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Frias v. Spencer

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 13, 2014

WENDY SPENCER, Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National Community Service, Defendant.


TROY L. NUNLEY, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant, Wendy Spencer's ("Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment. (See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF 41.)[1] Plaintiff, Lorrain Frias ("Plaintiff"), opposes the Motion. (See Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF 44.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

Plaintiff, a Hispanic female, is a former employee of the Corporation for National and Community Service ("CNCS").[2] The gravamen of Plaintiff's complaint is that Willie Holmes, an African American male, constantly threatened and harassed her at the CNCS campus.

Plaintiff alleges that, despite her repeated complaints, and complaints of numerous other employees, Plaintiff's superiors, who are also African American, failed to adequately discipline Holmes in order to prevent further threats and harassment. Plaintiff maintains that Holmes' conduct created a hostile work environment. Plaintiff asserts that her superiors did not properly discipline Holmes because he is African American. Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff asserts two claims: (1) Retaliation in Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a); and, (2) Discrimination Based on Race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. (See Pl.'s First Am. Compl. ("FAC"), ECF 21.)


A. Factual Background

Defendant hired Plaintiff as a member support specialist for the pacific region campus in 2005. (SUF #1.) Plaintiff was promoted to resource manager in 2006. (Id.) Region Director James Phipps, an African American male, was Plaintiff's second-line supervisor. (SUF #2.) Marlene Mazyck, an African American female, was the national director for the agency. (SUF #3.) Willie Holmes, also an African American, was the facilities manager who worked in the operations department with Plaintiff. (SUF #4.)

In response to Defendant's interrogatory, Plaintiff stated that Holmes yelled at Plaintiff in her office, telling her that she did not know how to do her job. Plaintiff maintains that she reported the incident but no disciplinary action was taken. (ECF 48 #1 (citing Frias Depo, [4] Ex. B).)[5] Plaintiff also alleges that in February 2008, Holmes verbally assaulted Plaintiff, while criticizing her job performance and telling her: "[y]ou don't fucking tell me how to do my job." (ECF 48 #4.)

In June 2008, some CNCS employees complained of Holmes' conduct. (SUF #6.) In response, the agency conducted an investigation and, on August 19, 2008, Vazco Espinoza, Holmes' superior and Plaintiff's first-line supervisor, issued Holmes a formal reprimand. (SUF #7.) On October 29, 2008, Phipps placed Holmes on administrative leave pending an investigation that Holmes had acted inappropriately towards Espinoza on October 16, 2008.[6] (SUF#8.) The agency also hired a security guard for the campus in October 2008. (SUF #9.)[7]

On November 12, 2008, Phipps issued a notice of proposed removal to Holmes in connection with the October 16 incident. (SUF #10.) On December 12, 2008, Phipps reduced the penalty to a 30-day suspension. (SUF #11.) Holmes returned to work in January 2009. (SUF #12.)

On January 8, 2009, when Plaintiff learned that Holmes was going to be allowed to return to his job, Plaintiff sent a letter to management expressing fear for her safety. (ECF 48 #14.) On February 20, 2009, acting National Director Mike Herrington issued a notice of proposed removal to Holmes and placed him on administrative leave. (SUF #13.) On April 9, 2009, Chief of Program Operations Kristin McSwain issued a final decision to remove Holmes effective April 11, 2009. (SUF #14.)

On October 9, 2009, Plaintiff saw Holmes' name written on the whiteboard in the multipurpose room, and she saw Holmes in the room. (SUF #15.) According to Plaintiff's deposition, Holmes was on campus to do volunteer work. (SUF #16.) Plaintiff left work that day and did not return to work thereafter. (SUF #20.)

On November 17, 2009, Plaintiff contacted an EEO counselor. (SUF #21.) Plaintiff filed her formal complaint on January 13, 2010. (SUF #22.) In her discrimination complaint to CNCS, Plaintiff stated that on October 7, 2009, she experienced "direct harassment from... James Phipps." (Frias Depo, Ex. F.) Plaintiff further states that the October 9, 2009, presence of Holmes on campus "mark[ed] the last harassment [she] could humanly, emotionally, and physically endure when Holmes was on campus." (Id.) Plaintiff explained that she has "repeatedly expressed that she was scared of him and did not want him to be around [her] or her workplace." (Id.) Plaintiff alleges in her complaint that "Phipps failed to take immediate action to prevent or stop the discrimination, harassment, and the hostile environment." (Id.) The EEOC Administrative Law Judge granted Defendant summary judgment on March 23, 2011. (SUF #24.)

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed her complaint on August 16, 2011, asserting six claims for employment discrimination, two California common law claims, and one claim for violations of the California Ralph Civil Rights Act. (ECF 2.) On November 16, 2011, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her state law statutory claims. (ECF 10.)

Defendant subsequently moved to dismiss the remainder of Plaintiff's claims. (ECF 12.) On February 27, 2012, the Court issued an order granting in part and denying in part Defendant's motion. (ECF 19.) Specifically, the Court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for retaliation, holding that Plaintiff met the minimal pleading standard set forth in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF 19 at 8:13-9:10.) The Court also dismissed without prejudice Plaintiff's claim for racial discrimination because ...

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