California’s anti-SLAPP statute allows a defendant to bring a special motion to strike any cause of action in a plaintiff’s lawsuit that arises from “any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue.” The purpose of the anti-SLAPP law is to prevent people from using lawsuits from intimidating others who are exercising their First Amendment rights.
By bringing a successful anti-SLAPP motion, a defendant gets the Court to perform an early review of the merits of the case, before costly discovery has begun. If the defendant can show a likelihood of success on the merits of the case, the Court will grant the anti-SLAPP motion and dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint.
As we blogged about here recently, California employers have begun using anti-SLAPP motions to challenge plaintiff’s claims for retaliation and discrimination that “arise from” a workplace investigation.
In Jeffra v. Cal. State Lottery, the California Court of Appeal concluded that an employee’s claim for retaliation “arose from” the workplace investigation. According to the Court, in a retaliation claim the employer’s investigation is “the wrong complained of.” It is the adverse action that supplies the critical element of the employee’s retaliation claim. Thus, the employee’s retaliation claim arises from “protected activity” and is subject to an anti-SLAPP motion brought by the employer.
Nevertheless, the employer’s anti-SLAPP motion in Jeffra v. Cal. State Lottery was denied because the employer could not show a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits. The employee brought forward too much evidence of possible retaliation — including being placed on administrative leave, having his equipment taken, and being escorted off the premises. Although the employer submitted a declaration challenging these assertions, the employee had demonstrated the “minimal merit necessary to allow his case to proceed.” Thus, the Court denied the employer’s anti-SLAPP motion.
You can read the full opinion in Jeffra v. Cal. State Lottery here.