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Belloni v. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco

United States District Court, N.D. California

January 7, 2015



KANDIS A. WESTMORE, Magistrate Judge.

On July 30, 2013, Plaintiff Cheryl Belloni filed this action against the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco alleging that she was wrongfully terminated from her position at St. Isabella Church. On October 30, 2014, Defendant filed its motion for partial summary judgment, which is limited to the three discrimination causes of action. (Def.'s Mot., Dkt. No. 45.)

On December 18, 2014, the Court held a hearing, and after careful consideration of the parties' arguments, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.


Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. Plaintiff Cheryl Belloni is a Caucasian woman who began working for St. Isabella Church in 1980 as a part-time secretary, and became the full-time parish secretary in 1982. St. Isabella is part of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The parish secretary position involved various responsibilities, including human resources and bookkeeping duties. (Dep. of Fr. Mark Reburiano, "Reburiano Dep., " Decl. of John McGuinn in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summary J., "McGuinn Decl., " Dkt. No. 54-3, Ex. 5 at 130:20-131:15.)

Plaintiff served as parish secretary to five pastors during her 30-year tenure at St. Isabella. Plaintiff had no record of discipline prior to Fr. Mark Reburiano's ("Fr. Mark" or "Reburiano") appointment as pastor on July 1, 2011. (Ruburiano Dep. 94:7-20.) Additionally, Plaintiff claims that she had never been previously accused of being disrespectful, negative or insubordinate. (Decl. of Cheryl Belloni, "Belloni Decl., " Dkt. No. 54-1 ¶ 3.)

From July 2008 to June 2011, Fr. Ken Westray ("Fr. Ken") served as pastor. (Dep. of Fr. Kenneth M. Westray, "Def.'s Westray Dep., " Decl. of Lori Sebransky in support of Def.'s Mot. for Partial Summary J., "Sebransky Decl., " Dkt. No. 48-3, Ex. 3 at 23:25-24:4.) Defendant contends that Fr. Ken also had negative interactions with Plaintiff, but he never "wrote up" Plaintiff or any other employees at St. Isabella. (Def.'s Westray Dep. 124:18-125:6.) Fr. Ken, however, testified that Plaintiff was a "trusted and competent employee, " a "dependable worker, " was "hard working and professional, " and agreed that "she has always gone above and beyond to serve our parish as an employee, parishioner and minister." (Dep. of Fr. Kenneth M. Westray, "Pl.'s Westray Dep., " McGuinn Decl., Ex. 4 at 48:24-49:1, 49:23-50:1, 51:10-14, 57:3-10.) Fr. Ken also acknowledged that Plaintiff had a reputation of being "a compassionate, hard working and professional secretary at St. Isabella." Id. at 55:13-20. Fr. Ken testified that he never considered terminating Plaintiff nor had given "any thought to putting together any kind of written warning or reprimand for her." Id. at 126:13-17; 72:15-73:13. During his tenure as pastor, Fr. Ken approved Plaintiff's request to telecommute two days per week. (Def.'s Westray Dep. 128:16-129:4.)

Fr. Mark Reburiano ("Fr. Mark" or "Reburiano") was appointed pastor on July 1, 2011. Fr. Mark is Filipino and was 36 years old at the time of his appointment. (Reburiano Dep., "Def.'s Reburiano Dep., " Sebransky Decl., Ex. 4 at 18:18-19:1.) Fr. Mark had previously served as an associate pastor at two Archdiocesan parishes. Id. at 27:19-23, 28:11-15, 31:8-13.

Between July 2011 and October 2012, Plaintiff received six to eight verbal reprimands from Fr. Mark. (Dep. of Cheryl Belloni, "Def.'s Belloni Dep., " Sebransky Decl., Ex. 2 at 32:6-11.) One reprimand in July 2011 was for a comment Plaintiff made to Karen McFadden, a coworker, regarding Fr. Mark's instruction that they change the location of where they counted the collections. (Def.'s Belloni Dep. 32:12-33:3.) Fr. Mark told Plaintiff that he believed that her comments and tone of voice to be disrespectful towards him. (Def.'s Belloni Dep. 33:17-21; Def.'s Reburiano Dep. 175:1-178:24.)

