial evidence of unlawful discrimination" after a lengthy trial with 20 witnesses, Rubin said.
Lucasfilm, in a statement Friday evening, said: "The court of appeal overturned the trial court's decision, calling it a 'miscarriage of justice,' and subsequently summarily dismissed Veronese's request for a rehearing.
We are confident that the Supreme Court will let the court of appeal's decision stand as is."
The Supreme Court has at least 60 days to decide whether to accept a case for review. The justices consider about 250 petitions at their weekly conference on Wednesdays, and a case is accepted if at least four of the nine justices agree it merits review, said court spokesman Cathal Conneely.
Veronese filed the lawsuit in 2009 after a job fell through at the San Anselmo estate of "Star Wars" filmmaker George Lucas. Veronese, then 36, had applied for a position as assistant to Sarita Patel, the estate manager.
Veronese, who was hired but never started work, claimed she was terminated because she became pregnant. Lucasfilm attorneys denied the allegations, suggesting Veronese had a poor attitude and that she concealed her pregnancy until she was hired because she wanted to exploit the company benefits.
The ensuing lawsuit pitted the vast legal resources of Lucasfilm against the tenacious anti-discrimination lawyer Angela Alioto, a former San Francisco supervisor who is also Veronese's mother-in-law. Veronese's husband, Joseph Alioto Veronese, was also on her legal team.
After a three-week trial that included testimony by George Lucas, a Marin jury ruled that Lucasfilm committed pregnancy discrimination, failure to prevent pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination. The jury rejected two of Veronese's claims, retaliation and failure to accommodate a disability.
Lucasfilm appealed over the allegedly flawed jury instructions, leading to the reversal by the 1st District Court of Appeal in December.
Veronese now manages family business interests. She and her husband own a winery and vacation rental property in Sonoma County.
Contact Gary Klien via email at email@example.com
©2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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