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Alicia Villalvaso v. Odwalla

June 16, 2011

ALICIA VILLALVASO,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
ODWALLA, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION; SPHERION, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; AND MARIO ACOSTA, AN INDIVIDUAL, DEFENDANTS.



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

SCHEDULING CONFERENCE ORDER ) Discovery Cut-Off: 6/15/12 Non-Dispositive Motion Hearing Date: 7/27/12 1:30 Ctrm. 6 Non-Dispositive Motion Filing Deadline: 6/29/12

Deadline: 7/16/12

Dispositive Motion Filing

Dispositive Motion Hearing Date: 8/20/12 10:00 Ctrm. 3 6/28/12 1:30 Ctrm. 6 Settlement Conference Date: Pre-Trial Conference Date: 9/24/12 11:00 Ctrm. 3 Ctrm. 3 (JT-10 days) Trial Date: 11/6/12 9:00

I. Date of Scheduling Conference.

June 16, 2011.

II. Appearances Of Counsel.

III. Summary of Pleadings.

A. Plaintiff's Factual and Legal Contentions.

1. On or around January 2006, Plaintiff applied for employment with a temporary employment agency, Spherion, Inc., that provides staff services to Odwalla, Inc. (hereinafter, "Defendant"). On or around February 2006, Plaintiff was instructed to report to Defendant's plant located in Dinuba, California. Plaintiff reported to work with Defendant. At all relevant times, Plaintiff was jointly employed by Spherion, Inc. and Defendant from approximately February 2006 until July 21, 2006. Throughout her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff's direct supervisor was Mario Acosta (hereinafter "Defendant Acosta").

2. Plaintiff worked in Defendant's cold storage and shipping department under the direct supervision of Defendant Acosta. During her employment, Defendant Acosta sexually harassed Plaintiff by both verbal and physical acts. The inappropriate physical acts included touching her against her wishes and rubbing his body against her. The verbal harassment included offensive and explicit details of his sexual encounters and unwelcome sexual overtures. Additionally, Defendant Acosta deliberately waited until Plaintiff would enter the locker room and witness her zip into her work outfit that is placed over her clothing. These verbal and physical acts created a hostile work environment pervasive with sexual harassment.

3. On or about June 21, 2006, Plaintiff was approached by Defendant's Manager, Christian Emrich and was told that he was aware of Defendant Acosta's sexual harassment of Plaintiff. Plaintiff informed Mr. Emrich that she was represented by an attorney. At that time, Mr. Emrich told Plaintiff to go home and to not report to work the next day, June 22, 2006. Plaintiff, accompanied with her counsel, made repeated attempts to discuss the sexual harassment with Defendant and with Spherion, Inc. As of June 22, 2006, Defendant never permitted Plaintiff to return to work and failed to adequately investigate and/or discipline Defendant Acosta for his actions.

4. Plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer severe psychological and emotional distress due to the hostile work environment she was forced to endure, the repeated sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination on behalf of Defendant and Defendant Acosta. Plaintiff seeks compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages and injunctive relief.

B. Defendants' Factual and Legal Contentions.

1. Plaintiff was an employee of Spherion, Inc., a temporary employee agency that provides recruitment and staffing services to Defendant. From February to June 2006, Plaintiff was placed with Defendant's facility in Dinuba, California as a temporary worker. During that period, she worked in Defendant's Shipping Department.

2. On June 21, 2006, one of Plaintiff's co-workers at the Defendant's plant told Christian Emrich, a Shipping Manager, that Plaintiff had complained Defendant Acosta was "bragging" her. Mr. Acosta was an employee in the Shipping Department. (Mr. Acosta was not Plaintiff's supervisor and he did not have authority or control over the terms or conditions of Plaintiff's temporary placement with Defendant. Rather, Defendant Acosta was only a "lead" employee in Shipping. As a lead, he was primarily responsible for advising Order Selectors which orders to palletize and ensuring Defendant's juices were correctly rotated and utilized according to the bottling date.) Mr. Emrich attempted to interview Plaintiff about any issues she had with Defendant Acosta, but she stated she had legal counsel and was reluctant to provide details to Mr. Emrich. Although Plaintiff provided little information to Mr. Emrich, he assured her that she had nothing to fear and that he would promptly speak to Human Resources of Defendant. Mr. Emrich exchanged telephone numbers with Plaintiff, and suggested she go home for the day if she was upset. He told Plaintiff that Defendant would be in touch with her regarding the next steps.

