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Stonum v. County of Kern

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 20, 2017

DYWANE C. STONUM, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF KERN, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 15)

         This matter came before the court on February 7, 2017, for hearing of defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 15.) Plaintiff Dywane C. Stonum, proceeding pro se, appeared telephonically on his own behalf. Attorney James Brannen appeared telephonically on behalf of defendants County of Kern, Patricia Gable, Tracy Selph, James McClellan, Shannon Oastler, Debbie Spears, and Debra Davis. Following oral argument, the motion was taken under submission. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On July 26, 2016, plaintiff commenced this action against defendants, alleging employment discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634. (Doc. No. 1.) In his complaint plaintiff alleges the following facts.

         Plaintiff is a California resident who was employed with Kern County Department of Human Services (“KDHS”) between April 2013 and January 2014. (Id. at 6, 17.) The individual defendants were also employed by KDHS during the relevant time frame.[1]

         On April 1, 2013, plaintiff was hired by KDHS to fill the position of Human Services Technician I, charged with determining new and ongoing eligibility for California public assistance programs. (Id. at 6.) In May of 2013, plaintiff was placed at Kern County's Mojave office. (Id.)

         During his employment at the Mojave office, plaintiff was exposed to a discriminatory work environment. Specifically, plaintiff observed “Obama-bashing”; the belittling of the Director of KDHS, a black woman; and co-workers celebrating after rejecting individual and family public assistance requests. (Id. at 11.) Plaintiff also observed defendants Gable and Selph, together with Melissa Calliston, operating as a management team that “target[ed] to eliminate anyone who disagree[d] with their unlawful acts of discrimination, and to discourage prospective applicants [for state public assistance].” (Id. at 12.)

         On multiple occasions, defendants disputed plaintiffs handling of public assistance cases. In May 2013, plaintiff provided a customer with advice about how to avoid losing her public benefits, and Calliston reacted by reprimanding plaintiff and disparaging his character in front of coworkers. (Id. at 11-12.) Calliston ordered plaintiff to send the customer notice that she owed the county eleven years of over-payments; when plaintiff expressed concerns about this determination, Calliston admitted that the customer did not owe money to the county. (Id.)

         At a later time, plaintiff identified an improper public assistance sanction being imposed on a customer, and instructed the customer regarding how to address the problem. (Id. at 14-15.) Defendants Gable and McClellan then met with plaintiff and reprimanded him, with defendant Gable telling plaintiff to be “very careful.” (Id. at 15.)

         Kern County State Investigation Unit (“SIU”) officials also began to harass plaintiff. (Id. at 16.) The SIU officials expressed dissatisfaction with the number of suspected fraud cases plaintiff was reporting, and told him that he was falling short of the required fraud case quota. (Id.)

         Defendant Gable began instructing coworkers to send adverse letters to customers under plaintiffs name, resulting in a series of complaints being made against plaintiff. (Id. at 17.) Defendant Gable also restricted plaintiffs ability to schedule walk-in appointments with customers, causing him to miss a work deadline. (Id.) In response to the missed deadline, defendant Gable wrote plaintiff a negative performance evaluation. (Id.)

         Meanwhile, plaintiffs white co-worker, Donald Burke, was treated more favorably and given less scrutiny than plaintiff in the workplace. In particular, Burke was given an earlier lunch hour, was assigned a desk that was located closer to supervisors and managers, and was asked to join a union by Calliston that plaintiff was never asked to join. (Id. at 18.)

         On July 25, 2013, plaintiff received a Memo of Concern from defendant Gable threatening plaintiff with disciplinary action and termination. (Id. at 13.) Plaintiff was not provided any additional information by defendant Gable, and was not given an August 2013 performance evaluation report. (Id.) Plaintiff ultimately did not receive his employee performance report until December 13, 2013. (Id. at 16.)

         On September 4, 2013, plaintiff made a complaint of racial discrimination to defendant Davis. (Id. at 13.) Plaintiff also submitted a written request for an appointment with KDHS Department Head Tony Lopez to discuss his employee performance report, but his request for that appointment was denied without explanation. (Id.)

         In November 2013, plaintiff interviewed for the position of KDHS Social Services Worker for which he had applied earlier that year. (Id.) The interview panel consisted of defendants Selph, McClellan, and Oastler. (Id.) According to plaintiff was denied the position in retaliation for his earlier complaint of racial discrimination. (Id.) By December 2013, plaintiffs work started to be reassigned to his coworkers. (Id. at 16.)

         On January 3, 2014, plaintiff was discharged by defendant Gable. (Id. at 17.) Plaintiff was not given his final pay after his discharge. (Id.)

         Following his discharge, plaintiff filed a grievance with SEIU Local 521 and the Kern County Human Resources Department. (Id. at 18.) On April 2, 2014, plaintiff also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Id. at 6, 18.) Plaintiff's grievance and complaint were found to be without merit. (Id. at 18.)

         Plaintiff filed his complaint in this action on July 26, 2016. (Doc. No. 1.) On December 19, 2016, defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. No. 15.) Plaintiff filed his opposition and declaration in support thereof on January 9, 2017. (Doc. Nos. 19-20.) Defendants filed their reply on January 31, 2017. (Doc. No. 22.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. N. Star Int'l v. Ariz. Corp. Comm'n, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). “Dismissal can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A claim for relief must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Though Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff is required to allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         In determining whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court accepts as true the allegations in the complaint and construes the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Novak v. United States, 795 F.3d 1012, 1017 (9th Cir. 2015). It is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff “can prove facts that it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

         Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985). However, the court's liberal interpretation of a pro se litigant's pleading may not supply essential elements of a claim that are not pled. Pena v. Gardner, 976 F.2d 469, 471 (9th Cir. 1992); Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). Furthermore, “[t]he court is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot reasonably be drawn from the facts alleged.” Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 ...


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