On another occasion in 2011, Fr. Mark and Plaintiff had a discussion about discontinuing payments for Deacon Jim Myers. (Def.'s Belloni Dep. at 56:13-57:25.) Plaintiff believed that Deacon Myers should receive the stipend he had been receiving for 10 years, and Fr. Mark disagreed, because the other deacon, who was retired, did not receive a stipend. (Def.'s Belloni Dep. at 59:11-23.) Plaintiff testified, however, that while she disagreed with Fr. Mark, she did not verbally disagree with Fr. Mark. Id.

In February 2012, Fr. Mark rescinded Plaintiff's telecommuting arrangement, because he insisted that being the parish "gatekeeper" required her physical presence in the office five days a week. (Belloni Decl. ¶ 19; Pl.'s Reburiano Dep. 102:23-103:10, 126:13-127:10.) Plaintiff claims that Fr. Mark told her that he spoke with the Archdiocese Human Resources department, and was told that the officer manager needed to be in the office five days a week. (Belloni Decl. ¶ 19; see Pl.'s Reburiano Dep. 348:2-22.) Patrick Schmidt, the Archdiocese's Director of Human Resources, testified that he never told Fr. Mark that an office manager had to be physically present and that it was up to the individual pastor to decide whether to permit telecommuting. (Dep. Patrick Michael Schmidt, "Pl.'s Schmidt Dep., " McGuinn Decl., Ex. 11 at 83:21-84:6.)

In October 2012, Fr. Mark asked Plaintiff why some employees received Costco memberships. (Def.'s Belloni Dep. at 64:8-66:12.) Plaintiff explained and Fr. Mark decided that it was an expense that should not be borne by the parish and those employees reimbursed St. Isabella. Id. at 66:16-21. Plaintiff testified that she then told Fr. Mark that he was disrespecting the staff by giving the two associate pastors $250 Christmas bonuses, but not extending what had become customary benefits and a small bonus to the other staff when they were also being denied a cost of living increase. Id. at 69:14-70:16. She had also been hurt that she had not heard from Fr. Mark when she was out on medical leave. Id. Fr. Mark testified that Plaintiff left that meeting abruptly before Fr. Mark had concluded the discussion. (Def.'s Reburiano Dep. at 201:17-202:15, 208:7-24.) Plaintiff testified that she had a physical therapy appointment, of which Fr. Mark was already aware, that necessitated her departure. (Def.'s Belloni Dep. at 70:17-71:8.)

The Archdiocese provides training to new pastors regarding managing employee performance and avoiding unlawful discrimination. (Pl.'s Schmidt Dep. 35:5-14.) During those training sessions, HR stressed the importance of documenting perceived performance problems. ( Id. at 39:19-24; Pl.'s Reburiano Dep. 54:10-15; Pl.'s Westray Dep. 73:6-9.) Fr. Mark testified that in the trainings "they always say document, document, document. They could not emphasize that more." (Pl.'s Reburiano Dep. 54:10-15.) Likewise, Patrick Schmidt, Defendant's Director of Human Resources, concluded "[i]f it's not documented, it didn't happen." (Pl.'s Schmidt Dep., 39:25-40:6.) Despite this policy, Fr. Mark never documented any perceived performance issues with Plaintiff prior to October 24, 2012, when he typed and emailed his accusations against Plaintiff to Mr. Schmidt, Defendant's then-Associate Director of Human Resources. (10/24/12 Email, Pl.'s Schmidt Dep., Ex. 6.)

