Appeals court rules for Touchstone in Sheridan case

Actress can still file complaint on Labor Code violation

A three-judge panel of the California state Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Touchstone Television’s contention that a verdict in the Nicollette Sheridan wrongful termination trial should be entered in its favor, concluding that the “Desperate Housewives” actress was not fired from the show but that her option simply was not renewed.

That is a key legal point that Touchstone has advanced in the aftermath, earlier this year, of a deadlocked jury trial in which Sheridan claimed that she was dropped from the show in retaliation for an incident in which the show’s creator, Marc Cherry, struck her on the set. He claimed that he was giving her direction for a scene.

But Sheridan still has another avenue to pursue her case. In a 10-page opinion issued on Thursday, the three-judge panel said Sheridan could still file an amended complaint alleging a Labor Code violation in the claim that Touchstone retaliated against her for complaining about unsafe working conditions.

As she set a date for a new trial, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White rejected Touchstone’s motion for a “directed” verdict on the grounds that Sheridan could not be wrongfully terminated because the company simply decided not to renew her contract. The appellate court, however, disagreed with White’s assessment.

“In this instance, there is no termination of employment but, instead, an expiration of a fixed-term contract,” the appellate judges wrote in an opinion. “To hold otherwise would require the creation of a new tort of nonrenewal of fixed term employment contract in violation of public policy.”