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Thomas-Young v. Sutter Central Valley Hospitals

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 19, 2014

DIANE THOMAS-YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
SUTTER CENTRAL VALLEY HOSPITALS, dba MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER, a California Corporation; and DOES 1-100, inclusive, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OR SUMMARY ADJUDICATION Doc. # 43

ANTHONY W. ISHII, District Judge.

This is an action for damages by plaintiff Diane Thomas-Young ("Plaintiff") against defendant Sutter Central Valley Hospital dba Memorial Medical Center ("Defendant") arising from an employment agreement between the parties that was allegedly breached by Defendant. This action, which was originally filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court was removed to this court under federal subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to the federal Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4)(A). Federal subject matter jurisdiction exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Venue is proper in this court.

GENERAL FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

At the time of events giving rise to this action, Plaintiff was an individual with an extensive work history in philanthropic fundraising. She had worked for the American Red Cross for about 31 years and was within about five to ten years of the time she planned to retire. In 2008, Defendant recruited Plaintiff to work for Defendant through the efforts of non-parties Mr. Steve DeGraaf, Defendant's Executive Director and Plaintiff's immediate supervisor at the time of her hire, and Mr. David Benn, Defendant's CEO at the time of Plaintiff's hire. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that negotiations over the terms of Plaintiff's proposed employment continued for a period of about eight months. Among the conditions of employment that were discussed by the parties, four figure prominently in this action. Plaintiff's complaint alleges it was the intent of the parties to the negotiation to establish that: (1) the position into which Plaintiff would be hired would be categorized as a management position; (2) Plaintiff would maintain a work schedule in which she would work four days per week, having each Friday off in order to attend to the needs of her institutionalized son; (3) she would receive 34 days of paid time off ("PTO") per year plus an additional 11 paid holidays per year; and (4) she would receive yearly "merit" pay increases upon satisfactory performance as determined by yearly reviews.

Plaintiff's complaint alleges that each of the four employment elements listed above were breached over the course of Plaintiff's employment, which began on or about early September 8, 2008, and ceased on July 22, 2010. Plaintiff discovered that her job was not classified as management and that her job description was substantially at variance from what she had been led to believe prior to beginning of her employment in 2008. Likewise, she learned that the classification of her job as non-managerial meant that she had fewer days of PTO and that paid holidays were counted as part of the total of 34 days of PTO, rather than in addition to the PTO days. Issues regarding Defendant's failure to grant Plaintiff yearly merit increases in pay arose sometime after she completed her first full year of employment and received no merit increase. Plaintiff maintained a four-day-a-week work schedule until mid-2009 at which de Graff was replaced by a new Executive Director who decided that Plaintiff's position required five-day-a-week staffing.

Plaintiff's complaint treats the breach of the employment agreement as a single transgression consisting of several elements. As will be discussed infra, the result of Plaintiff's conceptualization of the "single breach" is that the dates at which certain of the elements of the breach occurred are not determinative of accrual dates of her claims related to contractual or tort claims. Whether Plaintiff terminated her employment or was constructively terminated is also in dispute. It appears from Plaintiff's complaint that the refusal by de Graff's replacement, Ms. Svihus, to allow Plaintiff to continue her 4-day-a-week schedule was the issue leading directly to the termination of Plaintiff's employment with Defendant on July 22, 2010.

Plaintiff's claims for violation of the FMLA and the California Family Rights Act ("CFRA"), Cal. Gov. Code § 12945.2 are related primarily to the interference with Plaintiff's use of paid Fridays off to care for her son. Plaintiff's complaint alleges her son is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was institutionalized at all times relevant to this action. During the time relevant to this action Plaintiff also alleged she required unpaid leave covered under the FMLA to provide care for her mother and for time required for her own recovery from cardiac surgery.

Defendant's motion for summary judgment was filed on December 18, 2013. Plaintiff's opposition was filed on January 8, 2014, and Defendant's reply was filed on January 21, 2014. The matter was taken under submission as of January 27, 2014.

JOINT STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS

The following facts are stipulated by the parties and submitted jointly as undisputed material facts.

