United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER ON MOTION TO STRIKE AND MOTION TO FILE UNDER
SEAL (Docket Nos. 13 & 18)
CLAUDIA WILKEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
City and County of San Francisco filed a motion to strike
Plaintiff Willie Crawford's state law causes of action
under California's anti-SLAPP statute, California Code of
Civil Procedure section 425.16. As explained below, the Court
grants the motion in part and denies it in part.
an African-American man, has worked for the San Francisco
Department of Public Health for thirty years. He has been a
Facilities Manager since approximately 2002.
Second Amended Complaint (2AC) describes a pattern of
discrimination culminating in a biased investigation.
Crawford alleges that he outperforms his current
classification, but was denied a classification elevation on
April 23, 2015. Crawford also alleges that Department
personnel spread untrue rumors about him, which the City
failed to stop. In particular, it is rumored that he
"has a temper, " and that people "should be
careful if they ever see" his son, a "gangster
rapper." 2AC ¶¶ 12-15. Most recently, on
January 26, 2016, Crawford's attorney received an email
stating that there was a rumor in the Department that
Crawford had passed away.
Crawford describes several problematic elements of the
City's investigation. The investigation began in late
August 2015, after Crawford had filed the original complaint
in this case. Crawford alleges that the "true
purpose . . . was to manufacture reasons for firing"
him. Id. ¶ 18. Crawford alleges that the City
Attorney investigator's witness summaries were broad and
biased. He also alleges that the investigator
"questioned witnesses while his tape-recorder was turned
off; telling witnesses what he wanted them to talk
about." Id. ¶ 20. Crawford states that the
witness statement production to him was incomplete; at least
two witnesses whose statements were missing from the
production said positive things about Crawford. Later, on or
about October 9, 2015, Crawford was placed on paid
administrative leave for misconduct, but was not given any
specifics on the alleged misconduct.
December 1, 2015, the Director of Human Resources notified
Crawford that he was to report for an interview with the
investigator on December 8th. Id. ¶ 23. On
December 2, Crawford's then-attorney stated that he was
not available on December 8, but offered two alternative
dates. Id. ¶ 24. The Director responded that
the investigators were available on the 7th, that the
interview could not take place later than the 7th, and that
the interview would take place on the 7th. Id.
Crawford then agreed to the 8th even though his attorney
could not attend. Crawford's attorney argued that it
would be unethical to proceed in the absence of an attorney
in light of this pending lawsuit, to no avail.
arrived at the interview to find that there was a court
reporter, although he had not been notified of this. Crawford
alleges that the scope of the questioning "clearly
showed that there was nothing specific. This was a fishing
expedition designed to uncover some kind of misconduct or
impropriety." Id. ¶ 27. There were many
questions about Crawford's assets and financial
situation, including the financial situation of his nephew
who lives in China. In January 2016, Crawford's attorney
filed a motion to disqualify the City Attorney from
representing Defendants. The City Attorney voluntarily
withdrew without filing an opposition.
contains other allegations that do not relate to the
investigation of Crawford. Although Crawford was granted
medical leave from December 9, 2015 through February 29,
2016, the City served him with a notice of intent to dismiss
and notice of a Skelly hearing to be conducted in early
January 2016. This hearing occurred as scheduled without
Crawford, in spite of Crawford's attorney's
objections. Id. ¶ 32. The main participants
were allegedly "tainted by bias." Id.
the Human Resources Director allegedly "took the
extraordinary step of intervening and protecting"
certain employees whom Crawford supervised and whom Crawford
was planning on disciplining. Id. ¶¶
36-38. Crawford also cites the City's investigation of a
man who made the following statement about Crawford: "I
wish he was dead, I hate this guy." Id. ¶
40. In that investigation, the City interviewed Crawford
first, even though he had not heard the comment, and then did
not discipline the man who made the statement.
Crawford cites two incidents that he also attributes to the
alleged discrimination and harassment against him. In
November 2014, Crawford discovered he had not been paid his
salary, which the Human Resources Director attributed to a
"payroll glitch" although it did not impact anyone
else's salary. Id. ¶¶ 43-44.
Additionally, three months of Crawford's emails were
deleted from the department servers but had been sent to
"one Arlena Winn, purportedly by him." Thus, he
claims, his emails are "being read by others and
forwarded to others." Id. ¶¶ 45-46.
2012, Crawford filed an official complaint with the
California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)
alleging racial discrimination; in 2014, he amended the
complaint to include harassment and retaliation. The DFEH
issued him a right to sue letter.
March 3, 2015, Crawford filed a complaint in San Francisco
Superior Court. At that point, he alleged only state law
claims. The City answered his subsequent 2AC and removed the
action to federal court because it contains a federal Family
Medical Leave Act claim. The 2AC also contains five state law
claims, including discrimination, harassment and retaliation
claims under California's Fair Employment and Housing
Act, an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim,
and a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public
anti-SLAPP statute provides,
A cause of action against a person arising from any act of
that person in furtherance of the person’s right of
petition or free speech under the United States Constitution
or the California Constitution in connection with a public
issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless
the court determines that the plaintiff has established that
there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the
Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16(b)(1). California
anti-SLAPP motions to strike are available to litigants
proceeding in federal court. Thomas v. Fry’s