Thereafter, on November 6, 2012, Fr. Mark gave Plaintiff a written warning letter. (Warning Letter, McGuinn Decl., Ex. 12.) Plaintiff testified that Fr. Mark did not discuss the letter with Plaintiff, but he insisted that she read and sign to confirm receipt. (Pl.'s Belloni Dep. 94:4-96:10.) The letter stated that Fr. Mark has "received many complaints from your co-workers and others that you have dealt with them in a rude and unfriendly manner." (Warning Letter at 1.) The letter did not specify who the "others" were, but warned that "[i]f there are any further outbursts of this kind, your employment will be terminated immediately." Id. Fr. Mark then gave Plaintiff thirty days to make "a substantial improvement" in terms of her behavior. Id. After making Plaintiff sign the letter, Fr. Mark refused Plaintiff's request for a copy, even though the letter was written and addressed to her. (Pl.'s Belloni Dep. 94:11-96:15.)

Despite Fr. Mark's previous communications with Mr. Schmidt, Human Resources did not receive a draft of this letter nor were they aware of it until Plaintiff contacted them on November 7, 2012 to request a copy. (Pl.'s Schmidt Dep. 97:1-6, Ex. 8.) Fr. Mark later gave Plaintiff a copy of the letter after he was instructed to do so by HR. (Pl.'s Belloni Dep. 96:13-17; Pl.'s Schmidt Dep., Ex. 8.)

On November 12, 2012, Plaintiff wrote Fr. Mark a letter in response, in which she apologized to him and asked him to allow her to apologize to those who felt she had been unfriendly. (Pl.'s Belloni Dep. 98:10-99:21; Letter, McGuinn Decl., Ex. 13.) According to Plaintiff, Fr. Mark did not acknowledge her apology until he terminated her employment on November 30, 2012. (Pl.'s Belloni Dep. 100:15-18.)

On November 29, 2012, Plaintiff contacted Mr. Schmidt to discuss her situation with Fr. Mark, the November 6 warning letter, and her November 12 letter, to which she had received no response. (Pl.'s Schmidt Dep., Ex. 9.) Later that day, Fr. Mark sent Mr. Schmidt the text of the November 6, 2012 letter in an email. (Pl.'s Schmidt Dep., Ex. 10.) Mr. Schmidt emailed Fr. Mark to inform him that he had spoken to Plaintiff, who was upset, but that he had received positive feedback and believed that she was "willing to come around." (Pl.'s Schmidt Dep. 111:23-112:12.) Mr. Schmidt had no idea that Fr. Mark was going to terminate Plaintiff the following day. Id.

On November 30, 2012, Plaintiff's employment was terminated, but she would be paid through December 31, 2012. (Def.'s Reburiano Dep. 210:14-211:19.) Also on November 30, 2012, Fr. Mark offered Clarence Mamaril, a Filipino man, the position of interim parish secretary. (Pl.'s Reburiano Dep. 330:20-331:1, 341:24-344:2.) Mr. Mamaril had worked as Parish Council Youth Director and a staff musician at St. Isabella since 2000. (Decl. of Clarence Mamaril, "Mamaril Decl., " Dkt. No. 46 ¶ 2.) Fr. Mark offered the position without inquiring about Mr. Mamaril's qualifications to carry out the duties. (Pl.'s Reburiano Dep. 330:20-331:1, 341:24-344:2.) In fact, Fr. Mark testified that he knew Mr. Mamaril had no prior experience as a secretary when he offered him the position. Id. at 341:24-342:1. He also testified that he did not know whether Mr. Mamaril had experience with bookkeeping, payroll, or human resource functions. Id. at 342:2-344:2. In selecting Mr. Mamaril, Fr. Mark passed over Karen McFadden, a Caucasian woman who had performed Plaintiff's job while she was out on medical leave, for the interim parish secretary position because he believed that she was unqualified due to her perceived negative attitude. ( Id. at 344:3-23; Mamaril Decl. ¶ 3.) In November 2013, Defendant hired Steven Pilc to do the accounting portion of Plaintiff's job because Fr. Mark realized Mr. Mamaril could not do it. Id. at 350:17-25, 351:20-352:10.

