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Amanda Diorio, Plaintiff v. County of Kern

March 15, 2013

AMANDA DIORIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF KERN, RON RICE, ROBERT BOARDMAN, AND DOES 1-100, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lawrence J. O'Neill United States District Judge

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 15)

PRELIMINARY STATEMENT TO PARTIES AND COUNSEL

Judges in the Eastern District of California carry the heaviest caseload in the nation, and this Court is unable to devote inordinate time and resources to individual cases and matters. This Court cannot address all arguments, evidence and matters raised by parties and addresses only the arguments, evidence and matters necessary to reach the decision in this order given the shortage of district judges and staff. The parties and counsel are encouraged to contact the offices of United States Senators Feinstein and Boxer to address this Court's inability to accommodate the parties and this action. The parties are required to consider consent to a Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings in that the Magistrate Judges' availability is far more realistic and accommodating to parties than that of U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill who must prioritize criminal and older civil cases.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Amanda Diorio ("Diorio") filed suit against the County of Kern ("the County"), Ron Rice ("Rice"), Robert Boardman ("Boardman") and Does 1 through 100 (collectively "Defendants") for sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §2000(e), and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), Cal. Gov. Code § 12940. Diorio also alleges causes of action for retaliation in violation of Title VII and FEHA against the County. Diorio further brings claims for violation of Fourteenth Amendment equal protection against Boardman and Rice and for violation of the First Amendment right to free speech against Boardman under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants filed a motion for summary adjudication of all causes of action in the complaint. Diorio filed an opposition and Defendants filed a reply. For the reasons discussed below, this Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' motion for summary adjudication.

BACKGROUND

A.Facts

Diorio worked for the County as a trainee and Park Ranger from 2006 until her resignation in October 2009. She was the only female Park Ranger for the County during the course of her employment. She alleges that, on account of her gender, female, she was subject to disparate and adverse treatment and was ultimately forced to resign. She also alleges that Defendants retaliated against her for her complaint against Sergeant Norman Eades ("Eades") that led to an investigation by Internal Affairs. Diorio further alleges that her protected speech on a matter of public interest was a motivating factor in the decision to force her to resign.

Diorio worked as a Park Ranger trainee from April 2006 through December 2006. Upon completion of the field training program, Boardman, the Park Ranger Manager, assigned Diorio to work at Buena Vista Lake under the supervision of Eades. Eades and Boardman are friends and may refer to themselves as "good ole boys." Eades allegedly made derogatory statements about homosexuals and African Americans and misogynistic comments about women. Specifically, Diorio alleges that, at their initial meeting, Eades told her that women did not belong in law enforcement and later shared stories with Diorio about committing acts of violence against his former wife. Diorio made multiple verbal complaints about Eades to Boardman and also wrote to Boardman to request a conference to discuss her complaints. Boardman did not grant the request.

In June 2007, Diorio and Eades engaged in a verbal confrontation that resulted in Diorio making a complaint to the Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, Bob Lerude ("Lerude"), that Eades' conduct was creating a hostile work environment for her on account of her gender. The Kern County Sheriff's Department performed an Internal Affairs investigation. The investigation concluded in November 2007, and Diorio's claim of hostile work environment was not substantiated. The investigated resulted in Diorio and Eades each receiving a written reprimand. Eades was also given two unpaid days off. When Diorio contested her reprimand, Lerude rescinded it and instead issued to her a letter of counseling.

Sometime after the investigation, Diorio was transferred to the supervision of Sergeant T.J. Williams. Diorio alleges that she was given an overwhelming amount of paperwork, which had not happened previously, upon her transfer. Diorio also experienced workplace problems with Williams. Specifically, Diorio alleges that Williams threatened her after she caught him fishing at an inappropriate location or time at Buena Vista Lake.

Around this time, the Kern County Sheriff's Department and the Kern County Park Rangers were considering a merger. In July 2008, Diorio prepared a memorandum advocating in favor of the merger. Boardman allegedly disagreed and expressed displeasure with Diorio's position. The Park Rangers voted against the merger in July 2008. Diorio alleges that Boardman was motivated by her expression of her position on the merger in influencing or making the decision to terminate her.

Around September 2008, Diorio was transferred to Hart Park under the supervision of Sergeant Rice. In January 2009, Diorio received a letter of Ranger Commendation. In February 2009, Rice reviewed Diorio's job performance in her employee performance review ("EPR") as satisfactory in most categories and above standard or outstanding in others.

In July 2009, Rice met with Diorio and drafted a memorandum regarding her declining job performance, particularly in traffic stops in arrests, over the past months. Diorio explained that her attention at that time was on her family as her husband was being tested for cancer but denied any decline in her work performance. Diorio alleges that, during this meeting, Rice stated Diorio should be a secretary.

In or around July 2009, Park Ranger Michael Marler was training newly hired Officer James Mawson. During Mawson's training, Diorio engaged in a conversation with Mawson in Marler's presence regarding Williams and possibly Eades. In August 2009, about one month after the conversation, Diorio, Marler, and Mawson each prepared a memorandum regarding the conversation ("Mawson Incident"). Marler and Mawson recalled Diorio using foul language to describe Williams and possibly Eades. In her memorandum, Diorio indicated that she did not recall the conversation. Diorio denies using foul language and alleges that she stated Williams was a "micromanager." .

In August 2009, Diorio was given a one-day assignment in Buena Vista Park under Williams, away from her duty station at Hart Park under Rice. Diorio objected to this assignment. While at Buena Vista Park, Diorio allegedly had little to do and discerned through radio activity that Hart Park was busy. Diorio requested to return to Hart Park. Rice did not grant her request. Diorio contacted Williams to notify him that Hart Park was busy and could use her assistance. Williams then contacted Rice regarding Diorio returning to Hart Park and went to Hart Park himself. Diorio then contacted Rice and expressed dissatisfaction that Williams had gone to Hart Park while she was assigned to Buena Vista Park for the day. Diorio prepared a memo and was given a written reprimand for this incident ("Buena Vista Incident").

Diorio received a written Notice of Proposed Discipline ("the Notice") dated September 4, 2009 that proposed to terminate her from her position as Park Ranger. The Notice indicated that the Mawson Incident, the Buena Vista Incident, and the job performance issues noted in her January 2008 letter of counseling and in the July 2009 meeting with Rice were the reasons for Diorio's proposed termination. Diorio was allowed to resign in lieu of being terminated. Diorio resigned on October 7, 2009. A male named Longcrier was hired to replace Diorio.

Diorio filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on July 29, 2010 alleging sex discrimination and retaliation and received a Notice of Right-To-Sue dated July 30, 2010.

B.Procedural History

Diorio filed suit in this Court on September 14, 2011. She alleges seven causes of action under Title VII, FEHA, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendants filed an answer on October 19, 2011 and the instant motion for summary judgment on January 18, 2013. Diorio filed an opposition, which the Court struck for non-compliance with the Court's Standing Order, on February 12, 2013. ...


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