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Joseph v. Service Employees International Union

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 1, 2016



          EDWARD M. CHEN United States District Judge


         Plaintiff Shareefah Joseph filed the instant suit against Defendant Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare West (SEIU), alleging that she was misclassified as a salaried, exempt employee, that she was subjected to wage-related retaliation, that she was discriminated and harassed because of her race, and that she was terminated while she was on medical leave. Docket No. 1 (Compl.) at ¶ 1. SEIU now moves to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. Docket No. 13 Mot.).

         SEIU's motion came on for hearing before the Court on July 21, 2016. For the reasons stated on the record, and as supplemented below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART SEIU's motion to dismiss.


         Joseph was employed by SEIU as an “Organizer Representative” between August 1, 2008 through her termination on August 27, 2015. Compl. at ¶¶ 2, 15. Joseph was assigned to SEIU's Home Care Division, and worked out of SEIU's Santa Rosa office, where she was the only African-American employee. Id. at ¶¶ 2, 12, 42. Joseph alleges that as an Organizer Representative, she was required to work a minimum of fifty hours per week, and worked fifty-five to sixty hours per week for roughly half of each calendar year. Id. at ¶ 13. The majority of her time was spent in the office on the phone, either returning calls or calling union members to get union members to volunteer, to discuss union issues, or as part of an assigned campaign. Id. at ¶ 75. Joseph alleges that both her office work and field work were highly regulated by SEIU managers and supervisors. Id. at ¶¶ 75, 76.

         Joseph alleges that racial discrimination and harassment began in late 2011. Id. at ¶ 37. While she was at the main SEIU office in Oakland, SEIU President Dave Regan twice asked Joseph (whose hairstyle that day was a weave): “Did you buy your hair from the store on the corner?” Id. The following week, Joseph was at the Oakland office when Home Care Coordinator Lily Hickman asked her, “Is that your real hair?” Id. at ¶ 38. Joseph claims that following these events, adverse acts against her began to occur. For example, in February 2012, SEIU removed Joseph from the Seton campaign, without explanation. Id. at ¶ 39. Joseph then returned to her designated work area in Sonoma, but was told that she could no longer work there because she did not speak Spanish, even though she was the top producer in her Division the previous two years. Id. She was assigned to work areas 45-60 minutes away from the Sonoma office while her normal area was divided among two Spanish-speaking representatives. Id. Although serious complaints were brought against the two representatives, neither was disciplined. Id. at ¶ 40.

         Joseph also alleges that she was subjected to numerous investigatory meetings and disciplinary actions, without any basis. In April 2012, SEIU required Joseph to attend an investigatory meeting regarding the Seton campaign, based on an accusation of being “disruptive, ” and for giving a member a small child's toy. Id. at ¶ 43. Although Joseph was exonerated of the charges, the exoneration was never put in writing, affecting her HR profile. Id. In August 2012, Joseph was ordered to a meeting based on Ms. Gil's allegation that Joseph had knowledge of an incident at a meeting in San Luis Obispo, even though she had been instructed not to attend this meeting. Id. at ¶ 44. Joseph was placed on administrative leave until September 5, 2012. Id. In October 2012, Joseph was required to meet Ms. Gil and her District supervisor, Benigno Delgado. Id. at ¶ 45. During the meeting, Ms. Gil stated that she “has an issue” with Joseph and that she did not feel comfortable around her, but made no specific allegations. Later that month, Joseph was required to attend a meeting with Mr. Delgado and SEIU manager Ben Tracey based on the allegation that she was not working well with the team. Id. at ¶ 46. At the meeting, Mr. Tracey instructed Joseph not to talk about her accomplishments, but to instead “tell a sad story about her life” so that people would like her. Joseph contends that this was contrary to the expectations for non-African-American employees, who were very assertive in their work and were never reprimanded, instead earning promotions. Id. Joseph was later reprimanded by a supervisor for being “missing in action” even though she had told the campaign lead that she would be out because she was being required to testify at a trial regarding the Seton campaign. Id. at ¶ 47. In January 2014, Joseph was required to attend another investigatory meeting and was accused by Ms. Jennifer Castro of physically and verbally assaulting her on December 30, 2013. Id. at ¶ 49. Although Joseph was exonerated, Ms. Castro was never disciplined for the accusations. Id. In April 2014, Joseph was required to attend yet another investigatory meeting based on Ms. Rebecca Malberg accusing Joseph of refusing to provide factual information to SEIU management. Id. at ¶ 52. Joseph was accompanied by her union representative, Jared Mayhugh. After Joseph was exonerated, Mr. Mayhugh asked Ms. Malberg why she was targeting Joseph; Ms. Malberg did not answer. Id. The next week, Joseph was required to attend another investigatory meeting for failure to follow protocol for submitting a doctor's note to take a day off. Id. at ¶ 53. During this meeting, Mr. Tracey allegedly used offensive racial epithets criticizing the Ralph Lauren sweater Joseph was wearing, and insinuated that Joseph could not belong to a polo club or ride horses because she is African-American, and not a white male. Id. at ¶ 54.

         In addition to the investigatory meetings, Joseph alleges that on December 27, 2013, when she inquired about the reimbursement of her expenses, Director of Finance Edgar Cajina yelled at her. Id. at ¶ 48. A few days later, Mr. Cajina's daughter (also a SEIU employee) directed a racial slur at Joseph. Id.

         In May 2014, Ms. Castro was assigned as Joseph's administrative assistant, despite having accused Joseph of physically assaulting her in December 2013. Id. at ¶ 55. Joseph's concerns about a hostile work environment given Ms. Castro's accusations and Ms. Gil's professed discomfort with her were not addressed. Id. at ¶ 56. According to Joseph, throughout 2014, Ms. Castro falsely accused Joseph of being absent from work, not adhering to deadlines for submitting paperwork, and entering a supply room she was not authorized to enter. Id. at ¶¶ 57-58. In October 2014, Ms. Castro struck Joseph in the head with her hand; Joseph reported the incident several times, and was berated for not reporting it sooner although she had informed other management. Id. at ¶ 59. Human Resources found that Ms. Castro did not intend to cause harm, and refused to address the matter further. Id.

         Joseph contends that the racial discrimination continued through 2015, including a March 5 incident where Joseph requested that Mr. Tracey not use racial undertones in his speech. Id. at ¶ 60. Joseph was subsequently threatened with discipline for the incident. A number of other incidents followed, including Joseph being denied a request to cash out her vacation pay, being blocked from viewing her vacation/sick time accruals, false reports that Joseph's productivity was zero, accusations that she failed to send a doctor's note, requiring a meeting that Joseph was informed was not a disciplinary action before being issued a disciplinary action in her personnel file, and being accused of not reporting her productivity. Joseph also filed at least two complaints, which were ignored. Id.

         Sometime in 2015, Joseph took unpaid leave under the FMLA after notifying SEIU, and as supported by her doctor, that she needed to be out on FMLA leave through October 1, 2015. Id. at ¶ 21. Although Joseph had sufficient leave through October 1, 2015 or, “at an absolute minimum, ” September 21, 2015, SEIU terminated Joseph on August 27, 2015, claiming that her leave was exhausted on August 20, 2015 and that with vacation days counted, Joseph was required to return to work after August 26, 2015. Id. at ¶ 22. Joseph filed a grievance appealing the termination, which SEIU denied. Id. at ¶ 26.


         A. Stand ...

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