Mitchell v. Union Central Life Ins. Co., 118 Cal. App. 4th 1331 (2004)

Dorothy Wimberly Mitchell worked for The Union Central Life Insurance Company for 27 years before she allegedly became physically ill as a result of harassment and discrimination that she suffered at work. In December 1999, Mitchell filed a civil lawsuit for, among other things, discrimination and harassment under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In January 2000, Mitchell filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. After its motion for summary judgment was denied, Union Central served Mitchell with an offer to compromise in the amount of $1.1 million. Around the same time, the workers’ compensation claim was settled for $57,500. (The parties were represented by different counsel in the two proceedings.) Union Central subsequently moved for summary judgment in the civil action on the ground that the workers’ compensation release barred the action. The trial court granted the motion, but the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that there was sufficient extrinsic evidence (including the then-outstanding $1.1 million settlement offer) to establish a triable issue of fact as to whether the parties intended the workers’ compensation release to bar the civil action.