Civil Code Section 3294(b) authorizes the imposition of punitive damages on an employer in three situations: (1) when an employee was guilty of oppression, fraud or malice, and the employer with advance knowledge of the unfitness of the employee employed him or her with a conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others; (2) when an employee was guilty of oppression, fraud or malice; and the employer authorized or ratified the wrongful conduct; or, (3) when the employer was itself guilty of oppression, fraud or malice. Weeks vs.. Baker & McKenzie (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1151.
Civil Code Section 3294(b) does not authorize an award of punitive damages against an employer for the employee’s wrongful conduct. It authorizes an award of punitive damages against an employer for the employer’s own conduct. Liability under subdivision (b) is vicarious only to the extent that the employer is liable for the actions of its officer, director or managing agent in hiring or controlling the offending employee, in ratifying the offense or in acting with oppression, fraud or malice. Weeks, 63 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1154-1155.