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Knock-Down, Drag-Out CVS Fight Heads to Trial

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A mother and daughter cannot claim self-defense in their wrongful termination lawsuit against the CVS pharmacy that fired them for getting in a profanity-laced brawl with a co-worker.

Wanda Drouillard and her daughter, Franchesca Johnson, claim they were merely defending themselves during a fist-swinging, hair-pulling brawl in the pharmacy's break room. Tension with co-worker Bre'Anna Brame started on June 22 when Brame accused Johnson in a vulgar text-message exchange of gossiping about her relationship with shift manager Kevin Hope. "'I'll find someone for your ass,'" Brame said, leading Johnson to tell the store manager she felt threatened by Brame.

Several days later on June 27, two women entered the store as Johnson was headed to clock out in the break room at the end of her shift. They walked up to Johnson and said, "'Bitch, was it you fucking with my little cousin?' Johnson responded, 'No, and what if I was?' The female replied, 'Bitch, I'll Mace you,'" according to the court.

True to their word, the woman pulled out a can of Mace, but managed to spray only the back of Johnson's shirt. The ensuing scuffle escalated with the intervention of Drouillard, who was not working that day but was on the scene to pick up Johnson. As Brame struck Drouillard on the face and pulled her hair, Johnson punched Hope in the jaw, allegedly by mistake. Police eventually broke up the fight, and all brawlers accept for Hope were eventually fired.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup found CVS did not violate California public policy in favor of self-defense, as no such policy exists. "While self-defense is important, it is not unique to the workplace, and it would be all too easy to engage in workplace violence and then invoke self defense, including phony invocations of self-defense," Alsup wrote. "Were a public policy tort recognized, then employers would be deterred from firing violent employees for fear of being sued for infringing a public policy. This is a strong countervailing policy that militates against recognizing any such tort. This is unlike the recognized public policy torts in California in which there is no strong countervailing policy. And, again, the right to self-defense has no particular anchor in the employment context but is a generalized privilege."

Alsup also found fault with Johnson's claim against CVS for allegedly failing to maintain a safe workplace, agreeing with CVS that her claim is pre-empted by workers' compensation.

But because Drouillard was not working at the time of the fight, Alsup found Drouillard's claim of third-party negligence could proceed to trial, writing, "Defendants have not carried their burden of producing evidence that negates an essential element of plaintiff's negligence claim or showing that plaintiff does not have enough evidence of an essential element to carry her ultimate burden of persuasion at trial."

Alsup also rejected Drouillard and Johnson's claims holding CVS responsible for their injuries. "It is undisputed that defendants immediately conducted an inquiry into the two fights occurring on June 27, which resulted in plaintiffs' alleged assaults and batteries, and soon thereafter made the decision to terminate Brame," he wrote. "Plaintiffs do not put forward evidence to show defendants did anything to ratify Brame's alleged battery and assault of either of them."

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