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Garcia-Barajas v. Nestle Purina Petcare Co.

April 9, 2009

JUAN MANUEL GARCIA-BARAJAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NESTLE PURINA PETCARE COMPANY, A CORPORATION, AND DOES 1 THROUGH 50, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Oliver W. Wanger United States District Judge

SCHEDULING CONFERENCE ORDER Discovery Cut-Off: 5/10/10 Filing Deadline: 5/21/10 Non-Dispositive Motion Dispositive Motion Filing Deadline: 6/10/10 Settlement Conference Date: 5/19/10 10:00 Ctrm. 9 Pre-Trial Conference Date: 8/16/10 11:00 Ctrm. 3 Trial Date: 9/28/10 9:00 Ctrm. 3 (JT-8 days)

Date of Scheduling Conference. April 9, 2009.

I. Summary of Pleadings

A. Plaintiff's Factual Contentions

1. Plaintiff Juan Manuel Garcia-Barajas ("Mr. Garcia") alleges that in March 2007, Defendant Nestlé Purina PetCare Company wrongfully terminated his employment after having worked over 17 years at the Defendant's cat litter manufacturing facility in Maricopa, Kern County, Eastern District of California. Mr. Garcia alleges that he was terminated for protesting, complaining about and refusing to engage in unreasonably dangerous activities ordered by his supervisors. On multiple occasions, Mr. Garcia refused an order to climb into a fine dust silo without adequate safety equipment (including an oxygen tank, respirator, face mask, ear plugs, protective clothing and a harness) necessary to prevent him from sustaining serious injury, falling into the sand or becoming trapped and unable to climb out. Indeed, when forced to enter the silo over his protests, Mr. Garcia became trapped, experienced difficulty breathing and had to be pulled out with a shovel. On other occasions, Mr. Garcia complained about the unreasonably dangerous conditions under which he was forced to drive heavy machinery with extremely weak brakes and bald tires over steep mountains of loose sand and dirt with poor lighting, little visibility and poor ventilation. Mr. Garcia further alleges that additional motivating factors for his termination were his protests and complaints about Nestlé Purina's failure to provide him with meal and rest periods and failure to pay him overtime and all other wages earned.

B. Plaintiff's Legal Contentions

1. Mr. Garcia alleges that his termination violated the laws and fundamental public policies of the State of California, which among other things, mandate that employers: (1) provide a safe and secure workplace; (2) encourage employees to report to their employers unsafe and/or unhealthful workplaces; (3) prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who complain about unsafe and/or unhealthful conditions or practices and/or unlawful wage and hour practices; (4) require that employers provide adequate meal and rest periods; and (5) prohibit employers from denying overtime and other wages earned.

2. Mr. Garcia alleges that Nestlé Purina violated California Labor Code §§ 1102.5 and 6310 by retaliating against and terminating him for complaining about, reporting, protesting, and refusing to engage in unsafe conduct that he reasonably believed violated state or federal statutes and/or regulations. Mr. Garcia also alleges that Nestlé Purina's failure to pay him all wages earned (including overtime) and failure to provide meal and rest periods violated California Labor Code §§ 200, et seq., 226.7 and 500, et seq., relevant IWC Wage Orders, the California Code of Regulations and California Business and Professions Code §§ 17200, et seq. Mr. Garcia further alleges that Defendant intentionally and negligently caused him to suffer severe emotional distress.

3. Mr. Garcia alleges that as a result of Defendant's unlawful conduct, he has lost income, employment and career opportunities. Mr. Garcia seeks general, special, economic and consequential damages, restitution, punitive damages, emotional distress damages, all applicable civil penalties, reasonable attorneys' fees and costs of suit.

C. Defendant's Factual and Legal Contentions

1. Defendant Nestlé Purina contends Plaintiff Garcia was lawfully terminated in March 2007 for repeatedly and willfully failing and refusing to perform a required and important "operational logging" process (per Company policy and explicit management directives), for insubordination and for walking out on his supervisor in connection with attempts by management to address this issue. Plaintiff received multiple warnings about this issue. Thus, Plaintiff was not retaliatorily fired, contrary to the allegations in his complaint. Nor, contrary to his allegations, did Plaintiff ever make safety or wage complaints to management or OSHA at any time prior to his termination. Further, during his employment, Plaintiff was always paid all wages and benefits, and received all meal and break periods, to which he was legally entitled.

