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Crawford v. City and County of San Francisco

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 22, 2016

WILLIE CRAWFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO STRIKE AND MOTION TO FILE UNDER SEAL (Docket Nos. 13 & 18)

          CLAUDIA WILKEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant City and County of San Francisco[1] 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.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         Crawford, 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.

         Crawford's 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.

         Next, 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.[2] 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.

         On December 1, 2015, the Director of Human Resources notified Crawford that he was to report for an interview with the investigator on December 8th.[3] 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.

         Crawford 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.

         The 2AC 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[4] 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. ¶ 33.

         Further, 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.

         Finally, 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.

         II. Procedural History

         In 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.

         On March 3, 2015, Crawford filed a complaint in San Francisco Superior Court.[5] 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 policy.

         DISCUSSION

         California’s 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 claim.

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 ...


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