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Michele Petersen v. Christine Applegate

October 12, 2012

MICHELE PETERSEN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHRISTINE APPLEGATE, KIM VIEIRA, BERGEN FILGAS, GEORGE MEDINE, DOE 1, DOE 2, DOE 3, DOE 4, AND DOES 5 THROUGH 25, INCLUSIVE,
DEFENDANTS.



COUNTY OF STANISLAUS, ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PURSUANT TO FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. 7)

INTRODUCTION

The instant motion to dismiss was filed on behalf of defendants Stanislaus County ("County"), Christine Applegate, Kym Vieira (named in complaint as Kim Vieira), Bergen Filgas, and George Medina (named in complaint as George Medine) (collectively, "Defendants") in response to a complaint filed by Michele Petersen ("Plaintiff") on June 8, 2012, alleging various causes of actions related to employment discrimination.

LEGAL STANDARD

A claim may be dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) if the claim states no cognizable legal theory or alleges insufficient facts to support a valid allegation. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

For purposes of the 12(b)(6) motion, all well-pleaded allegations are accepted as true and are construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031-32 (9th Cir. 2008). A well-pleaded allegation contains sufficient facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (U.S. 2007). To be plausible, alleged facts must be more than "merely consistent with a defendant's liability;" the "sheer possibility" of unlawful behavior is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences do not meet the plausibility standard and need not be accepted as true. Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010).

FACTS

Plaintiff is a woman over 40 years of age, Court's Docket, Doc. 1 ¶ 10, who was employed by Stanislaus County as a Social Worker IV. Id., Doc. 1 ¶ 24. Plaintiff alleges that she was fully qualified to perform the duties of her position and was rated good or excellent in her job performance. Id., Doc. 1 ¶ 25. Plaintiff alleges discrimination between April 2010 and May 31, 2011. Id., Doc. 1 ¶ 14. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants falsely accused her of "Dishonesty, Insubordination, Inexcusable Neglect of Duties, and the Last Chance Agreement." Id., Doc. 1

¶ 19. These accusations were followed by an investigation, id., and Plaintiff was terminated from her position in May 2011. Id., Doc. 1 ¶ 26. Plaintiff alleges that she filed a claim against Defendants with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH") for numerous federal and state constitutional and statutory violations; DFEH subsequently sent Plaintiff a right to sue letter. Id., Doc. 1 ¶ 11. Plaintiff alleges this same list of violations under each cause of action in her complaint.

Plaintiff pleads nine causes of action: employment discrimination and retaliation, both against the County; and, against all defendants, harassment; civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 1988; intentional infliction of emotional distress; breach of contract; breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; negligent supervision; and defamation.

DISCUSSION

A. Employment Discrimination (Title VII, ADA, and FEHA)

A plaintiff may make a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII by showing that

(1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for her position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated individuals outside plaintiff's class were treated more favorably, or other circumstances surrounding the adverse employment action give rise to an inference of discrimination. Fonseca v. Sysco Food Servs. of Ariz., Inc., 374 F.3d 840, 847 (9th Cir. 2004). A prima facie case for discrimination under the ADA is identical to one under Title VII, except that a plaintiff must show that she is disabled under the meaning of the ADA for the first element. See Snead v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 237 F.3d 1080, 1093 (9th Cir. 2001). The elements of a prima facie case for discrimination under FEHA are likewise closely related to the Title VII prima facie requirements. Guz v. Bechtel Nat'l, Inc., 8 P.3d 1089, 1113 (Cal. 2000). To make a prima facie case of discrimination under FEHA, a plaintiff must show that (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was performing competently in the position she held; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) some other circumstance suggests discriminatory motive. Id.

Plaintiff has pled that she is a woman over 40 years of age. Gender is a protected class under both Title VII and FEHA. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) ("It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer ... to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's ... sex ... ."); Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(a) ("It is an unlawful employment practice ... [f]or an employer, because of the ... gender ... of any person ... to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment."). Plaintiff also alludes in the complaint to mental and physical disabilities. Individuals with mental or physical disabilities are protected under FEHA. Id. ("It is an unlawful employment practice ... [f]or an employer, because of the ... physical disability, mental disability, [or] medical condition ... of any person ... to discriminate against the person ... .") Plaintiff, however, fails to give any description of the nature of her disabilities or any factual allegation specific enough to give defendants notice as to the behavior that may have constituted discrimination on account of Plaintiff's disabilities. The court will therefore continue its analysis only for a gender discrimination claim under Title VII and FEHA.

As to the second and third elements of a prima facie gender discrimination case, Plaintiff alleges that she was competently performing her job, and she also alleges that she was subjected to unfair accusations and an unwarranted investigation that led to her termination.

Plaintiff, however, makes no factual allegations related to the fourth element of a prima facie case under Title VII or FEHA, an element crucial to both causes of action. Although at the pleading stage, a complaint need not establish all the elements of a prima facie case, Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2002); see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569-70 (discussing Swierkievicz), the complaint must still allege sufficient facts to make the claim of discrimination plausible on its face. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. A complaint that fails to allege a connection between an employer's adverse actions and the plaintiff's membership in a protected class may be dismissed. Wood v. City of San Diego, 678 F.3d 1075, 1081-82 (9th Cir. 2012) (affirming district court's dismissal of FEHA discrimination claim for failing to sufficiently allege a discriminatory motive); Ahmed v. San Joaquin Reg'l Rail Comm'n, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89226 (E.D. Cal. June 26, 2012) (dismissing an amended Title VII claim that failed to allege a connection between any alleged discrimination and the plaintiff's membership in a protected class, or that the plaintiff was treated differently than similarly situated individuals outside the protected class). Plaintiff offers only the conclusory statements ...


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