2. The facts will not support any of Plaintiff's statutory or common law causes of action.

II. Orders Re Amendments To Pleadings

1. The parties have agreed to permit Plaintiff to file a First Amended Complaint and are filing a Stipulation to that affect contemporaneously herewith. The First Amended Complaint submitted April 2, 2009, will correct what Plaintiff contends was an inadvertent omission from the complaint he originally filed.

2. Defense counsel has represented that Nestlé Purina was Plaintiff's employer during the entire applicable limitations period. Plaintiff reserves the right to seek amendment of the pleadings to add additional individual defendants as facts are uncovered during the course of discovery.

3. It is anticipated that a Rule 12 motion will be filed respecting the Amended Complaint.

III. Factual Summary

A. Admitted Facts Which Are Deemed Proven Without Further Proceedings

1. Juan Manuel Garcia-Barajas was at all times alleged a resident of the Eastern District of California.

2. Defendant Nestlé Purina PetCare Company is a corporation incorporated in the State of Delaware and doing business in the Eastern District of California.

3. Mr. Garcia was employed by Nestlé Purina PetCare Company during the period of time from November 2005 until his termination in March 2007.

4. Mr. Garcia worked at the Maricopa facility for over 16 years - from approximately May, 1989, until March, 2007.

5. Mr. Garcia's employment was terminated by Nestlé Purina PetCare Company in March 2007.

6. Plaintiff was last employed by Nestlé Purina PetCare Company as a Processing Operator.

B. Contested Facts

1. Whether Mr. Garcia was a non-exempt employee for the duration of his employment at the Maricopa facility.

2. Whether Mr. Garcia's rate of pay was $17.85 per hour at the end of his employment.

3. Whether Mr. Garcia was ordered to enter into one of the silos on the premises of the Maricopa facility by his superior(s) on two occasions in 2006.

4. Whether Mr. Garcia objected to entering into the silo.

5. Whether Mr. Garcia protested, complained about and refused to engage in conduct that he reasonably believed to be unsafe and a violation of state or federal statutes and/or regulations at the Maricopa facility during the period of time from late 2005 until his termination in March 2007.

6. Whether Mr. Garcia's alleged protests, concerns and complaints about safety at the Maricopa facility were a motivating factor in his termination.

7. Whether Mr. Garcia's alleged refusal to engage in conduct he reasonably believed to be unsafe was a motivating factor in his termination.

8. Whether, for those days on which he worked in excess of five hours, Mr. Garcia was entitled to one uninterrupted meal period.

9. Whether, for those days on which he worked in excess of ten hours, Mr. Garcia was entitled to two uninterrupted meal periods.

10. Whether Mr. Garcia waived his meal and rest periods.

11. Whether Mr. Garcia agreed to an on-duty meal or rest period.

12. Whether Mr. Garcia was denied meal and rest periods.

13. Whether Nestlé Purina failed to pay Mr. Garcia for work he performed in lieu of taking uninterrupted meal and rest periods.

14. Whether Mr. Garcia protested and complained about his alleged failure to receive meal and rest periods during the period of time from late 2005 until his termination in March 2007.

15. Whether Mr. Garcia's alleged protests and complaints about Nestlé Purina's failure to provide meal and rest periods was a motivating factor in his termination.

16. Whether, during the period of time from late 2004 until his termination in March 2007, Mr. Garcia worked overtime (in excess of eight hours) for over 90% of his shifts.

17. Whether Nestlé Purina failed to pay Mr. Garcia for all overtime hours he worked.

18. Whether Mr. Garcia protested and complained about Nestlé Purina's failure to pay him for all overtime hours worked during the period of time from late 2005 until his termination in March 2007.

19. Whether Mr. Garcia's alleged protests and complaints about his alleged failure to receive overtime pay was a ...


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