A powerpoint summary of benefits Jill Ayres sent to Plaintiff [prior to her date of hire] states "PTO hours include holiday pay, vacation and time off." Doc. # 45 at ¶ 1. On June 24, 2008, Plaintiff requested that Victoria Little edit Plaintiff's employment offer letter to include language memorializing Plaintiff's understanding that the parties had agreed to a four-day workweek schedule (flex schedule) in her case. Plaintiff responded to Victoria Little's June 25, 2008 email by writing "Thank you for the clarification on the 40-hour work week." Doc. # 45 at ¶ 3. Plaintiff testified that she signed her job offer letter on September 8, 2008, but dated her signature as July 7, 2008. Plaintiff started working at [Defendant] Hospital Foundation on September 8, 2008.

Plaintiff admits that she never had a written agreement with Defendant guaranteeing her right to work a four-day workweek schedule. Defendant provided Plaintiff with notice of her rights to Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA) leave when Plaintiff requested leave to care for her mother commencing in March 2010. Defendant approved Plaintiff's FMLA and CFRA leave from March 16, 2010, through May 31, 2010, so Plaintiff could care for her mother.

PARTIES' PROFFERS OF DISPUTED AND UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS

Defendants have proffered a set of 27 undisputed material facts, nearly all of which are disputed to some extent. In sum, Defendant's proffer of facts is intended to support three propositions. The first is that Plaintff was informed as of the time she received the formal job offer that her work position was full time exempt and was non-managerial. Second, the proffered facts also support the Defendant's allegation that Plaintiff was informed as of the beginning of her employment that her actual work schedule; that is, whether a four-day work week was permitted, was at the discretion of her supervisor. Third, Defendant's proffer of material facts supports Defendant's contention that, to the extent Plaintiff's claims under the FMLA or CFRA are based on Defendant's refusal to continue to allow Plaintiff to work a four-day workweek for the purpose of caring for her incarcerated son, Plaintiff has failed to provide evidence to show that her son was a qualified family member under either act.

Plaintiff submitted a set of disputed material facts in opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff's proffer of disputed material facts is intended first to support her contention that she did not consider Defendants job offer, or the information transmitted to Plaintiff by Jill Ayres or Victoria Little, to be determinative of the conditions of her employment insofar as they deviated from the understanding she had reached with DeGraff and Benn and had communicated through emails and verbal communications with Defendant. Plaintiff provides evidence to support her allegation that she raised issues concerning paid days off, the alleged discrepancies in her job description, her four-day work week and non-payment of merit increases more or less continuously during the term of her employment and considered these "open issues" up until the discontinuation of her employment.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co. , 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); Poller v. Columbia Broadcast System , 368 U.S. 464, 467 (1962); Jung v. FMC Corp. , 755 F.2d 708, 710 (9th Cir. 1985); Loehr v. Ventura County Community College Dist. , 743 F.2d 1310, 1313 (9th Cir. 1984).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility 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 (1986). Although the party moving for summary judgment always has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, the nature of the responsibility varies "depending on whether the legal issues are ones on which the movant or the non-movant would bear the burden of proof at trial." Cecala v. Newman , 532 F.Supp.2d 1118, 1132-1133 (D. Ariz. 2007). A party that does not have the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial - usually but not always the defendant - "has both the initial burden of production and the ultimate burden of persuasion on the motion for summary judgment." Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Companies, Inc. , 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). "In order to carry its burden of production, the moving party must either produce evidence negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim or defense or show that the nonmoving party does not have enough evidence of an essential element to carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial." Id.

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co. , 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968); Ruffin v. County of Los Angeles , 607 F.2d 1276, 1280 (9th Cir. 1979). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings, but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. Rule 56(e); Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 586 n.11; First Nat'l Bank , 391 U.S. at 289; Strong v. France , 474 F.2d 747, 749 (9th Cir. 1973). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n , 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, Anderson , 477 U.S. 248-49; Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc. , 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." First Nat'l Bank , 391 U.S. at 290; T.W. Elec. Serv. , 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the "purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments); International Union of Bricklayers v. Martin Jaska, Inc. , 752 F.2d 1401, 1405 (9th Cir. 1985).

In resolving the summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. Rule 56(c); Poller , 368 U.S. at 468; SEC v. Seaboard Corp. , 677 F.2d 1301, 1305-06 (9th Cir. 1982). The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed, Anderson , 477 U.S. at 255, and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party, Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 587 (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc. , 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)(per curiam); Abramson v. University of Hawaii , 594 F.2d 202, 208 (9th Cir. 1979). Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's ...


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