ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Doc. #22]
Plaintiff Lydia Montoya ("Montoya") filed a Complaint against Defendant Management Training Corporation ("MTC") for (1) wrongful demotion, (2) age discrimination, (3) gender discrimination, (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (5) unfair competition and unfair business practices pursuant to California Business & Professions Code § 17200. Compl., ECF No. 2. After MTC terminated Montoya's employment, Montoya amended the Complaint to add claims for (1) wrongful termination in violation of public policy and (2) retaliation pursuant to California Government Code § 12940(h). Am. Compl. 9-10, ECF No. 18. The parties stipulated to dismiss Montoya's original five causes of action against MTC. Stip. to Dismiss, ECF No. 23.
MTC now moves for summary judgment on Montoya's claims for (1) wrongful termination, (2) retaliation, and (3) punitive damages. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 22. Montoya filed an opposition (Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 25), to which MTC replied (Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 32). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be GRANTED.
Montoya began working as a correctional officer for GEO Group, Inc. on December 13, 1999. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ("DMF") ¶ 1, ECF No. 22-2. Montoya worked for GEO Group at the McFarland correctional facility for approximately five years before moving to Taft Correctional Institution ("Taft") in May 2005. DMF ¶ 2. MTC took over the contract to operate Taft in 2007, and hired Plaintiff as a correctional officer on August 20, 2007. DMF ¶ 3. Montoya's duties at Taft included searching for contraband, supervising inmates, and providing security for assigned areas. DMF ¶ 4.
Montoya was required to complete annual in-service training on a range of subjects, including the use of firearms and control of contraband. DMF ¶ 5. At the end of the annual training Montoya was required to demonstrate competency in the use of firearms by qualifying on a firing course. DMF ¶ 6. Staff members were allowed three attempts to qualify; those who did not qualify were subject to termination. DMF ¶ 7.
During 2008, firearms qualification involved firing thirty-six shots at a target (twelve shots each at distances of three, seven, and fifteen yards) using a company-issued Smith & Wesson nine millimeter pistol. DMF ¶ 8. Passing required hitting the target at least twenty-nine out of thirty-six times. DMF ¶ 9.
Montoya attempted to qualify on February 1, 2008, but recorded only twenty out of thirty-six hits on the target. DMF ¶ 11. She returned to the firing range on February 8, 2008 but scored only five hits on her first attempt, twenty-three hits on her second attempt, and six hits on her third attempt. DMF ¶ 12. She tried again a week later, but failed on two attempts. DMF ¶ 13.
On February 22, 2008, MTC issued Montoya a written Notice of Caution ("Notice") regarding her failure to pass the firearms qualification. The Notice expressly gave Montoya additional time to practice. DMF ¶ 14. Montoya returned to the firing range on March 21, 2008 and failed to qualify on three attempts. DMF ¶ 15. She tried again on March 28, 2008 but failed all three attempts. DMF ¶ 16. MTC gave Montoya more opportunities to qualify than any other Correctional Officer, yet she was the only one (out of more than one hundred thirty) who did not qualify in 2008. DMF ¶ 17.
Instead of discharging her, Warden Neal Adler informed Montoya of two open positions that did not require firearms qualifications: recreational specialist and kitchen supervisor. DMF ¶ 18. Montoya indicated a preference for the kitchen supervisor position, but was placed in the lower-paying recreational specialist position. Montoya claims Deputy Warden Daugherty made this decision because the kitchen supervisor position paid more than the correctional officer position. DMF ¶ 19. Montoya was forty-two years old at the time of her demotion. DMF ¶ 20.
On or about May 14, 2008, Montoya filed a complaint of employment discrimination with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH"). DMF ¶ 32. Montoya alleged that she was demoted solely based on her age. She did not claim discrimination on the basis of sex or any other protected status. DMF ¶ 33.
On February 12, 2009, Adler announced a change in the firearms competency requirements. DMF ¶ 21. The change was made in response to "considerable anxiety" among some of the staff about the re-qualification process. DMF ¶ 22. Adler explained the new standard as follows:
In the future, custody staff will go to the range for the full day as in the past, with the morning dedicated to refamiliarization with the weapon and safety issues and the afternoon spent shooting the round of fire. A technical score will not be taken. All staff will demonstrate their competency by attending class, relearning the weapons, and then simply shooting.
