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Lisa Gonzalez v. County of San Joaquin et al

June 28, 2012


(Super. Ct. No. 39200900212155CUWTSTK)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raye , P. J.

Gonzalez v. Co. of San Joaquin



California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Plaintiff Lisa Gonzalez worked as a paralegal at the San Joaquin County Superior Court (San Joaquin) beginning in 2000. In 2008 San Joaquin terminated Gonzalez's employment. The parties disagree vehemently over what led to the termination. Gonzalez claims that after back problems caused her to request a medical/disability leave, San Joaquin abruptly terminated her. San Joaquin contends it terminated Gonzalez because of performance and attitude problems.

Gonzalez filed suit against San Joaquin, alleging physical disability discrimination, failure to reasonably accommodate, failure to engage in an accommodation process, and violation of the Moore-Brown-Roberti Family Rights Act, more commonly known as the California Family Rights Act of 1993 (CFRA; Gov. Code, § 12945.2). Both parties filed motions for summary judgment.

The trial court granted San Joaquin's summary judgment motion. Gonzalez appeals, arguing the court erred in granting San Joaquin's motion and denying hers. We shall affirm the judgment.


The parties agree on the following facts. San Joaquin hired Gonzalez in November 2000 as a part time, temporary paralegal in its family law pro per clinic. In February 2004 grant funding for the program she was working in ended and Gonzalez was let go. San Joaquin rehired Gonzalez as a full time, grant-funded paralegal under a limited-term employment agreement in July 2005. Here, agreement ends and each party presents a very different scenario of events leading up to Gonzalez's termination.

Gonzalez's Version

In 2005 Gonzalez developed a back problem diagnosed as advanced disc space collapse and degenerative disc disease. From 2005 through May 2008 this condition worsened, causing Gonzalez pain and limiting her ability to sit, stand, walk, bend, sleep, and work. Gonzalez contends her disability was both documented by health professionals and known to her employers.

In early 2008 Gonzalez's back condition intensified. On May 13, 2008, Gonzalez requested a two month medical/disability leave of absence for back surgery. San Joaquin immediately terminated Gonzalez's employment.

During her seven-year employment with San Joaquin, Gonzalez never received any "individualized, written documentation which negatively criticized her job performance." Gonzalez's supervisor and the human resources manager both authored chronologies that revealed Gonzalez requested medical leave prior to her termination.

San Joaquin's Version

Gonzalez's supervisor, Sheila Ballin, personally observed and heard from others that Gonzalez frequently arrived at work late, took long lunches, and left early. Ballin also received complaints from customers and other staff about Gonzalez's performance. In addition, Gonzalez frequently clashed with a fellow paralegal.

In early 2008 Ballin became aware of a conflict between Gonzalez and a family support clerk, Jenny Rodriquez. At one point, Gonzalez caused Rodriquez to break down in tears. Ballin, who considered terminating Gonzalez after the incident, contacted human resources manager Denise Hill. Hill told Ballin that under Gonzalez's employment agreement, she could be terminated with five days' notice. Ballin decided not to terminate Gonzalez.

On May 13, 2008, Gonzalez contacted Sharon Morris, assistant court executive officer, and asked if she could have two months off. Morris told Gonzalez she would need to discuss her request with Ballin, her supervisor.

Gonzalez informed Ballin she needed a two month personal leave of absence because her "life was a mess and she needed to take care of things." Gonzalez also mentioned her pending divorce. Ballin responded that two months was too long, but she would check with human resources to see how much time Gonzalez had accrued and report back.

According to Ballin, Gonzalez acted aggressively and confrontationally when she asked for leave. Gonzalez told Ballin that if she had to she would just quit. Gonzalez's confrontational attitude was the "straw that broke the camel's back," and Ballin decided to terminate her. Ballin told Hill, the human resources manager, that she was requesting Gonzalez's termination based on her history of attendance and attitude problems, including the aggressive, confrontational way she had requested leave.

Ballin requested a five-day termination notice from human resources but did not immediately inform Gonzalez of the decision to terminate her. Ballin informed Gonzalez of her accrued leave time. Gonzalez appeared dissatisfied with the amount of leave available.

Gonzalez told Randi Bell, a law firm paralegal who was often at the courthouse, that she was taking two months off because she was "overwhelmed and needed time to figure things out." After Gonzalez spoke to Bell again shortly after she was told she could not take two months' leave, Bell said that if her reason for the leave were medical they would have to give her the time off. Gonzalez suddenly said something like "'It's medical.'" Bell thought Gonzalez was joking. On a prior occasion, Gonzalez told Bell that her back had never been better.

Gonzalez then told Ballin she was requesting leave for medical reasons. Ballin responded that Gonzalez never previously informed her that the leave was medical.

Gonzalez met with Hill and told her Ballin had denied her leave request. Gonzalez referred to back surgery, but confirmed she had not scheduled such surgery. Nor did Gonzalez have any medical verification for her leave request.

Hill responded that she understood Gonzalez's request was personal, not medical, and that there must have been a misunderstanding. Hill did not believe Gonzalez was requesting leave for medical reasons. To the contrary, Hill thought Gonzalez had fabricated the medical claim because she did not have enough accrued leave to take two months off. Hill did not then inform Gonzalez of the decision to terminate her, though she knew that Ballin had initiated the termination process. That responsibility rested with Ballin, who informed Gonzalez later that day that she was being terminated, effective five days after the notification.

After being informed of her termination, Gonzalez did not report to work for the remainder of the five-day period. Gonzalez submitted a physician's note stating that she would not be at work from May 13 through May 16, but could return to work on May 18 without restriction.

In the five months prior to her leave request, Gonzalez had not discussed issues related to her back with any of her doctors. Nor did she submit any medical certification ...

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