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Christine Nguyen v. Qualcomm

March 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Michael M. Anello United States District Judge


(Doc. No. 23)

Plaintiff Christine Nguyen ("Nguyen") filed a complaint asserting claims for discrimination and harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), and common law claims for assault and battery. (Doc. No. 1.) Before the Court is Defendant Qualcomm Inc.'s ("Qualcomm") Motion for Summary Judgment or, in the Alternative, Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 23.) For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Qualcomm's motion in its entirety.


This action arises from events surrounding Nguyen's employment with Qualcomm. The following facts are not reasonably in dispute. In 2008, Nguyen applied for a position at Qualcomm. Joseph Stanton, a manager for Qualcomm's engineering resources lab, interviewed Nguyen and recommended to his supervisor, Chad Heslop, that Nguyen be hired. Heslop extended an offer to Nguyen to work in Qualcomm's engineering resources lab as a Lab Technician, Sr. Nguyen accepted, and began working for Qualcomm on March 3, 2008. (Def.'s Stmt. Undisp. Facts, Fact Nos. 1-4, Doc. No. 23-2.)

As a Lab Technician, Sr., Nguyen's primary duty was to run functionality tests on circuit boards. This included recording data, running tests, and tuning circuit boards. The boards are used by internal Qualcomm customers to test and run Qualcomm products.

Within the first four months of Nguyen's employment, Qualcomm identified issues regarding her performance at work. For example, Nguyen's supervisor, Stanton, instructed her not to make changes to the circuit boards. Nguyen acknowledged that her only job duties were to collect data, test, and tune the circuit boards. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. Undisp. Facts, Fact No. 3, Doc. No. 67-1.) Nonetheless, Nguyen made changes to circuit boards by soldering inductors on the boards. (Def.'s Stmt. Undisp. Facts, citing Def's Exh. A, Nguyen Depo. 155:20-157:8.) When Stanton discussed this issue with Nguyen, she responded that she was saving the customer time by soldering the inductors on herself. (Nguyen Depo. 155:20-157:8; Pl.'s Oppo. Exh. E; Stanton Decl. ¶ 11.) Nguyen's actions generated further delays for the customers. Stanton removed the soldering station from the engineering resources lab to prevent Nguyen from making changes to the circuit boards. (Id.)

During her employment with Qualcomm, Nguyen reported to her supervisor and to Human Resources that she believed her co-workers were mistreating her by laughing at her, talking behind her back, and sabotaging her work. (Bonofiglio Decl. ¶ 9; Rich Decl. ¶ 4; Nguyen Depo: 39: 17-24.) When a Human Resources representative asked Nguyen to provide information regarding who was talking about her and what was said, so that Human Resources could investigate further, Nguyen did not provide further information. (Rich Decl. ¶ ¶ 4, 8.) Nguyen also made a general request to transfer positions within Qualcomm, but did not apply for any specific position. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. Undisp. Facts, Fact No. 15, Doc. No. 67-1.)

On July 18, 2008, Qualcomm placed Nguyen on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") to address Nguyen's performance issues. A PIP is an individualized, goal-oriented plan that Qualcomm creates to assist employees who struggle to perform their job duties. Nguyen's PIP identified three areas for improvement: (1) taking responsibility for her work; (2) improving technical skills to a proficient level; and (3) communicating more productively with other members of her team. Julie Bonofiglio, a Human Resources Generalist, scheduled meetings with Nguyen on a regular basis to review her progress on the PIP. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. Undisp. Facts, Fact No. 8, Doc. No. 67-1.) Nguyen declined to attend at least one PIP meeting. (Nguyen Depo. 190:17-191:18; Def.'s Exh. G.) On August 20, 2008, Joseph Stanton, Chad Heslop, and Julie Bonofiglio arranged a meeting, and informed Nguyen that her employment with Qualcomm was terminated. (Def.'s Stmt. Undisp. Facts, Fact No. 10, Doc. No. 23-2.)


