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Hernandez v. Midpen Housing Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

May 16, 2014



NATHANAEL M. COUSINS, Magistrate Judge.

Defendant in this employment discrimination action moves to dismiss the complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim. Because the Court finds that plaintiff has alleged detailed facts supporting a plausible claim for race discrimination, retaliation, violation of the FMLA and CFRA, failure to prevent discrimination, and wrongful termination, the Court denies the motion.


A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed her complaint on December 30, 2013, alleging claims for race and national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII") and the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"); retaliation in violation of Title VII and FEHA; violation of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and the California Family Rights Act ("CFRA"); failure to prevent discrimination in violation of FEHA; and wrongful termination and wrongful constructive termination. Dkt. No. 1. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim on January 24, 2014. Dkt. No. 8. The Court found the motion suitable for disposition without oral argument. Dkt. No. 14. Both parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge. Dkt. Nos. 6, 12.

B. Factual Background

Alexandra Hernandez began working for defendant MidPen Housing Corporation in October 2010. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 11. Plaintiff was initially employed as Regional Property Manager and in September 2012 was promoted to Director of Property Operations Region 1. Id. at ¶¶ 11, 16, 18. Plaintiff alleges that for approximately the first two years of her employment, defendant "had communicated to Plaintiff that Plaintiff's performance was meeting or exceeding Defendant's expectations...." Id. at ¶ 19.

In July 2012, Debra Sobeck became the new Vice President of Property Management and plaintiff began reporting directly to Sobeck. Id. at ¶¶ 17, 18. Plaintiff alleges that Sobeck "commenced an on-going pattern of mistreating Plaintiff" including by "gradually stripp[ing] Plaintiff of a significant amount of responsibility...." Id. at ¶¶ 20, 21. Plaintiff alleges that Sobeck mistreated plaintiff because plaintiff is Russian. Id. at ¶22-24, 29, 82, 89.

In support of that claim, plaintiff alleges that Sobeck "made it clear to Plaintiff" that she did not like anything about plaintiff or another Russian employee, "including the way they spoke." Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff also alleges that Sobeck prohibited plaintiff from promoting a Russian employee because plaintiff and the other employee were both Russian and therefore promoting her would send the "wrong message to the company." Id. at ¶ 24. Plaintiff also alleges that Sobeck denied a raise, without any legitimate reason, that plaintiff wanted to award to another Russian employee. Id. at ¶ 27. Plaintiff alleges that Sobeck "indicated that she believed Russian people are opinionated and outspoken and Ms. Sobeck did not like that." Id. at ¶ 30. Finally, plaintiff alleges that Sobeck told plaintiff she looked "awfully white" and that Sobeck wanted to hire more black employees to increase diversity. Id. at ¶ 28.

Plaintiff alleges that she complained on multiple occasions regarding Sobeck's discrimination. Plaintiff alleges that she complained to Laurie Santos-Reguera, Human Resources Manager, and to Rick Chapura, Vice President of Human Resources, that Sobeck "was discriminating against Ms. Astvatsaturian by not allowing for [her] promotion... and the sole basis for Ms. Sobeck prohibiting the promotion was because Plaintiff and Ms. Astvatsaturian are Russian." Id. at ¶ 25. Astvatsaturian was eventually promoted. Id. at ¶ 26. Plaintiff also states that she emailed and met with Chapura on multiple occasions "to complain regarding Ms. Sobeck's discriminatory and harassing conduct." Id. at ¶¶ 42, 38, 43, 44, 54, 55, 57. Despite her complaints, plaintiff alleges that defendant did nothing to prevent Sobeck's continued discrimination. Id. at ¶¶ 30, 56, 140.

Plaintiff also alleges that Sobeck and defendant retaliated against her for complaining about Sobeck's discrimination. Plaintiff alleges that Sobeck "had gone so far as to request of Mr. Chapura and the President of Defendant, Matthew O. Franklin, that Defendant fire Plaintiff, in response to which Mr. Franklin and Mr. Chapura advised Ms. Sobeck that Defendant could not fire Plaintiff because Plaintiff's performance was and always had been very good." Id. at ¶ 46. Plaintiff also alleges that Sobeck issued a "development action plan in which Ms. Sobeck falsely accuses Plaintiff of not meeting Defendant's expectations." Id. at ¶ 49. As evidence that the development action plan contained falsehoods, plaintiff points to an email that Sobeck sent approximately one week after issuing the development action plan, in which Sobeck recommends plaintiff for a job, noting that "[i]t's not often that a candidate of (Plaintiff's) caliber is available." Id. at ¶ 51-52.

On September 6, 2013, plaintiff met with Franklin to again complain about Sobeck's discrimination. Franklin "indicated that he was sorry and that Plaintiff could be an exceptional leader in some other organization but that he believed that Plaintiff should leave her employment with Defendant." Id. at ¶ 57. On September 17, 2013, plaintiff's doctor issued a work status report in which he indicated plaintiff needed to take the following day off of work, and would need to be limited to four hours of work per day, with no heavy lifting at least until October 1, 2013, due to plaintiff's back pain and stress. Id. at ¶ 58. On September 19, 2013, defendant delivered to plaintiff a termination letter "setting forth that unless Plaintiff signed a Separation Agreement and Release' which was attached to the termination letter, Plaintiff's employment would be terminated effective October 1, 2013 and Plaintiff would be required to vacate her company-provided housing by October 31, 2013." Id. at ¶ 60. Plaintiff refused to sign the agreement, and therefore believed she was terminated as of October 1, 2013. Id. at ¶¶ 61-64. On November 13, 2013, defendant "once again notified Plaintiff that Plaintiff's employment was terminated. This time, Defendant indicated that Plaintiff's employment was terminated effective November 13, 2013. Id. at ¶ 66. The notice indicated that plaintiff had voluntarily resigned. Id. at ¶ 67.


A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). On a motion to dismiss, all allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). The Court, however, need not accept as true "allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." In re Gilead Scis. Secs. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008). While a complaint need not allege detailed factual allegations, it must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when it "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." ...

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