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Yeager v. Corrections Corporation of American

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 7, 2013

WILLIAM YEAGER, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA; and DOES 1-5, Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For William Yeager, Plaintiff: Helena Sunny Wise, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices Of Helena Sunny Wise, BURBANK, CA.

For Corrections Corporation of America, A Corporation doing business in Kern County, Defendant: Brandyn E. Stedfield, LEAD ATTORNEY, Paul M. Gleason, Gleason & Favarote LLP, Los Angeles, CA.

OPINION

ANTHONY W. ISHII, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Page 916

ORDER RE: MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OR SUMMARY ADJUDICATION

(Doc. 29)

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant Corrections Corporation of American (" Defendant" or " CCA" ) has filed a motion for summary judgment or summary adjudication in the alternative. For reasons discussed below, summary judgment shall be denied. Summary adjudication shall be granted in part and denied in part. Summary adjudication of the prayer for punitive damages shall be granted in favor of Defendant; summary adjudication of all other claims and causes of action shall be denied.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Court refers the parties to previous orders for a complete chronology of the proceedings. On May 1, 2012, plaintiff William Yeager (" Plaintiff" or " Yeager" ) filed his first amended complaint for damages against defendants CCA and Does 1-5, asserting causes of action for (1) failure to engage in a good faith interactive process under California Government Code § § 12926.1(e) and 12940(n), (2) disability discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA, Cal. Gov. Code, § 12940 et seq.) and (3) FEHA retaliation. Plaintiff alleged as follows:

" In or about the summer of 2003, YEAGER learned that the California City Correctional Center was advertising for Correctional Officers and YEAGER promptly applied for same. While applying for employment in California City, including participating in on site interviews and the background investigation also conducted by personnel in California City, YEAGER learned that although the California City Correctional Center was a part of the CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA based in Tennessee, the California City Correctional Center was autonomous and set its own policies regarding not only the custody and detainment of prisoners, but relative to the hiring and firing of employees, including ensuring compliance with local and state statutes governing the terms and conditions of employment of Correctional Officers in California."

Plaintiff further alleged:

" In these regards, during his Job Interview, YEAGER was advised by his Personnel Investigator as well as ASSISTANT WARDEN LEONARD LOPEZ,

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then conducting YEAGER's interviews, that California City like most other facilities owned by CCA, had to manage their own operations because the laws and prison contracts applicable to each facility were different across the United States and that the WARDEN, BARBARA WAGNER, was the individual who determined all policies and procedures which YEAGER would be expected to comply with at California City. In these regards, YEAGER was further advised by ASSISTANT WARDEN LOPEZ that all disputes pertaining to his employment would be handled strictly on a local basis and that YEAGER would be expected to comply with applicable prison regulations issued by the federal Bureau of Prisons."

Plaintiff further alleged:

" Based upon these representations, YEAGER thereafter willingly accepted the Job Offer which was extended to him in October 2003 by the CCA and commenced work at the California City facility in March 2004 where he remained a dedicated employee up until he was notified that he was being terminated on January 8, 2010 for allegedly failing to pass a pending background investigation conducted entirely by the California City Personnel Investigator, DANA MITCHELL. When terminating YEAGER, MITCHELL advised YEAGER that he failed the background due to the failure of YEAGER's ex-wife to pay a mortgage payment on the home that she was awarded. YEAGER has reason to believe that said termination occurred because DEFENDANT CCA, by and through its managing agents in California City, refused a reasonable request from YEAGER and YEAGER's physician for the assignment of YEAGER to light duty after YEAGER sustained a severe knee injury while on duty on October 15, 2009."

Plaintiff further alleged:

" In these regards, shortly after YEAGER's knee gave out and YEAGER collapsed to the ground, YEAGER started receiving medical treatment and was advised that pending surgery, YEAGER could perform limited duty. After YEAGER and his physicians notified DEFENDANT CCA's representatives, including DIRECTOR OF SECURITY JOHN GUZMAN that YEAGER was in need of restricted duty because YEAGER could not then engage in excessive walking, prolonged standing or ladder climbing, with YEAGER in need of medical surgery, GUZMAN informed YEAGER that he had to stay at home, even though YEAGER knew DEFENDANT CCA had offered and maintained light duty assignments for Correctional Officers at its California City facility that YEAGER was fully capable of fulfilling."

TPlaintiff further alleged:

" DEFENDANT CORPORATION by and through GUZMAN, Warden BARBARA WAGNER, and its Human Resources representatives refused to engage in a good faith interactive process, despite several requests from YEAGER for not only a meeting but accommodations as well. Not long thereafter DEFENDANT CORPORATION notified YEAGER that he was effective January 8, 2010, terminated for failing to pass the pending background investigation. YEAGER has reason to believe that DEFENDANT CORPORATION has deliberately terminated YEAGER because DEFENDANT CORPORATION regarded YEAGER as being disabled and because it refused to engage in a good faith interactive process, especially because YEAGER protested to JOHN

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GUZMAN and others that DEFENDANT CORPORATION should be obligated to accommodate YEAGER's disabilities. DEFENDANT CCA similarly refused to reinstate YEAGER following YEAGER's receipt of Arthroscopic Surgery, despite requests for reinstatement."

On February 15, 2013, Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment or summary adjudication in the alternative pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, contending the absence of triable issues entitles it to judgment as a matter of law. On March 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed his opposition to Defendant's motion. Defendant filed its reply to Plaintiff's opposition on March 25, 2013.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

" A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense -- or the part of each claim or defense -- on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of " informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). " Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party need only prove that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." In re Oracle Corp. Securities Litigation, 627 F.3d 376, 387 (2010) (citing Celotex, supra, at p. 325). If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present evidence establishing the existence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538. A court ruling on a motion for summary judgment must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Even if the motion is unopposed, the movant is not absolved of the burden to show there are no genuine issues of material fact, Henry v. Gill Industries, Inc., 983 F.2d 943, 949-50 (9th Cir. 1993), although the court may assume the movant's assertions of fact to be undisputed for the purposes of the motion and grant summary judgment if the facts and other supporting materials show the movant is entitled to it. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2), (3).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's first cause of action (failure to engage in good faith interactive process)

As a threshold matter, Defendant moves for summary adjudication of Plaintiff's first cause of action for failure to engage in the good faith interactive process pursuant to California Government Code sections 12926.1(e) and 12940(n). Section 12940, subdivision (n) provides it shall be an unlawful employment practice for employers " to fail to engage in a timely, good faith interactive process with the employee . . . to determine effective reasonable accommodations, if any, in response to a request for reasonable accommodation by an employee . . . with a known physical or mental disability ...


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