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Arnaldo Pinto, et al v. the Walt Disney Company and Walt Disney World Co.

September 16, 2011

ARNALDO PINTO, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY AND WALT DISNEY WORLD CO., THROUGH ITS DIVISION, DISNEYLAND RESORT, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Guilford United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Arnaldo Pinto, Juan C. Guzman, Juan Felix Valenzuela, Fausto C. Torres, Jesus Enriquez Acero, Benjamin Puentes, and Ricardo Rivera (collectively, "Plaintiffs") sued their former employer, Disneyland Resort ("Disney"), for wrongful termination and discrimination, among other things. Plaintiffs claim Disney fired them because they are Hispanic. Disney claims Plaintiffs were fired for drinking alcohol while commuting home from work in a Disney-sponsored vanpool. Plaintiffs also sued their unions, Local Union No. 652 of the Laborers' International Union of North America ("Local 652") and Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 582 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada ("Local 582") for failing to fairly represent them. Disney, Local 652, and Local 582 (collectively, "Defendants") now bring Motions for Summary Judgment (the "Motions"). After reviewing all papers and arguments submitted, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motions in full.

BACKGROUND

This cases arises from Disney's decision to fire Plaintiffs for drinking beer and tequila in a Disney-sponsored vanpool van on their way home from work. Plaintiffs are former Disney employees who worked under the management of Karen Hedges and others in Disney's Horticulture Department. (Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint ("FAC") ¶ 2.; Declaration of Karen Hedges in Support of Disney's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Hedges Decl.") ¶ 5.) Plaintiffs are Hispanic. (Disney's Proposed Statement of Uncontroverted Facts ("Disney SUF")

¶¶ 30-31.) Pinto is of Honduran descent and the other Plaintiffs are of Mexican descent. (Id.)

Pinto is a member of Local 582. (FAC ¶ 2; Local 582 Proposed Statement of Uncontroverted Facts ("Local 582 SUF") ¶ 3.) The other six Plaintiffs -- Guzman, Valenzuela, Torres, Acero, Puentes, and Rivera -- are members of Local 652. (FAC ¶ 2; Local 652 Proposed Statement of Uncontroverted Facts ("Local 652 SUF") ¶ 3.)

Disney subsidizes a vanpool commuter program (the "Vanpool Program") for its employees. (SUF ¶ 4.) Each Plaintiff voluntarily participated in the Vanpool Program and signed Disney's Vanpool Passenger Agreement (the "Agreement"), which required, among other things, that they "refrain at all times while in the Van from the consumption of alcohol." (Id. ¶6; FAC ¶ 11.)

In August 2009, George Moynier, a Caucasian passenger in Plaintiffs' vanpool van, told Disney management that Plaintiffs sometimes drank alcohol in the van. (Disney SUF ¶ 8.) Hedges immediately authorized Disney security personnel to investigate the matter. (Id. ¶9.) During interviews with Disney security personnel, four of the seven Plaintiffs -- Acero, Pinto, Puentes, and Rivera -- admitted that they drank alcohol in the vanpool van. (Acero Tr. 89:1-7; Pinto Tr. 117:16-118:6; Puentes Tr. 66:6-9; Rivera Tr. 157:20-25.) The other three Plaintiffs -- Guzman, Torres, and Valenzuela -- initially denied, but later admitted, drinking alcohol in the vanpool van. (Torres Tr. 53:4-10; Guzman 71:16-72:7; Valenzuela Tr. 45:1-5.) Representatives of Local 582 and Local 652 (the "Unions") were present at the interviews of those Plaintiffs who requested representation. (Local 582 SUF ¶ 26; Local 652 SUF ¶ 32.)

