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Hurd v. American Income Life Ins.

United States District Court, C.D. California

November 20, 2014

Debra Hurd, Plaintiff,
v.
American Income Life Insurance, Defendant

For Debra Hurd, Plaintiff: Carney R Shegerianm, LEAD ATTORNEY, Shegerian & Associates Inc, Santa Monica, CA.

For American Income Life Insurance Company, Defendant: Ian R Barker, Sandra Ravich McCandless, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Dentons U.S. LLP, San Francisco, CA; Joel D Siegel, Joel D Siegel, John E Walker, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Dentons U.S. LLP, Los Angeles, CA; Royal F Oakes, Barger & Wolen LLP, Los Angeles, CA.

AMENDED ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [29]

HONORABLE RONALD S.W. LEW, Senior United States District Judge.

Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [29]. Defendant American Income Life Insurance (" Defendant" or " AIL") moves for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff Debra Hurd's (" Plaintiff") remaining six claims: (1) Discrimination on the Basis of Disability and/or Medical Condition in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(a); (2) Retaliation for Complaining of Discrimination on the Basis of Disability and/or Medical Condition in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(h); (3) Failure to Accommodate Disability and/or Medical Condition in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(m); (4) Failure to Engage in the Interactive Process in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12940(n); (5) Wrongful Termination of Employment in violation of California Public Policy; and (6) Retaliation for Taking CFRA Leave in violation of Cal. Gov't Code § 12945.2. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. (" Mot.") 1:9-11; Notice of Removal, Ex. A (" Compl."), ECF No. 1.

The Court, having reviewed all papers submitted pertaining to this Motion, NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS: The Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [29].

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The Court makes the following findings of fact.

1. Parties & Job Description

Plaintiff is an individual resident of Los Angeles County, California. Compl. ¶ 1. Defendant AIL is a company incorporated in Indiana with a principal place of business in Waco, Texas. Notice of Removal ¶ 9. Plaintiff was employed by Defendant AIL as a Marketing Specialist in Public Relations from 2005 to 2012. Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Add'l Material Facts ¶ 1, ECF No. 45-3; Compl. ¶ 10. The Marketing Specialist position at American Income Life Insurance Company is described as a position that " generate[s] leads that will result in life production for the Company . . . by building relationships and partnerships through direct personal contact with group prospects, making presentations and handling any concerns that may arise." Mot. Summ. J., McCandless Decl. (" McCandless Decl."), Ex. C at 85, ECF No. 29-2. Plaintiff's position as a Public Relations Marketing Specialist with AIL required " traveling from place to place within Southern California to attend meetings, functions, events, and gatherings of various groups including . . . union locals for the purpose of generating leads for the sales of insurance policies to the groups' memberships"; " direct contact with group prospects and group policyholders"; " a minimum of 20 sales calls per week, " which could " either be scheduled appointments, drop-bys, or meetings with groups to get mailings out"; " servicing groups . .., including handling of inquiries and complaints, assisting with death claims, officer report forms, and relationship building"; " develop[ing], maintain[ing], and grow[ing] relationships through direct field contact with various unions . . . associations and community organizations"; " deliver[ing] informational products, giveaway items, and food"; and " administrative activities incidental to his or her field sales calls, such as mailings to the groups to which he or she is assigned and reporting on his or her activities." Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Interrogs. 5:12-6:20, ECF No. 29-5; see McCandless Decl., Ex. C at 85. In Plaintiff's July 23, 2014 Deposition, Plaintiff agreed to this description of her AIL job duties. McCandless Decl., Ex. A at 16-17 (" Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep." 39:16-40:16).

On May 13, 2013, Plaintiff testified in a deposition that her " job duties" were " [g]oing to unions and nonunion groups to have them participate in insurance" via driving, as well as " visiting them, " " doing service calls, " and " delivering sometimes food to them for their members." Mot. Summ. J., Ex. N at 131-32 (" Pl.'s May 13, 2013 Dep." at 27:7-25, 29:1-24); Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 27:5-29:7 (confirming accuracy of May 13, 2013 deposition testimony). Plaintiff confirmed in her May 13, 2013 deposition that " most of, if not all of . . . [her] working time was spent on the road, " with her in-office time averaging " [m]aybe once a week." Pl.'s May 13, 2013 Dep. 29:16-22; Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 29:1-7 (confirming accuracy of May 13, 2013 deposition testimony). In a July 23, 2014 deposition, Plaintiff explained that her average working day as a Marketing Specialist for AIL required four out of five days on the road from about 6:30 AM to 3:00 PM, which Plaintiff characterized as " a lot of driving every week." Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 30:13-33:25, 39:13-15. Plaintiff's territory included " [a]ll Southern California counties." Id. at 33:3.

