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Costa v. Mohawk Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California, Southern Division

February 8, 2017





         Plaintiff Patricia Costa filed this action in Orange County Superior Court against Mohawk Industries, Inc., Mohawk ESV, Inc., Michael Bates, and Does 1 through 100, for (1) disparate treatment in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), California Government Code §§ 12940 et seq.; (2) hostile work environment harassment in violation of FEHA; (3) failure to prevent discrimination and harassment in violation of FEHA; (4) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; (5) violation of California Labor Code § 132a; and (6) violation of California Business & Professions Code, §§ 17200 et seq. (Dkt. 1-1 Ex. A [Complaint, hereinafter “Compl.”].) Defendants removed the action to this Court on December 16, 2016, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, arguing that although Plaintiff and Bates are both citizens of California, Bates's citizenship should not be counted because he was fraudulently joined. (Dkt. 1 [Notice of Removal, hereinafter “NOR”].) Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for remand. (Dkt. 11 [Motion, hereinafter “Mot.”].) For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.[1]


         The Complaint alleges the following facts. Plaintiff is a former employee of Mohawk ESV, which is owned by Mohawk Industries (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Mohawk”). (Compl. ¶¶ 1-2.) In November 2014, at age 58, Plaintiff was working as a customer service representative at Mohawk's Anaheim, California office. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff began to experience a “tingling sensation” in her hands and reported the condition to her direct supervisor. (Id.) On approximately November 13, 2014, Mohawk's human resources Department instructed Plaintiff to go to a clinic operated by Concentra for a medical evaluation. (Id.)

         When Plaintiff arrived at Concentra on November 13, a clinician informed her that she must first submit to a urinalysis test for the presence of illicit drugs. (Id. ¶ 14.) When Plaintiff asked for the basis of the drug test requirement, the clinician “stated only that the drug test was required before Plaintiff could be treated.” (Id.) Plaintiff “is informed and believes that Mohawk directed Concentra to condition treatment of Plaintiff's workplace injury on a drug test.” (Id.) She further contends that in her thirty years of employment at Mohawk, she was never notified that she was required to submit to a urinalysis test under any circumstances. (Id. ¶ 15.) For this reason, she believed that Concentra was in error in requiring such a test, and she found the test to be “invasive of her privacy, unnecessary, not in any way related to her workplace injury, and not required under any law.” (Id.) Accordingly, Plaintiff left the clinic without obtaining a medical evaluation or treatment and sought treatment at a different facility, Huntington Beach Urgent Care. (Id.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists. (Id.)

         When Plaintiff returned to work on November 14, 2014, she asked her supervisor why Concentra had required a urinalysis test. (Id. ¶ 16.) Her supervisor responded that she did not know and had never heard of such a requirement. (Id.) On November 18, 2014, Plaintiff met with Mohawk's Regional Vice President, Michael Bates, who informed Plaintiff that Mohawk could terminate her employment because Plaintiff refused to submit to a urinalysis drug test at Concentra as a precondition for receiving medical evaluation and treatment. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff offered to immediately submit to a drug test, but Bates “instructed Plaintiff to wait until after he consulted with a Human Resources representative, who, he stated, would be calling Plaintiff.” (Id.) The next day, a human resources representative, Cindy Wood, telephoned Plaintiff and informed her that she was being suspended immediately without pay for her refusal to submit to such a test. (Id. ¶ 18.) On November 22, 2014, Plaintiff received another call from Wood, accompanied by at least two other individuals, who asked her why she did not submit to a urinalysis test at Concentra. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff responded that she did so because she “understood that neither Mohawk nor any applicable law or regulation required such a precondition.” (Id.) Later that same day, she received a telephone call stating that she had been terminated immediately for her refusal to submit to a urinalysis test. (Id.) Plaintiff “is informed and believes that as of November 2014, Mohawk had developed a preference for office workers in California that were under the age of 40 and that, consequently, Mohawk desired to terminate Plaintiff's employment.” (Id. ¶ 20.)

         Plaintiff filed a FEHA administrative complaint before the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”), alleging, among other things, that Mohawk discriminated against her on the basis of age. (Dkt. 1-1 at 25-28.) Bates was not listed as a defendant on the face of the complaint, but Plaintiff specifically referenced his offending conduct in the body of the DFEH complaint. (Id. (“On or about November 18, 2014, I met with Regional Vice President Michael Bates, who stated that I could be terminated because I refused to take a drug test at Concentra. I then offered to immediately take a drug test. However, Mr. Bates instructed me to wait until I spoke to a Human Resources representative, who would be calling me.”).) On November 13, 2015, DFEH issued Plaintiff a Right to Sue Notice. (Id. at 23.) Plaintiff then filed this action on November 9, 2016. (Compl.)

         Of her six causes of action, only the “hostile work environment harassment” claim is brought against Bates. (See generally id.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that “[i]n November 2014, Defendant Michael Bates, acting as a managing agent for Mohawk, further harassed Plaintiff by falsely stating to Plaintiff, and only to Plaintiff, that her refusal to submit to a urinalysis drug test before being allowed medical treatment of her workplace injury was grounds for termination. Defendants knew that no such company policy existed, and that no possible nexus between Plaintiff's medical complaint and illicit drug use existed. Defendants took this action to discriminate against Plaintiff because of her age.” (Id. ¶ 29(b).)

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff is a citizen of California and Mohawk Industries and Mohawk ESV are both citizens of Delaware (where they are incorporated) and Georgia (their principal place of business). (NOR at 3-5.) Defendants also admit that Bates is a resident of California, but contend that his citizenship should not be considered for purposes of removal because Plaintiff fraudulently joined him. (Id. at 5.) Defendants contend that Bates was specifically named in an effort to evade the Court's jurisdiction and the Complaint fails to state a valid cause of action against him. (Dkt. 13 [Opposition, hereinafter “Opp.”] at 1.) Plaintiff agrees with Defendants' citizenship analysis, but disputes that Bates was fraudulently joined. (See generally Mot.)


         “Joinder is fraudulent if the plaintiff fails to state a cause of action against a resident defendant, and the failure is obvious according to the settled rules of the state.” Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 1043 (9th Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted). Conversely, “if there is any possibility that the state law might impose liability on a resident defendant under the circumstances alleged in the complaint, the federal court cannot find that joinder of the resident defendant was fraudulent, and remand is necessary.” Id. at 1044. The defendant may present additional facts to show that the joinder is fraudulent. McCabe v. Gen. Foods Corp., 811 F.2d 1336, 1339 (9th Cir. 1987). However, in determining whether a defendant was fraudulently joined, all disputed questions of fact and all ambiguities in the controlling state law must be resolved in favor of remand to state court. Hunter, 582 F.3d at 104 at 1042. “‘There is a presumption against finding fraudulent joinder, and defendants who assert that plaintiff has fraudulently joined a party carry a heavy burden of persuasion.'” Onelum v. Best Buy Stores L.P., 948 F.Supp.2d 1048, 1051 (C.D. Cal. 2013) (quoting Plute v. Roadway Package Sys., Inc., 141 F.Supp.2d 1005, 1008 (N.D. Cal. 2001)).

         Defendants contend that Bates was fraudulently joined for two reasons. First, they argue that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to Bates, since he was not identified as a defendant in Plaintiff's DFEH complaint. (Opp. at 7-8.) Second, they contend that the Complaint does not meet the pleading requirements for a FEHA “hostile work ...

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