Based on the investigators' findings and other information, Hedges concluded that Plaintiffs violated the Vanpool Passenger Agreement. (Disney SUF ¶ 21.) After consulting with two Caucasian members of Disney's Labor Relations Department, Hedges fired Plaintiffs. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25) Hedges also fired Greg Asher, a Caucasian vanpool passenger, for drinking in the van, and Troy Lauriston, the Caucasian vanpool driver, for failing to report the drinking. (Id. ¶ 26.) Hedges did not fire Antonio Gonzalez, a Hispanic vanpool passenger of Mexican descent, because he never drank alcohol in the vanpool van. (Id. ¶¶28-30.) Although Moynier admitted drinking alcohol in the van, Hedges did not fire him. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33). Hedges claimed that she did not fire Moynier -- who, as noted, reported the drinking -- because she did not want to discourage employees from reporting violations in the future. (Hedges Decl. ¶ 7.)

Based on these undisputed facts and others, Plaintiffs asserted eleven claims, numbered as follows: (1)wrongful termination in violation of public policy; (2) breach of Disney's Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"); (3) breach of the duty of fair representation; (4) race and national origin discrimination; (5) violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"); (6) violation of the California Family Rights Act ("CFRA"); (7) disability discrimination; (8) violation of California Constitution Article 1 Section 1; (9) invasion of privacy and intrusion into a private matter; (10) rescission and restitution; and (11) declaratory relief. (FAC.) Plaintiffs assert claims one, two, and four through eleven against Disney only. Plaintiffs assert claim three against their Unions only. (Id. ¶¶ 56-74.)

Defendants now bring Motions for Summary Judgment. After reviewing all the arguments and papers submitted, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motions in full.

PRELIMINARY MATTERS

Both parties, but especially Defendants, submitted voluminous objections. Indeed, Plaintiffs submitted 41 objections and Defendants submitted hundreds. In motions with numerous objections, "it is often unnecessary and impractical for a court to methodically scrutinize each objection and give a full analysis of each argument raised." Doe v. Starbucks, Inc., No. 08-0582, 2009 WL 5183773, at *1 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 18, 2009). This is especially true where, as here, "many of the objections are boilerplate recitations of evidentiary principles or blanket objections without analysis applied to specific items of evidence." Id.

The Court did not rely on the majority of the evidence under objection. To the extent it did rely on objected-to evidence, the Court relied only on admissible evidence. See F.T.C. v.Neovi, Inc., 598 F. Supp. 2d 1104, 1118 n.5 (S.D.Cal. 2008) ("The parties have each filed evidentiary objections. However, in deciding the present motions, the Court has only relied upon admissible evidence.").

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only where the record, read in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, indicates that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Material facts are those necessary to the proof or defense of a claim, as determined by reference to substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255.

The burden initially is on the moving party to demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If, and only if, the moving party meets its burden, then the non-moving party must produce enough evidence to rebut the moving party's claim and create a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 322-23. If the non-moving party meets this burden, then the motion will be denied. Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Co., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1103 (9th Cir. 2000).

ANALYSIS

As noted, Plaintiffs bring eleven claims against Defendants. The Court first considers Plaintiffs' claims against Disney. The Court then examines Plaintiffs' claim against the Unions.

1. PLAINTIFFS' CLAIM FOR DISCRIMINATION BASED ON RACE AND NATIONAL ORIGIN (CLAIM 4)

Plaintiffs claim that Disney fired them because of their race and national origin. (FAC ¶¶ 1-2, 4-5, 7-36, 75-83.) A plaintiff may prove discrimination with direct or circumstantial evidence. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). Here Plaintiffs rely on circumstantial evidence of discrimination because direct evidence of discrimination is not available. (Plaintiff's Opposition to Disney's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Opp'n to Disney Motion") at 15:19-22.) Claims of discrimination based on circumstantial evidence are evaluated under the three-part McDonnell Douglass test. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802.

To establish a prima facie case of race or national origin discrimination, Plaintiffs must first show that (1) they are members of a protected class; (2) they were competently performing their jobs; (3) they suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) they were treated less favorably than similarly situated Caucasian employees. Id.; Aragon v. Rep. Silver State Disposal, Inc., 292 F.3d 654, 658 (9th Cir. 2002). If Plaintiffs establish a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to Disney to "articulate some legitimate, non-discriminatory reason" for firing Plaintiffs. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If Defendants succeed in ...


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