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Cha v. Kaiser Permanente

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 2, 2015

JUNGOAK CHA, Plaintiff,
v.
THE KAISER PERMANENTE, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND (Docket No. 7)

EDWARD M. CHEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jungoak Cha filed this lawsuit pro se against Defendant, "The Kaiser Permanente, "[1] alleging various legal wrongs stemming from Ms. Cha's dismissal from her employment as a registered nurse. Complaint (Docket No. 1). While Ms. Cha's complaint is not always easy for this Court to interpret, it appears that the complaint alleges the following five causes of action: (1) breach of a collective bargaining agreement in violation of Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, [2] stemming from Ms. Cha's alleged "sudden termination" from her employment; (2) a workplace injury claim related to Ms. Cha's alleged exposure to cadmium at her place of employment; (3) age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) stemming from her dismissal from employment; (4) race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) stemming from her dismissal from employment; and (5) disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stemming from her dismissal from employment and Permanente's alleged failure to offer Ms. Cha a job modification. See id. at 2, 4-5. While not obviously pleaded in her complaint, Ms. Cha claims she also intended to allege a state discrimination claim under California law. Plaintiff's Opposition Brief at 2 (Docket No. 9).

On December 1, 2014, Permanente moved to dismiss all of Ms. Cha's claims, and contends that each claim should be dismissed with prejudice. Permanente is correct that Ms. Cha has not adequately stated a claim on any of her causes of action. However, the Court will give Ms. Cha, who is proceeding pro se, leave to amend her complaint.[3]

I. BACKGROUND

Ms. Cha was employed as a registered nurse at Kaiser for over 30 years. Complaint at 4. Around February 6, 2011, Ms. Cha began suffering various physical ailments. Id. For instance, she reports feeling "left leg numbness" and the having the sensation of an "electrical shock." Id. She also reports that she "noticed brown spots and burnt skin, [and suffered] dry eyes, ear pain, [and] headaches." Id. According to Ms. Cha, a CT scan revealed that her liver and spleen were enlarged. Id. Later testing revealed kidney damage and "nerve dysfunction." Id. Toxicology tests of Ms. Cha's hair and urine revealed the presence of cadmium, id., a "highly toxic" metal "known to cause cancer" and other serious ailments. See Cadmium, United States Dept. of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/cadmium (last accessed, January 16, 2015). According to Ms. Cha, she had never before suffered from the ailments she alleges onset around February 2011.[4] Complaint at 5. That is, until she started working at a Kaiser call center in Vallejo. Id. Ms. Cha alleges that she has suffered "permanent injury due to [her] work environment, " namely cadmium exposure. Id. at 4-5.

Ms. Cha left work sometime in 2011. Thereafter, she "tried to return to work [for] short periods of time in 2011, " but her disability would worsen as a result of her return to employment. Id. at 4. Ms. Cha went on medical leave on August 28, 2011. Id. According to Ms. Cha, her medical condition(s) made it so she was "not able to perform reasonable continuity [sic] in my occupation and I had to follow my medical direction at that time, " which was presumably a direction to at least temporarily leave her employment at Permanente. Id.

Sometime in early 2012, Ms. Cha made a "disability claim, " and "submitted a medical doctor's note to extend my medical leave till March 27th, 2012." Id. But on March 7, 2012, Permanente sent Ms. Cha a formal termination letter. Ms. Cha was terminated effective March 8, 2012. Id. Before she was terminated, Ms. Cha alleges that "[n]o modified work was offered" to her, but does not include any other facts about her request for a job modification or Permanente's precise response. Id.

Ms. Cha claims that she was "supposed to have a termination notice [period] of 30 days ahead according to my union contract (CNA-California Nurses association)." Id. Moreover, Ms. Cha claims she was not contacted by a union representative at the time of termination, as required under her union contract. Id. Ms. Cha does not allege any facts indicating that she pursued a grievance with the union, or otherwise engaged in the grievance procedures specified under the collective bargaining agreement. See Defendant's Request for Judicial Notice, Ex. A (Collective Bargaining Agreement) at 113 (Docket No. 8).

Ms. Cha further alleges that "Kaiser's sudden termination of my job have been due to unwillingness to address my cadmium exposure and because of my disability." Complaint at 5. As a consequence of her cadmium exposure and termination, Ms. Cha claims she has lost considerable income (she is now unemployed and receiving only social security benefits) and suffers stress and anxiety. Id. Ms. Cha applied for worker's compensation, but her claim was apparently denied. The complaint alludes to a possible appeal that was due to be decided by November 15, 2014. Id.

At some point after her termination, Ms. Cha contacted the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). See Complaint, Ex. A (DFEH Notice). The DFEH sent a "Notice of Case Closure and Right to Sue" letter to Ms. Cha on October 25, 2013. Id. According to DFEH, Ms. Cha's complaint was "Investigated and Dismissed: Insufficient Evidence." Id. The letter informs Ms. Cha that any "civil action [brought under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act or related state statutes] must be filed within one year from the date of this letter." Id. The letter says nothing about the statute of limitations for federal law causes of action. Id. The letter simply states that "[y]our complaint is dual filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)." Id. Ms. Cha included the following allegations in the body of her complaint with respect to her DFEH (and potential) EEOC complaints:

I attached my right to sue notice till Oct 25th, 2014 per DFEH and my detail note. The EEOC note, I was not filed in my signature. I just talked to an employee at that office. He advised me that I had to follow DFEH note and I didn't need to fill the application that time. If I had a question, he asked me to call Ms. RanDall. I called her once but not returned my call. That's why I ignored EEOC 90 days right to sue notice. I had a DFEH note and I was suffering and stressful what to do for my employer and waited till this time [to file suit].

Complaint. at 5 (emphasis added).

Ms. Cha filed this action on October 20, 2014. Ms. Cha invoked federal question jurisdiction, and identified the relevant laws involved as "Title VII of the Americans of disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination & Employment Act." Id. at 2. It is not immediately apparent from the face of the complaint or its attachments whether Ms. Cha also intended to bring any possible state law causes of action in this lawsuit. However, in her opposition to Permanente's motion to dismiss, Ms. Cha characterizes her action as one "based on both federal and California law" and notes that her claims are timely ...


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