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Brown v. San Diego State University Foundation

United States District Court, S.D. California

October 7, 2014

ROBERT BROWN, Plaintiff,
SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY FOUNDATION, a California non-profit corporation; BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, an unknown entity; and DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.


GONZALO P. CURIEL, District Judge.


Before the Court is Defendants San Diego State University Research Foundation (the "Foundation") and Board of Trustees of the California State University's ("CSU") (collectively, "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment or, Alternatively, Partial Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 22.) Plaintiff Robert Brown ("Plaintiff") filed an opposition. (ECF No. 29.) Defendants responded. (ECF No. 36.)

The parties have fully briefed the motion. (ECF Nos. 22, 29, 36.) The Court finds the motion suitable for disposition without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1). Upon review of the moving papers, admissible evidence, and applicable law, the Court finds that the report of Clark E. Smith, M.D. ("Dr. Smith") raises an issue of material fact as to the validity of Plaintiff's release of his rights. Accordingly, the Court DENIES Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment or, Alternatively, Partial Summary Judgment.


On July 31, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants in San Diego Superior Court alleging discrimination, failure to accommodate, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (ECF No. 1-2, Ex. A.) On September 25, 2013, Defendants removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. (ECF No. 1.) On September 30, 2013, this case was transferred to the Honorable Gonzalo P. Curiel. (ECF No. 5.) On February 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint ("FAC"). (ECF No. 18.)

On June 16, 2014, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment or, alternatively, partial summary judgment. (ECF No. 22.) On July 18, 2014, Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 30.) On August 8, 2014, Defendants replied to Plaintiff's opposition. (ECF No. 34.)


In 1996, Plaintiff received a master's degree from San Diego State University. (Brown Depo.[1] 46:16-19, 48:6-8.) In 2007, Plaintiff received a doctorate from the University of San Diego. ( Id. 48:22-49:5). By 2012, Plaintiff had approximately twenty-six years of experience in human resources and risk management. (Id. 88:25-89:6, 89:13-19.) Plaintiff's work experience dealt with employment claims including discrimination, retaliation, harassment, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., ("ADA"), wrongful termination, emotional distress, and other federal and state laws and regulations. ( Id. 77:17-21, 87:25-88:5, 89:20-90:12.) Plaintiff's work experience also included settlement negotiations and reviewing and revising settlement agreements, including agreements that contained a general release of all claims. ( Id. 98:9-19, 98:23-99:4, 100:10-21, 100:22-101:7, 104:16-20.) Plaintiff is also trained as a mediator, has performed mediations, and has attended more than ten mediations. ( Id. 91:1-3, 91:15-93:1, 96:4-7.)

In 2002, the Foundation hired Plaintiff as Risk Manager. ( Id. 86:6-10.) In 2009, the Foundation promoted Plaintiff to Director of Human Resources and Risk Management. ( Id. 87:6-8.) In July 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the United States Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs ("OFCCP") alleging discrimination by the Foundation. ( Id. 119:9-12.) In July 2011, Plaintiff retained Alvin Gomez ("Gomez") as his attorney. ( Id. 116:4-10.) In April 2012, Plaintiff threatened to file a lawsuit against the Foundation alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., ("Title VII") violations, violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), and emotional distress. ( Id. 174:20-175:4.)

[REDACTED/] On June 11, 2012, Plaintiff and the Foundation participated in a mediation. (ECF No. 22-11, Ex. 21.) At the mediation, Plaintiff and the Foundation were represented by counsel. (Id.; Brown Depo. 224:10-16.) Prior to the mediation starting, Plaintiff, the Foundation, and the mediator signed a confidentiality agreement (the "Confidentiality Agreement"). (ECF No. 22-9, Ex. 11.) The Confidentiality Agreement states that:

All statements made during the course of the mediation or in mediator follow-up thereafter at any time prior to complete settlement of this matter are privileged settlement discussions, are made without prejudice to any party's legal position, and are non-discoverable and inadmissible for any purpose including in any legal proceeding.


During the mediation, Plaintiff was presented with a settlement agreement (the "Settlement Agreement"). (ECF No. 22-9, Ex. 8.) The Settlement Agreement included a provision releasing Plaintiff's claims against Defendants (the "General Release"). ( Id. ¶ 3.6.) The Settlement Agreement included a provision allowing Plaintiff to rescind the agreement as to certain claims (the "Rescission Provision"). ( Id. ¶ 3.14.) Plaintiff skimmed the Settlement Agreement and then signed it. (Brown Depo. 240:6-12.) Around the time that Plaintiff signed the Settlement Agreement, Plaintiff had a "heated" discussion with Gomez. ( Id. 244:2-13, 245:2-19, 245:25-246:15.) After the mediation, Plaintiff returned home and realized that the Rescission Provision did not apply to all the claims. ( Id. 250:22-251:22.)

On July 9, 2012, Plaintiff started seeing Dr. Smith, a psychiatrist. (Smith Decl. ¶ 2.) On October 30, 2012, Dr. Smith released a report diagnosing Plaintiff with [REDACTED/] ( Id. ¶ 5.) Dr. Smith based his October 30, 2012 report on his review of: [REDACTED/] (ECF No. 33-4, Ex. 2, at 1.) After two years of treating Plaintiff, Dr. Smith updated his diagnosis to [REDACTED/] was triggered during the mediation. ( Id. ¶ 8.) On May 23, 2014, Dr. Smith released a report stating that, on June 11, 2012, the settlement conference triggered [REDACTED/] ...

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