On September 3, 2009, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant answered on October 13, 2009. (Doc. No. 6.) On August 20, 2010, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 23.) Between August 27, 2010 and September 7, 2010, Plaintiff filed a series of documents, which the Court rejected because the filings lacked proofs of service. (Doc. Nos. 24-29.) On September 9, 2010, Plaintiff filed another series of documents and attached proofs of service, which the Court accepted and intended to construe the documents as her opposition. (Doc. Nos. 34-37.) In light of Plaintiff's late opposition filing, the Court issued an order resetting Defendant's deadline to file a reply, and indicated its intention to take the matter under submission pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1.d.1. (Doc. No. 38.) On September 17, 2010, Defendant filed its reply. (Doc. No. 45.) On September 17, 2010, the Court deemed the matter under submission.

On November 3, 2010, Plaintiff filed a request to substitute Joel Golden as her attorney of record in place and stead of herself. (Doc. No. 54.) The Court granted Plaintiff's request to substitute counsel. Plaintiff filed an ex parte request to extend time to complete discovery and file a response to Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 59.)

The Court granted Plaintiff's request to file an additional opposition, and accordingly granted Defendant an opportunity to file an additional reply. The Court denied Plaintiff's request to reopen discovery, but indicated it may consider future requests after the motion for summary judgment matter was fully briefed. (Doc. No. 64.) On December 13, 2011, instead of filing her opposition, Plaintiff filed a Rule 56(f) request to continue the summary judgment hearing and to extend time for discovery, or in the alternative, an extension of time to file an opposition. (Doc. No. 65.) The Court denied Plaintiff's request, but granted another extension of time to file an opposition. (Doc. No. 66.) On December 16, 2010, Plaintiff filed her operative opposition. (Doc. No. 76.) On January 10, 2011, Defendant filed its operative reply. (Doc. No. 70.) On January 10, 2011, the Court retook the matter under submission.


A party is entitled to summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Hubbard v. 7-Eleven, 433 F. Supp. 2d 1134, 1139 (S.D. Cal. 2006) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(2)). On a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he moving party bears the initial burden to demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact." Horphag Research Ltd. v. Garcia, 475 F.3d 1029, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). "Once the moving party meets its initial burden, . . . the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id.

A "mere 'scintilla' of evidence will be insufficient to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment; instead, the nonmoving party must introduce some 'significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.'" Fazio v. City & County of San Francisco, 125 F.3d 1328, 1331 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 252). Thus, in opposing a summary judgment motion, the non-moving party may not simply show that there is some "metaphysical doubt" as to the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citations omitted). However, when assessing the record to determine whether there is a "genuine issue for trial," the Court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in [her] favor." Horphag, 475 F.3d at 1035 (citation omitted). On summary judgment, the Court may not make credibility determinations; nor may it weigh conflicting evidence. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The ultimate question on a summary judgment motion, as framed by the Supreme Court, is whether the evidence "presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52.


A. Plaintiff's Request to Reopen Discovery

The deadline for conducting discovery in this case was July 2, 2010, with the exception of the expert reports and expert depositions deadline dates, which were extended until two weeks after the Court issues a ruling on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, provided the ruling does not render the deadline obsolete. (Doc. Nos. 16, 21.) On November 3, 2010,Plaintiff filed an ex parte motion seeking an extension of time to complete discovery. (Doc. No. 59.) On December 13, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Rule 56(f) request to continue the summary judgment hearing and extend the time for discovery. (Doc. No. 65.)

As an initial matter, Plaintiff's requests to reopen discovery are untimely. "[T]he process of evaluating a summary judgment motion would be flouted if requests for more time [and] discovery . . . had to be considered even if requested well after the deadline set for the introduction of all information needed to make a ruling has passed." Ashton-Tate Corp. v. Ross, 916 F.2d 516, 520 (9th Cir. 1990). "Thus, implication and logic require that a Rule 56(f) motion be made prior to the summary judgment hearing." Id.Here, Plaintiff made her request to reopen discovery two months after the scheduled summary judgment hearing date, and well after the matter had been deemed under submission to be decided on the papers already submitted to the Court.

Further,in determining whether to reopen discovery,"[d]istrict courts have 'wide latitude in controlling discovery, and [their] rulings will not be overturned in the absence of a clear abuse of discretion." Cromwell v. Electra Cent. Credit Union, 439 F.3d 1018, 1026 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). The Ninth Circuit "decline[s] to limit the district court's ability to control its docket by enforcing a discovery termination date, even in the face of requested supplemental discovery that ...

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