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Medlock v. Fred Finch Children's Home

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 24, 2014

KAREN D. MEDLOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
FRED FINCH CHILDREN'S HOME, Defendant.

ORDER REGARDING SUFFICIENCY OF COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915

JOSEPH C. SPERO, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Karen Medlock filed this pro se action against Fred Finch Children's Home d/b/a Fred Finch Youth Center ("FFYC"), its Chief Executive Officer Vonza Thompson, and its Chief Financial Officer Ed Hsu. Having previously granted Plaintiff's Application to Proceed in Forma Pauperis, the Court now considers whether Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), which requires dismissal of an in forma pauperis complaint that (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See Marks v. Solcum , 98 F.3d 494, 495 (9th Cir. 1996). For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that Medlock may proceed on a claim against for retaliatory discharge under Title VII, but DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE Medlock's Title VII claims against Thompson and Hsu, and DISMISSES Medlock's remaining claims with leave to amend.[1]

II. THE COMPLAINT

A. Facts Alleged[2]

Medlock began working as a senior accountant at FFYC in August 2006. Compl. (Dkt. 1) ¶ 5a. She received uniformly positive reviews from two past Chief Financial Officers who supervised her work, George Archambeau and Jon D'Alesso, as well as from her immediate supervisor Coretta MacLean. Id. Archambeau at one point told Medlock that he wanted to restructure the accounting department to increase employee responsibility and compensation, but not to eliminate jobs. Id.

In March 2009, FFYC hired Ed Hsu as its Chief Financial Officer. Id. Hsu "started badgering" Medlock and her supervisor for reports that Hsu's predecessors had prepared themselves. Id. These demands interfered with Medlock's ability to complete her work. Id. Hsu asked Medlock to prepare a cash flow projection, but as a non-management employee Medlock lacked sufficient knowledge to properly complete the projection. Id. When Medlock asked Hsu how to proceed, his "instructions didn't make sense." Id. Medlock filed a complaint in September 2009 with FFYC's human resources director Alonzo Strange, based on Hsu's "constant demands and sexist attitudes towards the women who worked with him." Id. Strange initially told Medlock that Hsu's requests fell within Medlock's job description but ultimately agreed to conduct an investigation. Id.

Medlock was on leave for most of December 2009 while recovering from surgery. Id. During her leave, Hsu asked Medlock to come to work to train Mary Jean Figueroa, a former temporary employee whom Hsu had decided to hire full time as an "A/P Assistant." Id. ¶¶ 5a-5c. Medlock did not want to return to a hostile work environment, so she called the human resources department to inquire about her complaint against Hsu, and a decision was made not to have Medlock train Figueroa. Id. ¶ 5a. Medlock only then received a copy of the decision regarding her human resources complaint, although the decision was dated October 2009. Id.

When Medlock returned from her leave on December 31, 2009, she was locked out of the FFYC computer system. Id. Half an hour later, Hsu and a human resources assistant asked Medlock to come to Hsu's office. Id. Medlock was given a termination letter signed by FFYC's chief executive officer Vonda Thompson, which stated that Medlock's position had been eliminated. Medlock was told that she could apply for another position with FFYC, resign, or remain and help Figueroa with filing, which was not comparable to Medlock's previous position. Id. ¶¶ 5a, 5c. Medlock declined those options and went home. Id. ¶ 5a.

Medlock also alleges that Hsu showed a "[d]iscriminatory preference for Asian females, " as evidenced by his favoritism of Figueroa. Id. ¶ 5b (typographical errors corrected). During Hsu's first meeting with the FFYC accounting staff, he directed all of his comments to Figueroa (who was then a temporary employee) and ignored the other staff members. Id. ¶ 5a. According to Medlock, "[e]veryone in [the] meeting noticed his inappropriate behavior, but they were [too] scared of losing their jobs to say anything." Id. Hsu decided to hire Figueroa as a full time employee within days after he arrived at FFYC, without reviewing Figueroa's resume. Id. ¶ 5b.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued Medlock a right-to-sue letter on March 31, 2014, indicating that the EEOC was unable to conclude that a violation had occurred. See Compl. Ex. A.

B. Medlock's Claims

Interpreted liberally, Medlock's Complaint appears to allege claims under six statutory and common law schemes: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), the False Claims Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), section 1102.5 of the California Labor Code, and a common law claim for wrongful termination. See Compl. ¶¶ 5a-5c.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard

Where a plaintiff is found to be indigent under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1) and is granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, courts must engage in screening and dismiss any claims which: (1) are frivolous or malicious; (2) fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (3) seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); see Marks v. Solcum , 98 F.3d 494, 495 (9th Cir. 1996). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) provides that a pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Pleadings that lack such statement have failed to state a claim.

In determining whether a plaintiff fails to state a claim, the court assumes that all factual allegations in the complaint are true. Parks Sch. of Bus. v. Symington , 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995). However, "the tenet that a court must accept a complaint's allegations as true is inapplicable to legal conclusions [and] mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The pertinent question is whether the factual allegations, assumed to be true, "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570). Thus, to meet this requirement, the complaint must be supported by factual allegations. Id. Further, a complaint is "frivolous" under § 1915 where there is no subject matter jurisdiction. See Pratt v. Sumner , 807 F.2d 817, 819 (9th Cir. 1987) (recognizing the general proposition that a complaint should be dismissed as frivolous under § 1915 where subject matter jurisdiction is lacking).

Where the complaint has been filed by a pro se plaintiff, as is the case here, courts must "construe the pleadings liberally... to afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt." Hebbe v. Pliler , 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). "A district court should not dismiss a pro se complaint without leave to amend unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment.'" Akhtar v. Mesa , 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Schucker v. Rockwood , 846 F.2d 1202, 1203-04 (9th Cir. 1988) (per curiam)). Further, when it dismisses the complaint of a pro se litigant with leave to amend, "the district court must provide the litigant with notice of the deficiencies in his complaint in order to ensure that the litigant uses the opportunity to amend effectively." Id. (quoting Ferdik v. Bonzelet , 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992)). "Without the benefit of a statement of deficiencies, the pro se litigant will likely repeat previous errors." Karim-Panahi v. L.A. Police Dep't , 839 F.2d 621, 624 (9th Cir. 1988) (quoting Noll v. Carlson , 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987)).

B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, Medlock's Complaint must establish the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in order to proceed in federal court. The Complaint asserts federal ...


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