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Rosales v. Career Systems Development Corp.

November 1, 2009



Plaintiff Melvin Rosales brought this action alleging that his employer, defendant Career Systems Development Corporation ("CSDC"), unlawfully terminated his employment because of his age, race, national origin, and for engaging in certain protected activities. Defendant now moves for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.*fn1

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Defendant CSDC is a private company that contracted with the U.S. Department of Labor to operate the Sacramento Job Corps Center ("Center"). (Stinson Decl. ¶ 3.) The Center provides free education and vocational training for disadvantaged young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four. (Id.)

In January 2002, the Center hired plaintiff as a Vocational Counselor. (Rosales Decl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff is a Filipino man who was born in the Phillippines and, at the time he was hired by the Center, was fifty-nine years old. (Id.) As part of the hiring process, plaintiff was initially interviewed by Alan Roberts, who was a Group Life Supervisor at the time, followed by Edward Bianis,*fn2 who was a Counseling Supervisor. (Id. ¶ 4.)

A few months after the Center hired plaintiff, Roberts demoted Bianis, purportedly due to certain complaints made by Vocational Counselors. (Id. ¶ 5-6; Bianis Decl. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff and other Vocational Counselors, however, denied that they had made any complaints, and they wrote a letter to Roberts requesting a meeting to discuss Bianis's demotion. (Rosales Decl. ¶ 6; Bianis Decl. ¶ 8.) According to plaintiff, Roberts became very confrontational at this meeting and, thereafter, plaintiff's relationship with Roberts was unfriendly. (Rosales Decl. ¶ 6; Bianis Decl. ¶ 8.)

In December 2003, plaintiff applied for a promotion to the position of Director of Social Development. (Id. ¶ 8.) That position required a bachelor's degree in "counseling or [a] work-related field," and applicants with a master's degree in "counseling, social services[,] or psychology" were preferred. (Id. Ex. B at 1.) Plaintiff had both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in the specified fields, but the position was ultimately given to one Jack Jolliff, a Caucasian who had neither a bachelor's degree in the specified fields nor a master's degree. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff contacted Eugene Harris, one of the persons who interviewed applicants for the position, and stated that he believed he had been discriminated against on the basis of his race and age, but no action was taken. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.)

In September 2004, plaintiff applied for a promotion to the position of Director of Employability. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) That position required a bachelor's degree in a "work-related field," and applicants with "[t]hree years [of] work-related experience, one of which was in a supervisory capacity," were preferred. (Id. Ex. D at 1.) Although plaintiff had these qualifications, the position was ultimately given to one Deana Gelman, a person who had less experience than plaintiff and for whom the application deadline was extended. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) Plaintiff contacted Peter Gregerson, the Center Director at the time, and indicated that he believed he had been discriminated against on the basis of his race and age, but no action was taken. (Id. ¶ 16.)

In the fall of 2005, Roberts and Traci Allen, the Center's Career Development Director, interviewed plaintiff for the position of ACT/OCT Coordinator. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19; Roberts Decl. ¶ 4; see Durrant Decl. Ex. 12.) Roberts and Allen ultimately decided to promote plaintiff to that position. (Rosales Decl. ¶ 18; Roberts Decl. ¶ 4.) On December 6, 2006, Allen completed a "Performance Growth & Development Assessment" evaluating plaintiff's performance as ACT/OCT Coordinator, in which she described plaintiff as meeting or exceeding all work-related expectations. (See Rosales Decl. Ex. F.)

On December 9, 2006, plaintiff and his wife attended the wedding of Juan Silva, whom plaintiff was currently mentoring as a trainee at the Center. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff and his wife brought a gift, a small pot worth approximately twenty dollars. (Durrant Decl. Ex. 2 ("Rosales Dep.") at 115:2-4.)*fn3 At the wedding, plaintiff sat with another trainee, but plaintiff soon left after approximately thirty minutes when certain trainees started drinking alcohol. (Id. at 115:16-19.) Plaintiff believed that remaining at the wedding and drinking alcohol with the trainees would be inappropriate fraternization, which is prohibited by Center policy. (Id. at 115:21-116:2.)

The Center's policy against fraternization is provided in a form titled, "Sexual Harassment [and] Staff/Student Fraternization." (Durrant Decl. Ex. 4 ("Policy") at 1.) When plaintiff was first hired by the Center in January of 2002, he received and signed a copy of this form, which stated:

Staff/Student Fraternization is defined as follows: Socializing with students on or off Center, except when in the performance of one's job.

Visiting with students.