2. Plaintiff's Injury & Disability Leave

On July 28, 2011, Plaintiff " injured her back on the job after first driving to Buellton on business, then lifting a heavy box, " or after reaching into the passenger side of her car for a " thin" folder. Pl.'s May 13, 2013 Dep. 21:4-22:2; Compl. ¶ 11 (stating that the injury was due to lifting a heavy box); Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 63:5-64:12, 66:23-67:3 (stating that the injury was due to reaching into the passenger side of her car for a thin folder, but that the injury could have been due to lifting a heavy box prior to reaching for the thin folder); Mot. Summ. J., Ex. P at 142 (in a worker's compensation claim, stating that the injury occurred " while loading and unloading product from vehicle and driving.").

On July 28, 2011, Plaintiff sent AIL a disability certificate signed by Jay R. Robbins, a chiropractor who saw and treated Plaintiff after her July 28, 2011 injury. Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 68:3-69:5; McCandless Decl., Ex. X at 189-90 (" Robbins Dep." 13:2-14:2, 23:8-23); McCandless Decl., Ex. Y (copy of the disability certificate). The disability certificate requested that AIL give Plaintiff a leave of absence for a lower back injury from July 29, 2011, to August 5, 2011. Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 68:3-69:5; Robbins Dep. at 13:2-14:2, 23:8-23; McCandless Decl., Ex. Y. The certificate requesting disability leave certified that Plaintiff was " totally disabled from work." McCandless Decl., Ex. Y. Defendant granted Plaintiff's request for leave. Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 69:1-5.

Plaintiff subsequently submitted doctor's notes to AIL, and AIL granted Plaintiff three additional periods of leave, extending Plaintiff's leave to August 29, 2011, then to September 8, 2011, and finally to December 31, 2011. Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Genuine Disputes ¶ ¶ 15-19, ECF No. 45-2. AIL granted Plaintiff these further disability leaves based on the doctor's notes and medical certifications signed by Vincent Tristan, a physician's assistant (" P.A. Tristan"). Id.; see McCandless Decl., Ex. Z at 194-200 (" Tristan Dep." 9:10-14:21); McCandless Decl., Exs. AA-EE. The medical certifications, signed by both P.A. Tristan and Plaintiff, stated that Plaintiff was unable to perform " work of any kind" and was unable to " perform the functions of [Plaintiff's work] position." Tristan Dep. 9:10-14:21; McCandless Decl., Exs. AA-EE; Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Genuine Disputes ¶ 18; Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 111:11-112:23.

On October 17, 2011, during Plaintiff's leave, Plaintiff emailed Donna Tucker of AIL's human resources department to ask whether Plaintiff could work from home by " do[ing] any death claims or contacting my groups." Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 107:25-108:23; McCandless Decl., Ex. K at 125. On October 24, 2011, Tucker responded to Plaintiff and explained that Plaintiff could not do any work from home because Plaintiff's medical certification had " certified [Plaintiff] as unable to perform work of any kind; " Tucker also noted that because the Marketing Specialist position required " physical presence and constant personal networking, " Plaintiff's position " simply [could not] be done from home." McCandless Decl., Ex. K at 125; Pl.'s Dep. 108:24-110:20.

3. Termination Letter

When Plaintiff requested additional leave through March 12, 2012, AIL responded by notifying Plaintiff by letter dated January 26, 2012, that due to the " increasingly difficult problem" of holding Plaintiff's position open for six months, AIL had " reached the business decision that AIL can no longer keep [Plaintiff's] position open, " and that AIL was " terminating" Plaintiff's position " effective today." McCandless Decl., Ex. L at 126-27; Pl.'s July 23, 2014 Dep. 121:22-122:24. AIL hired another individual to fill ...


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