(CN) - A California woman should not have been fired for reporting that her wedding ring had been stolen at work, a state appeals court ruled.
As recounted in the opinion written by Justice Stephen Kane, Rosa Lee Cardenas started working as a dental hygienist for Dr. Masoud Fanaian in 2009.
One year later, Cardenas' husband celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary by purchasing her a new, expensive ring.
Every day, Cardenas would wear her ring to work and then place it in the pocket of her scrubs. But on Oct. 11, 2010, the ring went missing.
Cardenas testified that she had placed the ring on the breakroom table with her cell phone and other items.
After chatting with a co-worker, she noticed the ring wasn't on the table but assumed she had put it back into her pocket.
Realizing the ring was missing, she searched fruitlessly in her home, her car, the office and the parking lot.
Cardenas began to suspect a co-worker when Fanaian did not support her decision to file a police report.
She stated that he ultimately told her to "do what you feel like to you need to do" but seemed upset, Kane wrote.
Officers from the Reedley Police Department investigated the case at Fanaian's office. Cardenas said the Fanaian told her that her husband, a Fresno police officer, was "making the situation worse."
Fanaian told Cardenas that police had investigated his office for a second time and he would have to let her go.
While Fanaian claimed at trial that he was giving Cardenas a 30-day cooling off period, Cardenas stated that she had clearly been fired.
One day after Cardenas was sent home, the ring was discovered at Fanaian's dental office.
Cardenas sued Fanaian and his business for wrongful termination and retaliation. The trial court ruled in her favor, awarding her $117,768.
Fanaian appealed, but the Fresno-based Fifth District California Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.
Kane explained that California law "prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who discloses information to law enforcement where the employee has a reasonable belief that a violation of the law has occurred. That is what happened here."
Justice Gene Gomes dissented from his colleagues, stating that "there was no public interest at stake" in this case.
He added that the law "was designed to protect whistleblowers, and respondent does not fall within the category of plaintiffs who may bring suit under its provisions."
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