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Yolanda Payne v. Huhtamaki Company Manufacturing

June 16, 2011

YOLANDA PAYNE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HUHTAMAKI COMPANY MANUFACTURING, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

This matter comes before the court upon the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Huhtamaki Company Manufacturing ("defendant"). (ECF 11.) The hearing on this motion took place on June 8, 2011; Chris Phillips appeared for plaintiff and Richard Gray appeared for defendant. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is GRANTED.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff brought her complaint in Sacramento County Superior Court on December 3, 2009, alleging seven causes of action: 1) gender discrimination in violation of California Government Code § 12940; 2) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; 3) breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; 4) medical condition discrimination in violation of California Government Code § 12940; 5) failure to provide a reasonable accommodation in violation of California Government Code § 12940(n); 6) failure to engage in an interactive process in determining reasonable accommodations in violation of California Government Code § 12940(n); and 7) intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Compl., Ex. A, Not. of Removal, ECF 1.) Defendant removed this action to this court on February 25, 2010. (ECF 1.)

Defendant filed this motion for summary judgment on April 25, 2011. (ECF 11.) Plaintiff filed her opposition on May 25, 2011, in which she indicates she does not oppose defendant's motion with respect to her third, fifth and sixth causes of action. (Pl.'s Opp'n at 2 n.1, ECF 18.) These claims are deemed dismissed and are not addressed in this order. Defendant filed its reply on June 1, 2011. (ECF 19.)

II. UNDISPUTED FACTS

Defendant's Sacramento facility where plaintiff is employed manufactures molded fiber packaging products. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 1, ECF 13 (hereinafter, "ECF 13"); Pl.'s Opp'n Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 1, ECF 18-3 (hereinafter, "ECF 18-3").) Plaintiff began working for defendant in May 2005 as a machine operator. (ECF 13 ¶ 2; ECF 18-3 ¶ 2.)

Plaintiff was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2007; as a result, she underwent a lumpectomy and took a leave of absence for several months. (ECF 13 ¶ 46; ECF 18-3 ¶ 46.) She returned to work under restrictions. (ECF 13 ¶ 47; ECF 18-3 ¶ 47.)

In November 2008, plaintiff bid on a stock prep operation position in the beater room. (ECF 13 ¶ 48;ECF 18-3 ¶ 48.) Plaintiff's work restrictions at that time were about to expire and Craig Komulainen, Operations Manager, told her to obtain current information from her doctor. (ECF 13 ¶ 49;ECF 18-3 ¶ 49.) Plaintiff's doctor, Scarlett LaRue, signed a medical evaluation form on November 7, 2008, indicating plaintiff was under no work restrictions. (ECF 13 ¶ 51; ECF 18-3 ¶ 51.) The same day, Dr. LaRue also signed a visit verification form placing work restrictions on plaintiff for three additional months. (ECF 13 ¶ 52; ECF 18-3 ¶ 52.) The visit verification form did not specify a position to which the restrictions would apply. (See Supp. Gray Decl., Payne Dep., Ex. 6, ECF 21.) Komulainen asked plaintiff to obtain clarification from her doctor due to the two conflicting reports. (ECF 13 ¶ 53; ECF 18-3 ¶ 53.) On November 10, 2008, Komulainen called Dr. LaRue directly and expressed his concern that the stock prep operator job was more strenuous than the machine operator job. (ECF 13 ¶ 54; ECF 18-3 ¶ 54.) A letter written by Dr. LaRue confirms that Komulainen expressed concerns that the stock prep operator job was more strenuous, regardless of plaintiff's feelings regarding the relative strain of the two jobs. (Phillips Decl., Payne Dep., Ex. 9, ECF 18-2.) Komulainen ultimately accepted Dr. LaRue's opinion that plaintiff could perform the stock prep operator job without restrictions. (ECF 13 ¶ 55; ECF 18-3 ¶ 55.)*fn1 Plaintiff was awarded her bid for the stock prep operator position on December 4, 2008. (ECF 13 ¶ 56; ECF 18-3 ¶ 56.)

On February 3, 2009, plaintiff left work without cleaning her work station. (ECF 13 ¶ 25;ECF 18-3 ¶ 25.) The next day, plaintiff was called into a meeting with her supervisor and others, where she was shown pictures of her uncleaned work station; however, plaintiff was never disciplined as a result of this incident. (ECF 13 ¶¶ 26-27; ECF 18-3 ¶¶ 26-27.)*fn2

On February 9, 2009, plaintiff began a leave of absence because of stress. (ECF 13 ¶ 29; ECF 18-3 ¶ 29.) On February 17, 2009, defendant laid off approximately thirty employees, including plaintiff, in accordance with the seniority provisions in the collective bargaining agreement with the union. (ECF 13 ¶¶ 30-31; ECF 18-3 ¶¶ 30-31.) On April 7, 2009, defendant sent out rehire notices to approximately twenty employees, including plaintiff, in accordance with the seniority provisions in the collective bargaining agreement with the union. (ECF 13 ¶ 33; ECF 18-3 ¶ 33.) Plaintiff accepted the offer of reemployment on April 9, 2009, contingent upon her receiving a full release from her medical physician. (ECF 13 ¶ 35; ECF 18-3 ¶ 35.)*fn3 Plaintiff has not returned to work since February 2009 and her medical leave of absence remains in effect. (ECF 13 ¶¶ 37-38; ECF 18-3 ¶¶ 37-38.) Plaintiff "was never fired from Huhtamaki, was never demoted, was never suspended, and was never given a bad performance review at Huhtamaki." (ECF 13 ¶ 39; ECF 18-3 ¶ 39.)

III. ANALYSIS

A. Standard

A court will grant summary judgment "if . . . there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The "threshold inquiry" is whether "there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).*fn4

The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the district court "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, which "must establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact . . . ." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585 (1986). In carrying their burdens, both parties must "[cite] to particular parts of materials in the record [or show] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support that fact." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1); see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 ("[the nonmoving party] must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts"). Moreover, "the requirement is that ...


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