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Gloria Arevalo v. Hyatt Corporation

May 13, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jesus G. Bernal United States District Judge


Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Hyatt Corporation. ("Motion," Doc. No. 21.) After considering all papers submitted in support of and in opposition to the Motion and the arguments presented at the May 6, 2013 hearing, the Court GRANTS Hyatt's Motion for Summary Judgment.


A. Procedural Background

On July 9, 2013, Plaintiff Gloria Arevalo ("Plaintiff" or "Arevalo") filed her Complaint against Defendant Hyatt Corporation ("Defendant" or "Hyatt") and fictitious defendants in California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles. ("Compl.," Not. of Removal, Doc. No. 1, Exh. A.) Hyatt answered on August 10, 2012. (Not. of Removal, Exh. C.)

Hyatt removed the action to this Court on August 15, 2012. (Not. of Removal.) On September 14, 2012, Plaintiff moved to remand the case to state court on the ground that the amount in controversy is less than $75,000. (Doc. No. 7.) The Court (Klausner, J.) denied Plaintiff's motion to remand on November 15, 2012. (Doc. No. 16.)

Hyatt filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on April 5, 2013. ("Motion," Doc. No 21.) Hyatt attached the following documents in support of its Motion: Statement of Undisputed Facts ("SUF"); Declaration of David G. Freedman attaching portions of the depositions of Arevalo ("Arevalo Depo.," Exh. 1) and Dr. Shirzad Abrams ("Abrams Depo.," Exh. 2); Declaration of Sara Aguilar ("Aguilar Decl.," Exh. B) attaching Dr. Abrams' reports and related correspondence; and Declaration of Andrew Jones ("Jones Decl.," Exh. C).

Arevalo opposed the Motion on April 15, 2013. ("Opp'n," Doc. No. 22.) In support of her opposition, Arevalo filed her Statement of Genuine Disputes of Material Fact ("SGI"), Written Objections to Evidence Submitted by Defendant ("Pl.'s Objs."), a Declaration of Roderick C. Stoneburner ("Stoneburner Decl."), a Declaration of Gloria Arevalo ("Arevalo Decl.") attaching three exhibits also included elsewhere, a Declaration of Ramin R. Younessi (Doc. No. 23) attaching seven exhibits, including portions of the deposition of Gloria Arevalo ("Arevalo Depo.," Exh. 1), the deposition of Floridalma Pivaral ("Pivaral Depo.," Exh. 2), the deposition of Sara Aguilar ("Aguilar Depo.," Exh. 3), Dr. Abrams' August 2, 2011 report ("Aug. 2, 2011 Report," Exh. 4), Arevalo's termination letter ("Term. Letter," Exh. 5), Hyatt Century Plaza Hotel's Union Collective Bargaining Agreement effective from December 1, 2006 to November 30, 2009 ("CBA," Exh. 6), and a March 15, 2011 letter from Sara Aguilar to Tamara Hill ("Mar. 15, 2011 Letter," Exh. 7).

On April 22, 2013, Hyatt replied to the Motion. ("Reply," Doc. No. 25.) Hyatt also filed objections to Plaintiff's evidence ("Def's Obj.").

B. Complaint

Arevalo filed her Complaint on July 9, 2012. (Compl.) The Complaint alleges that she was employed as a housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, California. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 14.) On February 6, 2010, Plaintiff fell and injured her left knee which prevented her from returning to work. (Compl. ¶¶ 16, 18.) Plaintiff alleges that on August 2, 2011 she was cleared to return to work with restrictions. (Compl. ¶ 25.) On August 22, 2011, Hyatt terminated Plaintiff because "Hyatt required an employee that can work at 100%." (Compl. ¶ 26.)

