After five seasons as Edie Brit on Desperate Housewives, Nicollette Sheridan no longer had a job on the popular television drama. Touchstone Television Productions had an employment contract with Sheridan for the first season of the show with the option to renew the contract each season for six additional seasons. It chose not to renew Sheridan’s contract and Brit was killed in a fatal car accident during season five.
The Court of Appeal for the State of California, Second Appellate District, held that Sheridan was not wrongfully terminated from the show in retaliation for accusing a creator of Desperate Housewives of assault. Rather, Touchstone legally exercised its option not to renew her contract for another season when it informed her during season five that they would not be bringing her back for season six.
A jury had originally heard Sheridan’s claims of wrongful termination and retaliation against Touchstone, but was unable to reach a verdict. A mistrial was declared and Touchstone sought relief from the Court of Appeal. A finding that the production company had simply not renewed her contract rather than terminated her would remove the need for retrying the wrongful termination case.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Touchstone and refused to allow Sheridan to sue for wrongful termination in violation of public policy when her contract was simply not renewed for another season. She had a fixed-term contract and completed the term of her contract by finishing season 5 of Desperate Housewives. Sheridan received payment in full for her acting services during Season 5 under the terms of the contract.
Rather than suing for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, the Court of Appeal noted that Sheridan may have a better claim for retaliation after making a claim about unsafe working conditions (as related to the assault). The alleged assault took place in September of 2008; Sheridan was notified that her contract would not be renewed in February of 2009.
Source: Touchstone Television v. Super. Ct.