Providing rides to students in private vehicles. Borrowing/lending money or other items to students. Inviting students to a staff member's home, or providing housing to students.

Selling to or buying from students.

Getting involved with a student, in any manner other than while carrying out the duties and responsibilities of one's job. (Id.) Above plaintiff's signature, that form also provided, "I acknowledge by my signature that I have read and understand [the Center's] rules and regulations relating to Sexual Harassment and Staff/Student Fraternization. I understand that by not adhering to the above rules, I will be subject to immediate discipline up to and including dismissal from my job." (Id.)

On December 11, 2006, plaintiff informed his supervisor, Allen, that he had attended Silva's wedding and had given Silva a gift. (Rosales Decl. ¶ 22; Allen Decl. ¶ 4.) Allen subsequently met with Roberts and Human Resources Manager Rebecca McClure to discuss plaintiff's admission. (Allen Decl. ¶ 4.) Allen, Roberts, and McClure determined that plaintiff's actions had violated the Center's fraternization policy and concluded that it was appropriate to terminate plaintiff's employment. (Id.; Roberts Decl. ¶ 6.)

Roberts then contacted Jeff Stinson, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Administration for CSDC, who agreed that plaintiff's conduct had violated the fraternization policy and that it was appropriate to terminate plaintiff's employment on that basis. (Roberts Decl. ¶ 6; Stinson Decl. ¶ 8.) Allen and McClure informed plaintiff of his termination on December 12, 2006. (Rosales Decl. ¶ 23; Rosales Dep. 121:8-13.)

On December 19, 2006, plaintiff submitted a wrongful termination grievance to McClure, asserting that his termination was "capricious and arbitrary" and was "triggered by a systematic pattern of discrimination against [his] person on the basis of age and ethnicity." (Id. Ex. G.) After meeting with Allen and McClure on January 5, 2007, plaintiff received a letter from McClure dated January 8, 2007, which stated, "The decision made to terminate your employment based on you violating company policy of fraternization stands. . . . If you do not agree, you may request in writing a meeting with the Center Director within three (3) working days." (Id. Ex. H.) On January 11, 2007, plaintiff again submitted a wrongful termination grievance to McClure, stating that his termination "encapsulates a history of prejudices and discriminations" and requesting a meeting with Roberts. (Id. Ex. I.)

Plaintiff met with Roberts on January 25, 2007, to discuss his grievance, at which time plaintiff requested an official definition of "fraternization" as it applied to his termination. (See id. Ex. K.) Afterward, plaintiff received a letter from Roberts dated February 1, 2007, which provided, You were in fact aware of the company policy of fraternization with trainees and that you violated said policy by attending a [w]edding reception and also purchased a gift for the trainee. You admitted during your meeting with me that you attended the reception and gave the trainee a gift.

(Id. Ex. J.) Plaintiff also received a letter from McClure in response to his request for a definition of fraternization, which provided a page from CSDC's Employee Handbook that defined "fraternization" as "non-professional, immoral[,] or unethical situations including other than "Arm[']s Length" relationships, allowing any student/client in a staff member's place of residence without appropriate prior approval, exploiting students/clients for personal profit or gain, etc." (Id. Ex. L; Durrant Decl. Ex. 3 ("CSDC Handbook") at 27.)

After exhausting CSDC's internal grievance system, plaintiff filed a formal complaint of age and race discrimination with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("CDFEH") on April 19, 2007. (Durrant Decl. Ex. 20.) Plaintiff subsequently received a right-to-sue letter from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on March 20, 2008. (Id. Ex. 21.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed his Complaint in this court on June 18, 2008, alleging racial discrimination, national-origin discrimination, and retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2, 2000e-3, and the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(a), (h); age discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 623(a), (d), and FEHA, Cal. Gov't Code. § 12940(a), (h); as well as a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.

Defendant now moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

II. Discussion

Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A material fact is one that could affect the outcome of the suit, and a genuine issue is one that could permit a reasonable jury to enter a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 256. On issues for which the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial lies with the nonmoving party, the moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and can satisfy this burden by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's case or by demonstrating that the nonmoving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element of its claim or defense. Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Cos., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000).

Once the moving party carries its initial burden, the nonmoving party "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading," but must go beyond the pleadings and, "by affidavits or as otherwise provided in [Rule 56,] set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Valandingham v. Bojorquez, 866 F.2d 1135, 1137 (9th Cir. 1989). On those issues for which it will bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, the nonmoving party "must produce evidence to support its claim or defense." Nissan Fire, 210 F.3d at 1103.

In its inquiry, the court must view any inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The court also may not engage in credibility determinations or ...

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