Based on these allegations, Plaintiff states four causes of action. Claim one is for breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing. (Compl. ¶¶ 27-36.) Claim two alleges disability discrimination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA") during the period of August 2 to August 22, 2011. (Compl. ¶¶ 37-47.) Claim three contends that Hyatt failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to Plaintiff from August 2 to August 22, 2011 in violation of FEHA, Cal. Gov. Code § 12940. (Compl. ¶¶ 48-58.) Claim four states a claim for retaliation against Plaintiff for her assertion of her rights under FEHA. (Compl. ¶¶ 59-67.) Finally, Plaintiff's fifth claim is for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. (Compl. ¶¶ 68-76.) As to Plaintiff's second through fifth causes of action, she further alleges that Hyatt acted with malice, oppression, and willful disregard for Plaintiff's rights. (Compl. 46, 57, 66, 75.)


A court shall grant a motion for summary judgment when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The moving party must show that "under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

Generally, the burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that it is entitled to summary judgment. See Margolis v. Ryan, 140 F.3d 850, 852 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57); Retail Clerks Union Local 648 v. Hub Pharmacy, Inc., 707 F.2d 1030, 1033 (9th Cir. 1983). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying the elements of the claim or defense and evidence that it believes demonstrates the absence of an issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Because summary judgment is a "drastic device" that cuts off a party's right to present its case to a jury, the moving party bears a "heavy burden" of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. See Avalos v. Baca, No. 05-CV-07602-DDP, 2006 WL 2294878 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 7, 2006) (quoting Nationwide Life Ins. Co. v. Bankers Leasing Ass'n, Inc., 182 F.3d 157, 160 (2d Cir. 1999)).

Where the non-moving party has the burden at trial, however, the moving party need not produce evidence negating or disproving every essential element of the non-moving party's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Instead, the moving party's burden is met by pointing out that there is an absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's case. Id.; Horphag Research Ltd. v. Garcia, 475 F.3d 1029, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). "[A] summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).

The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact that must be resolved at trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The non-moving party must make an affirmative showing on all matters placed in issue by the motion as to which it has the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. See also William W. Schwarzer, A. Wallace Tashima & James M. Wagstaffe, Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial § 14:144. A genuine issue of material fact will exist "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court construes the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 380 (2007); Barlow v. Ground, 943 F.2d 1132, 1135 (9th Cir. 1991); T.W. Elec. Serv. Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630-31 (9th Cir. 1987).

If the Court is unable to render summary judgment upon an entire case, it shall, if practicable, grant summary adjudication for any issues as to which, standing alone, summary judgment would be appropriate. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); California v. Campbell, 138 F.3d 772, 780-81 (9th Cir. 1998). Thus, summary adjudication is a mechanism through which the Court deems certain issues established before trial. Lies v. Farrell Lines, Inc., 641 F.2d 765, 769 n.3 (9th Cir. 1981) (internal quotation omitted). The standard that applies to a motion for summary adjudication is the same as that which applies to a motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Mora v. ChemTronics, 16 F. Supp. 2d. 1192, 1200 (S.D. Cal. 1998).


A. Evidentiary Objections

Defendant proffered 75 facts in support of its Motion. Plaintiff objects to 74 of Defendant's 75 facts, each on multiple grounds. For instance, in objection to Defendant's fact number 34, Plaintiff objects on the grounds that the evidence is "Hearsay, Fed. R. Evid. 801, 802; Lack of Foundation, Misleading, Vague and Ambiguous, Fed. R. Evid. 402, 403; Best Evidence Rule, Fed R. Evid. 1002; Lay Opinion, Fed. Rule Evid. 701(b)." (Pl's Obj. at 9.) Moreover, as to nearly every proffered fact, Plaintiff makes identical objections on the grounds that the evidence lacks foundation, is misleading, vague, ambiguous, conclusory, speculative, conjecture, compound, irrelevant, or argumentative.

