A woman who sued a Culver City ad agency, alleging she was wrongfully fired last May for expressing concerns about the honesty of a Princess Cruises marketing assignment that she believed minimized the health threat from the coronavirus, will have to revise her whole complaint for it to proceed, a judge ruled Friday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara Scheper said that all six causes of action in Tiffani Harcrow’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against Omelet LLC — which include whistleblower retaliation, wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress and unfair business practices — need more clarification.
As an example, the judge said Harcrow’s whistleblower retaliation claim was not established by her belief that she was punished for coming forward and saying she believed that the marketing campaign she found objectionable violated the no-sail orders of the CDC.
“The no-sail orders issued by the CDC did not prohibit marketing by cruise ship operators,” Scheper wrote. “Nothing in the CDC … orders prohibited Princess Cruises from developing or engaging in a marketing campaign. In fact, the … orders do not even prevent cruise lines from continuing to operate, so long as they develop a plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and receive approval from the U.S. Coast Guard.”
Scheper also wrote that Harcrow did not sufficiently support that her emotional distress was severe.
“Here, there are no allegations of conduct that is so extreme as to exceed all bounds of that usually tolerated in a civilized community,” the judge wrote.
Scheper gave Harcrow’s lawyers 20 days to file an amended complaint. She scheduled a case management conference for March 23.
The 33-year-old plaintiff was hired in May 2018 as Omelet’s associate creative director and received “glowing evaluations” for her work, according to her court papers filed June 22, which say she was “consistently described by Omelet’s management as an all-star and praised as one of Omelet’s top creative professionals.”
But in April, Omelet demanded that Harcrow and her team develop a “materially false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaign for … Princess Cruise Lines,” a company client, the suit alleges.
Omelet wanted an aggressive marketing campaign “designed to mislead consumers” into believing that it would be safe to travel on a Princess cruise ship as of June 30, despite evidence to the contrary, according to the suit.
Harcrow claims an Omelet briefing dated April 22 and shared with her spelled out Princess’ own alleged objective of misleading customers into believing that its cruise lines were safe. However, by then, Harcrow and other Omelet employees and managers knew that Congress and government agencies were investigating the alleged failure of cruise lines to protect the health of passengers and staff, the suit says.
“Clearly, Omelet’s misleading campaign violated its own professed core value” to always tell the truth, the suit alleges.
On March 14, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no-sail order suspending the operations of cruise lines and other carriers for 30 days, and the next month, the directive was renewed until July 24, the suit states.
Harcrow says she objected to and complained about the Princess Cruises assignment to supervisors and asked whether safety protocols were in place. She also stated that telling the public that it was permitted, let alone safe, to travel on a cruise line on June 30 violated the CDC’s orders, according to the suit.
“As a result, Harcrow told her supervisors that she reasonably believed that the campaign was misleading, fraudulent, unethical … and would endanger the health, safety, and lives of consumers,” according to her court papers.
In response, Harcrow’s supervisor said, “I would not put my family on a cruise ship either, for fear of catching COVID-19, but it was our duty to our client to instruct the public to do so,” the suit alleges.
Harcrow was fired May 6 and all of her responsibilities were transferred to employees who did not object to Omelet’s “dangerous, misleading and unlawful marketing campaigns,” the suit alleges.
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