United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS DOCKET NO. 13
M. CHEN United States District Judge
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ¶