3. Mr. Emrich immediately notified Sharon Burg, the Human Resources Manager at Defendants' plant, about Plaintiff's complaint. Ms. Burg informed Spherion and also attempted to telephone Plaintiff that day to discuss Plaintiff's concerns.

Ms. Burg, however, was unable to reach Plaintiff. The following day, Spherion advised Ms. Burg that Plaintiff would be at Defendant's plant on June 23, 2006 to speak with Human Resources. The morning of June 23, 2006, Plaintiff and her legal counsel appeared at Defendant's plant under the pretense of allowing Plaintiff to be interviewed by Ms. Burg. Ms. Burg was completely surprised as she was not expecting Plaintiff's attorney to accompany Plaintiff. She did not feel comfortable interviewing Plaintiff with her attorney present. Ms. Burg also understood that Plaintiff was scheduled to meet with Spherion's manager that day. Plaintiff's counsel handed Ms. Burg a one-page letter signed by legal counsel containing a general description of Plaintiff's harassment allegations.

4. Thereafter, Defendant conducted an investigation by interviewing several employees who worked with Plaintiff and Defendant Acosta in the Shipping Department. Defendant interviewed Defendant Acosta and Rosario Serno, another female employee in Shipping, on two separate occasions. Defendant Acosta stated that he told Plaintiff a joke, and Defendant determined that the joke could be interpreted as having a sexual connotation. Defendant Acosta was orally warned for making this joke in the workplace. Following a lengthy investigation, Defendant could not substantiate Plaintiff's claims that Defendant Acosta made sexual or lewd comments to her, propositioned her for sex, and engaged in inappropriate and unwelcome touching. At all times relevant to the Complaint, Defendant maintained a policy prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace and this policy was published in Defendant's employee handbook. In addition, Defendant provided sexual harassment training to its employees.

5. After Plaintiff's conversation with Christian Emrich, she was free to return to work at Defendant's plant. Defendant tried to contact Plaintiff, but she did not respond and evidently chose not to return to work at Defendant's plant. Defendant did not prevent Plaintiff from returning to the plant. In addition, Defendant understands that Plaintiff did not wish to continue working at Defendant's plant, and she declined offers of temporary assignments at other employers as presented to her by Spherion after June 2006.

6. In sum, Defendant and Defendant Acosta deny Plaintiff's claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and further deny that Plaintiff has been damaged in any amount whatsoever. Defendants deny that Plaintiff was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her gender, or that Defendant retaliated against her after she complained about harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Further, Defendant denies that it negligently supervised or hired its employees, or that it failed to maintain a safe working environment for Plaintiff. Defendant asserts that it is not strictly liable for the actions of Defendant Acosta, as Defendant Acosta was not Plaintiff's supervisor.

IV. Orders Re Amendments To Pleadings.

1. Plaintiff does not expect to add or dismiss any causes of action at this time.

2. Defendants do not expect to add or dismiss any affirmative defenses at this time.

3. Plaintiff has reached a settlement with Spherion, Inc., a Delaware corporation.

V. Factual Summary.

A. Admitted Facts Which Are Deemed Proven Without Further Proceedings.

1. Plaintiff is an individual and a resident of the Eastern District of California at the time of events alleged in the complaint.

2. Odwalla, Inc., a California corporation, is incorporated in and conducts business in the City of Dinuba, Inc.

3. Defendant Mario Acosta is an employee of Odwalla and at times relevant, was employed at the Dinuba plant and an employee of Odwalla at all times alleged in the Complaint.

4. Plaintiff was a temporary employee who had been placed through Spherion, Inc. and performed work at Odwalla during the period February 7, 2006 to June 21, 2006 in Dinuba, California, as an Order Selector and Packer.

5. Plaintiff was never a regular, full-time employee of Odwalla.

6. Plaintiff did not complain to any agent or manager at Odwalla about Mario Acosta's alleged harassing conduct until June 21, 2006, when she spoke with Christian Emrich at the Dinuba plant.

B. Contested Facts.

1. Whether Plaintiff was en employee of Odwalla.

2. Whether Mario Acosta was Plaintiff's Supervisor.

3. Whether Mario Acosta engaged in inappropriate conduct toward Plaintiff, including physical touching, sexual proposition or ...


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