Today, Mr. Mamaril remains "interim" parish secretary and works 22 hours per week. (Pl.'s Reburiano Dep., 331:8-10, 347:23-348:1; Dep. of Clarence Mamaril, "Pl.'s Mamaril Dep., " McGuinn Decl., Ex. 3 at 38:2-14; 39:17-21.) Mr. Mamaril's works a flexible schedule, which allows him to continue operating his private law practice while also performing his parish secretary duties. (Pl.'s Mamaril Dep. 51:7-11.) If his secretarial duties conflict with his law practice, he informs Fr. Mark that he will make up the time. Id. Additionally, Mr. Mamaril has used the parish office for his law practice by taking calls and meeting with clients at the rectory office. (Pl.'s Mamaril Dep. 52:21-53:6; Pl.'s Reburiano Dep. 349:22-25.) Fr. Mark has also permitted Mr. Mamaril to stay in the priest quarters approximately 15-20 times, so that he would not have to commute to his home in Napa County. (Pl.'s Mamaril Depo. 84:5-22.)

After Plaintiff's termination, she applied for unemployment benefits. (Belloni Decl. ¶ 27.) Although Plaintiff was told by Defendant's then-Director of Human Resources that the Archdiocese would not prevent her from collecting unemployment benefits, Fr. Mark instructed Mr. Mamaril to file a letter in response to Belloni's unemployment insurance claim, which included the November 6, 2012 warning letter. ( Id.; Pl.'s Mamaril Dep. 90:6-91:1; 1/14/2013 Letter to the Employment Development Department, McGuinn Decl., Ex. 15.) When Plaintiff's benefits were denied, she contacted the Archdiocese's Human Resources department, who implied that there must have been some mistake and subsequently her benefits were awarded. (Belloni Decl. ¶ 27.)

On July 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging five causes of action: (1) Discrimination on the Basis of Race and National Origin; (2) Gender Discrimination; (3) Age Discrimination; (4) Violation of California Labor Code § 226; and (5) Violation of California Labor Code § 2802. On October 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (First Am. Compl., "FAC, " Dkt. No. 16.)

On October 30, 2014, Defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to the first three causes of action. (Def.'s Mot., Dkt. No. 45.) On November 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed her amended opposition, in which she conceded that she could not make a prima facie case for age discrimination. (Pl.'s Opp'n, Dkt. No. 55 at 1 n. 1.) On December 5, 2014, Defendant filed its reply. (Def.'s Reply, Dkt. No. 57.)


A party may move for summary judgment on a "claim or defense" or "part of... a claim or defense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is appropriate when, after adequate discovery, there is no genuine issue as to material facts and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id .; see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Material facts are those that might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is "genuine" if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery responses that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Where the moving party will have the burden of proof at trial, it must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. Southern Calif. Gas. Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 888 (9th Cir. 2003).

On an issue where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, it may discharge its burden of production by either (1) by "produc[ing] evidence negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's case" or (2) after suitable discovery "show[ing] that the nonmoving party does not have enough evidence of an essential element of its claim or defense to discharge its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial." Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd., v. Fritz Cos., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1103 (9th Cir. 2000); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. 324-25.

Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the opposing party must then set forth specific facts showing that there is some genuine issue for trial in order to defeat the motion. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. "A party opposing summary judgment may not simply question the credibility of the movant to foreclose summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254. "Instead, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and by its own evidence set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Far Out Prods., Inc. v. Oskar, 247 F.3d 986, 997 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations and quotations omitted). The non-moving party must produce "specific evidence, through affidavits or admissible discovery material, to show that the dispute exists." Bhan v. NMS Hosps., Inc., 929 F.2d 1404, 1409 (9th Cir. 1991). Conclusory or speculative ...

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