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Sandy Farmer v. Lodi Memorial Hospital Association

October 24, 2012


(Super. Ct. No. 39201000236649CUWTSTK)

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

Farmer v. Lodi Memorial Hospital Assn.



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 This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

This appeal arises after the trial court granted defendant Lodi Memorial Hospital Association's motion for summary judgment in plaintiff Sandy Farmer's action for damages due to alleged wrongful termination. We find no triable issues of fact. Farmer's statutory claims are barred because they were filed too late, and her contract claims are barred because she was an at-will employee. Finally, she has not shown error in the trial court's ruling denying her motion to amend. Accordingly, we shall affirm.


The Pleadings

On March 5, 2010, Farmer filed her complaint. She alleged that while working for the Lodi Memorial Hospital (Hospital) she developed "a digestive disorder and in addition began suffering from depression[.]" In July 2008, she sought "a reasonable accommodation to take time off work to be able to attend to her medical needs," but at some unspecified time was fired "for taking off excessive time." The complaint alleged four legal theories, captioned as separate causes of action: (1) failure to accommodate under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code, § 12900, et seq.*fn1 ; "FEHA"); (2) failure to provide medical leave under a portion of FEHA officially called the Moore-Brown-Roberti Family Rights Act, but more popularly referred to as the California Family Rights Act (§ 12945.1 et seq.; "CFRA"); (3) breach of an oral agreement that she would not be fired without notice of deficiencies; and (4) breach of an implied good-cause employment provision.

To show that she had exhausted applicable administrative remedies, Farmer attached to her complaint a right-to-sue letter from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) dated August 31, 2009. Contrary to assertions in Farmer's briefing that this letter shows DFEH made factual findings about the timing of her claims, the letter simply states that no action was taken by DFEH "because an immediate right-to-sue notice was requested."

The Hospital's answer generally denied the allegations and raised boilerplate affirmative defenses.

The Summary Judgment Motion

On August 9, 2010, the Hospital moved for summary judgment, alleging Farmer's FEHA claims were barred due to her failure to timely exhaust administrative remedies, and her contract claims were barred because she was an at-will employee.

As for the FEHA claims, the undisputed material facts showed Farmer was fired on August 5, 2008, and signed her DFEH claim on August 20, 2009--received by DFEH on August 28, 2009-- more than a year later. The Hospital argued that Farmer's DFEH claim was filed too late. An attached termination form and letter dated August 5, 2008, showing Farmer's absences, were authenticated by Mark Wallace, the Hospital's Director of Human Resources.

As for the contract claims, the undisputed facts showed Farmer signed an at-will employment agreement. Farmer conceded in deposition that she understood the at-will policy, and was never told she would be "treated specially" regarding the duration of her employment.

On April 21, 2004, Farmer signed a receipt for an employee handbook stating in part, "I understand and agree that nothing in the employee handbook creates nor is intended to create a promise or representation of continued employment and that employment at the hospital is employment at will; employment may be terminated at the will of either the hospital or me." Farmer also signed an at-will document on December 8, 2004, stating: "It should be remembered that employment is at the mutual consent of the employee and the hospital. Accordingly, either the employee or the hospital can terminate the employment relationship at will, at any time, with or without cause or advanced notice."

The Hospital also tendered evidence showing Farmer's breach of a written absence policy.

Opposition to Summary Judgment and Motion to Amend

On October 19, 2010, Farmer filed her opposition.

Farmer disputed the date of termination by declaring that, although she was told she was fired on August 5, 2008, she was not given the termination letter, she received disability payments from the Employment Development Department (EDD) until October 11, 2008, and she thought her employment continued until then "even though I had been given notification of termination on August 5, 2008."

Farmer objected that the handbook itself had not been placed into ...

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