The Court OVERRULES all of Plaintiff's objections as frivolous. The Court need not consider "boilerplate recitations" and "blanket objections [submitted] without analysis applied to specific items of evidence." Doe v. Starbucks, Inc., No. 08--0582, 2009 WL 5183773, at *1 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 18, 2009). Further, Plaintiff's repeated "objections to evidence on the ground that it is irrelevant, speculative, and/or argumentative, or that it constitutes an improper legal conclusion are all duplicative of the summary judgment standard itself" and are thus "redundant" and unnecessary to consider here. Burch v. Regents of Univ. of California, 433 F. Supp. 2d 1110, 1119 (E.D. Cal. 2006); see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Thus, the Court does not consider any of Plaintiff's objections on the grounds that the evidence lacks foundation, is misleading, vague, ambiguous, conclusory, speculative, conjecture, compound, irrelevant or argumentative. These objections are challenges to Defendant's characterization of the evidence and are improper on a motion for summary judgment.

Once these objections are excluded, Plaintiff's remaining objections are for hearsay, the best evidence rule, and improper lay opinion testimony. (See e.g., Pl's Obj. ¶ 34.) Almost all of Plaintiff's hearsay objections involve portions of Plaintiff's deposition testimony which are corroborated by testimony from the declarant. (See e.g., Pl's Obj. ¶ 13 (objecting to Arevalo's deposition testimony where she states Dr. Abrams told her that she could not return to work in any capacity between April and December 2010, but ignoring the supporting testimony from Dr. Abrams corroborating this statement).) Since the declarant's testimony is available and supports the objected-to statement, there is no indicia of unreliability to support exclusion. In addition, most of these statements are wholly excepted from the rule against hearsay under Fed. R. Evid. 803(4) as statements made for medical diagnosis or treatment or excluded from hearsay as statements offered against Plaintiff that she adopted or believed to be true under Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(B). Thus, Plaintiff's hearsay objections are OVERRULED.

Plaintiff's best evidence rule objections are similarly OVERRULED, as none of the objected-to evidence is introduced to prove the content of a writing and in many cases Defendant nonetheless provided the underlying documentation. See Fed. R. Evid. 1002. (See e.g., Pl's Obj. ¶ 33 (objecting on best evidence grounds to an email from Tamara Hill to Sara Aguilar, which Defendant attached as exhibit 8 to Aguilar's deposition).)

Plaintiff's final objections are for lay opinion testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 701(b). Plaintiff objects to portions of her own testimony and that of the Assistant Direct of Human Resources, Sara Aguilar, which characterize Plaintiff's injury and her work restrictions. (See e.g., Pl's Obj. ¶¶ 50, 56.) Lay testimony in the form of opinions or inferences is proper when "(a) rationally based on the perception of the witness, (b) helpful to a clear understanding of the witness' testimony or the determination of a fact in issue, and (c) not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge . . . ." Fed. R. Evid. 701. All of the objected to evidence clearly fits within the definition of proper lay opinion, and Plaintiff's objections on this ground are OVERRULED. In sum, all of Plaintiff's evidentiary objections are without merit, fail to survive a basic review of the evidentiary rules and are thus OVERRULED.

Defendant makes one evidentiary objection to a declaration submitted in support of Plaintiff's opposition. Hyatt argues that Roderick C. Stoneburner's conclusion that, "Arevalo could have performed all of the duties of her position without formal modification" on August 8, 2011 is improper expert testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. (Def's Obj. ¶ 34.) To qualify as an expert, a declarant must "provide[] adequate foundational information about what training-whether in the classroom or on the job-gave rise to their ability to" come to a stated conclusion. Plush Lounge Las Vegas LLC v. Hotspur Resorts Nevada Inc., 371 F. App'x 719, 720 (9th Cir. 2010). In his declaration, Stoneburner conclusorily states that he is a "Qualified Vocational Expert" based on his 35 years of experience. (Stoneburner Decl. ¶ 1.) He does not describe his field of his experience or its relevant here, nor does he provide any underlying factual support. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 590 (1993) (stating that purported experts cannot rely on "unsupported speculation"). In addition, Stoneburner does not provide any explanation of the methodology he used to arrive at his legal conclusion that Arevalo could have performed her duties without modification on August 8, 2011. Instead, Stoneburner merely recites a list of documents he reviewed. See Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. ...

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