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Nicollette Sheridan may file contract dispute under another law

Here in Maryland, fans of the television show "Desperate Housewives" may be following the legal drama of one of its former stars now that the show no longer on the air. However, even those that do not miss the show, and are not interested in entertainment news, may be able to learn something from Nicollette Sheridan's employment contract dispute.

Sheridan sued Touchstone Television Productions in 2010 for wrongful termination, accusing the company of firing her in retaliation for complaining about an incident with the show's creator. The company charged back that it did not actually terminate her employment, but rather simply decided not to renew her contract.

Sheridan had been hired by Touchstone before the first season of "Desperate Housewives." The contract gave Touchstone the right to renew the contract each year for six seasons. Touchstone renewed the contract for the next four seasons, but declined to renew it for the sixth season, choosing instead to kill off her character. The company notified her of its decision to let the contract expire shortly after she complained to the employer that the show's creator had hit her.

Sheridan then sued the company for wrongful termination. A state appeals court, however, agreed with Touchstone that she was not fired but that her contract was just not renewed. The appeals court then told Sheridan she could not sue the employer for wrongful termination in violation of public policy because she was not fired, but rather Touchstone's decisions were pursuant to her employment contract.

The court went on to give Sheridan a helpful tip, however. It told her that she could sue the employer under a California labor code that made it illegal to fire or discriminate against employees due to complaints about unsafe working conditions. It appears now that she will file such a lawsuit.

This case shows us that contract workers are not always protected by the same laws as full time employees. This is why it is always important for workers to understand the terms of any contracts they enter. Additionally, there is an array of state and federal employment laws, and although a complaint might not end up fitting under what seemed to be the obvious law, there may still be another appropriate law under which one may successfully file an employment complaint.

Source: HR.BLR.com, "Employment contracts: TV star's wrongful termination case has implications for employers," Oct. 31, 2012

  • Our firm handles employment contracts and disputes. For more information about this area of our practice, visit our Maryland Employment Contract page.

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