DMF ¶ 22. Montoya was allowed to re-qualify under this new standard, and was reinstated to a correctional officer position in March 2009. DMF ¶ 23.
On March 13, 2009, the DFEH informed Montoya that it was closing her case, could not conclude based on its investigation whether MTC had violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), and issued her a right-to-sue notice. DMF ¶ 34. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") adopted the DFEH's findings and issued Montoya a right-to-sue notice on April 9, 2009. DMF ¶ 35. Montoya filed this action on March 12, 2010. DMF ¶ 36.
On July 16, 2010, MTC's attorneys took Montoya's deposition regarding her allegations of MTC's discrimination. Pl.'s Mat. Facts ("PMF") ¶ 6, ECF No. 28. MTC's Human Resource Manager, Mia Warren, was present at Montoya's deposition. PMF ¶ 7.
On September 20, 2010 at approximately 8:30 p.m., while on duty as a correctional officer, Montoya observed an inmate in Taft's A3B dormitory pull a razor blade glued to popsicle sticks from under a table. DMF ¶ 24. Montoya did not confiscate the weapon, report it to a supervisor, search the area, or search the inmates. DMF ¶ 25. On September 21, 2010 at approximately 2:00 p.m., Montoya relieved Correctional Officer Dickey at the end of Dickey's shift on the A3B housing unit and told Dickey about the contraband she had observed. DMF ¶ 26. Dickey thought that Montoya felt uneasy confronting the inmates without any backup, and told her she would take care of it and get the contraband out. PMF ¶¶ 14-15. Montoya worked her entire shift that day and did not secure the contraband or report it to her supervisor. On September 22, 2010 at approximately 10:40 a.m., Dickey recovered four improvised knives (wooden sticks with razor blades attached) from under the table and turned them into Sergeant Rahe. DMF ¶ 27, PMF ¶ 16. Rahe told Dickey that the incident was "no big deal" and not to worry about it.*fn1 PMF ¶ 17.
On September 23, 2010, Lieutenant Hammons told Dickey that she "was not in any trouble" and that the popsicle sticks were probably being used for arts and crafts, as the inmates like to use them for this purpose.*fn2 PMF ¶ 18. Inmates can purchase razor blades from staff at MTC for shaving, and the poor inmates are given razor blades for free. PMF ¶ 19.
Montoya was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of the matter. DMF ¶ 28. On September 22, 2010, Montoya wrote the following statement:
I had a run in with the same unit about the cleanliness of that unit A3B. And all sign petitions to get rid of me in that unit for doing my job. And I did put their best friend in SHU Hold for having the same contraband . . ..
Warren Decl. Ex. E, D0383, ECF No. 22-3; PMF ¶ 10. On September 27, 2010, Montoya gave a statement to MTC that she observed an inmate pull out a "contraband made of two popsicle sticks glue [sic] together with razor attach [sic] from under first table . . . and began cutting some pieces of wood with it." PMF ¶ 8; Warren Decl. Ex. E, D0385. On September 28, 2010, Montoya wrote Warren that she had found contraband before on inmates and reported it. PMF ¶¶ 9, 11; Warren Decl., Ex. E, 4.
On September 27, 2010, Warren asked to speak with Dickey about the incident. PMF ¶ 20. Warren told Dickey that she "wasn't in any kind of trouble," but that she just wanted to ask her questions about Montoya. PMF ¶ 21. Warren asked Dickey why she told Montoya she would take care of the situation with the inmates. PMF ¶ 22. Dickey told Warren that Montoya felt uneasy about confronting the inmates that day because she did not have back up and did not feel safe. PMF ¶ 23. Warren told Dickey that she was being placed on administrative leave that same day. PMF ¶ 24.
At the conclusion of the investigation, MTC discharged both Montoya and Dickey. DMF ¶ 29. No other MTC Correctional Officer at Taft has received lesser discipline than termination for knowingly permitting dangerous ...