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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Hometown Buffet

March 6, 2007

U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOMETOWN BUFFET, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jeffrey T. Miller United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY ADJUDICATION; GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S CROSS MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY ADJUDICATION

Defendant Hometown Buffet ("HTB") moves for summary judgment, or partial summary adjudication, on the issue of whether Plaintiff United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") satisfied its statutory obligation to conciliate prior to commencing this action. Plaintiff EEOC opposes the motion and separately moves for a finding that the EEOC met the condition precedent of conciliation. For the reasons set forth below, the court finds that the EEOC discharged its statutory obligation to conciliate prior to filing the present action. Accordingly, the court denies HTB's motion for partial summary adjudication and grants EEOC's cross motion for partial summary adjudication.

BACKGROUND

On September 29, 2006 the EEOC commenced this action alleging that HTB subjected Charging Parties Yesica Owen, Eliza Navarette, and other similarly situated individuals, to sexual harassment/hostile work environment on the basis of sex, female. (Compl. at p.1). The EEOC alleges that HTB engaged in unlawful employment practices since October 2002, in violation of Section 703(a) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The sexual harassment included "unwanted physical touching and/or sexually charged and/or suggestive speech and/or conduct." (Compl. ¶10). The effect of the allegedly wrongful conduct adversely affected the Charging Parties status as employees, because of their sex. (Compl. ¶12). The EEOC also alleges that it satisfied "[a]ll conditions precedent to the filing of this action." (Compl. ¶9).

On January 28, 2005 the EEOC received a charge of discrimination from Yesica Owen against HTB. Following an investigation into the Owen charge, which included requesting information from HTB, on October 3, 2005 HTB received a determination letter from the EEOC, finding reasonable cause to believe that Owen, and similarly situated individuals, were subject to sexual harassment and sex-based harassment while employed at HTB. (Def. Exh. 8). On or about December 9, 2005 HTB received a conciliation proposal from the EEOC. (Def. Exh. 9). Among other things, the proposal sought maximum statutory penalties of $300,000 per individual impacted by HTB's alleged discriminatory practices, lost wages for the employees, and injunctive relief to remedy the perceived alleged discriminatory practices. (Def. Exh. E).

Mr. Hanneman, in-house counsel for HTB, carried out discussions with the EEOC regarding the conciliation proposal. Mr. Hanneman explained that his investigation failed to reveal an evidentiary basis for the award to the putative plaintiffs. (Hanneman Decl. ¶20). Mr. Hanneman requested specific facts supporting the charge but was informed that the EEOC was not in a position to comply with this request. Id. During a conversation between Mr. Hanneman and counsel for the EEOC on January 17, 2006, Mr. Hanneman was again informed that the EEOC had concluded that "egregious discrimination" had taken place at HTB but that it was unable to provide more specific information regarding the claims. (Hanneman Decl. ¶21). At that time, Mr. Hanneman noted that "due to the EEOC stance, it did not appear [the charges] could be resolved through conciliation." Id.

On June 12, 2006 HTB received another determination letter regarding Navarette and, on July 17, 2006, HTB received a conciliation proposal, similar to the proposal received with respect to Ms. Owen. Shortly thereafter, on August 2, 2006, HTB received another letter from the EEOC indicating that unless a counter proposal were submitted within ten business days, the EEOC would assume that attempts at conciliation had failed. (Def. Exh. 12).

On August 28, 2006, HTB's outside counsel, Mr. Hoge, contacted the EEOC and informed the EEOC that HTB required additional information to rationally assess the discrimination charges. (Hoge Decl. ¶3). When asked by Mr. Hoge whether a relatively small conciliation amount such as $500 would have been sufficient to keep the case in the conciliation process, the EEOC did not directly respond but indicated that the matter would be referred to the EEOC's legal department. Id. On September 29, 2006, the EEOC commenced the present action.

HTB now moves for partial summary adjudication on the issue of whether the EEOC satisfied its duty to conciliate prior to commencing this action. The EEOC opposes the motion and separately moves for summary adjudication in its favor.

DISCUSSION

Legal Standards

A motion for summary judgment shall be granted where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); British Airways Bd. v. Boeing Co., 585 F.2d 946, 951 (9th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 981 (1979). The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the file which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). There is "no express or implied requirement in Rule 56 that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Id. (emphasis in original). The opposing party cannot rest on the mere allegations or denials of a pleading, but must "go beyond the pleadings and by [the party's] own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324 (citation omitted). The opposing party also may not rely solely on conclusory allegations unsupported by factual data. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989).

The court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 994 (1962). Any doubt as to the existence of any issue of material fact requires denial of the ...


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