Published on June 23, 2015
Ethan began working as a printer at Bilson's Art Studio in 1996. During his employment, Ethan was a good worker, did not create any trouble, and was viewed by management as a "relatively passive personality." In February of 1999, Ethan was physically attacked by another employee, Stan, without provocation. It was not the first time Stan had attacked a coworker. Approximately eight years earlier, Stan had attacked another employee, Vu, inflicting injuries serious enough to require stitches. Both Stan and Vu continued working for Bilson's after that incident. According to Ethan, the incident at issue in this case began when Stan approached Ethan and another worker and started screaming at them. Stan then grabbed a piece of wood and began swinging it at Ethan, possibly hitting him in the arm. Stan then took up either a hammer or a box of screws and hit Ethan with it. At that point, Ethan fled the room, but Stan began following him. When Ethan was about 30 to 40 feet away from Stan, Stan threw a box of screws, hitting Ethan in the back. At that point, Ethan stopped his flight, turned around and saw Stan holding a large metal cap. Ethan then rushed toward Stan, grabbing him in a bear hug in an attempt to restrain him. Stan immediately struck Ethan in the head with the cap, splitting the skin on his scull and causing substantial bleeding. It is undisputed that Ethan did not hit Stan. Jim Goetsch, a member of the family that owns Bilson's, interviewed witnesses, including Ethan, in the wake of the incident. There appears to have been some difference of opinion among the witnesses as to whether Ethan had intended to fight with Stan when he turned back (and just had no opportunity to strike a blow before getting clocked) or merely sought to prevent Stan from pelting him with additional objects. According to Goetsch, Ethan himself initially stated that "he got mad when he got hit with a box of screws and that he went back to fight." After hearing these differing perspectives, Jim Goetsch apparently concluded that Ethan was seeking only to defend himself in the conflict, even when he chose to turn and rush back toward Stan rather than continuing his retreat. Nonetheless, Goetsch decided to fire Ethan after hearing his side of the story, "because he did not continue to leave the scene. . . . He made a decision to go back. And that is not a decision I agreed with." Ethan sued Bilson's Art Studio for wrongful termination in a California court. Bilson's Art Studio is located in California. California law clearly recognizes the right to engage in self defense. California's constitution provides, "All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty...." Additional California's penal code makes clear that "resistance sufficient to prevent a public offense may be made by the party about to be injured." Furthermore, the concept of self-defense under California law "includes the right not to retreat from danger, even if retreat is possible and would be safer." How would you rule in this case? Why?