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Langley v. County of Inyo

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 22, 2017

COUNTY OF INYO, et al., Defendants.


         This matter came before the court on January 19, 2017, for hearing of defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 18.) Attorney John Sarsfield appeared telephonically on behalf of plaintiff, Julia Langley. Attorney Ashley Wisniewski appeared telephonically on behalf of defendants, the County of Inyo and Margaret Kemp-Williams. After oral argument, the motion was taken under submission. For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motion to dismiss will be denied.


         On July 29, 2016, plaintiff filed the original complaint in this action against defendants Inyo County, Margaret Kemp-Williams, and Does 1-10. (Doc. No. 1.) This action now proceeds on plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint (“F AC”) filed November 17, 2016. (Doc. No. 17.) In the SAC, plaintiff asserts the following two causes of action: (i) a claim against defendant Kemp-Williams under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on retaliation in violation of plaintiff s First Amendment rights, [1] and (ii) a claim against defendant Inyo County under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), California Government Code § 12900 et seq., for retaliation. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks the award of economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages against defendant Kemp-Williams, pre-judgment interest and post-judgment interest, and attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 11-12.)

         In her complaint, plaintiff alleges the following. Plaintiff is a licensed California attorney who worked for the Inyo County Office of the County Counsel between February 2015 and July 2015. (Id. at 3, ¶ 9.) Her immediate supervisor was defendant Kemp-Williams. (Id.)

         Prior to February 2015, plaintiff was employed with Tulare County's Office of the County Counsel. (Id. at 4, ¶ 10.) In late 2014, plaintiff applied for a position with the County Counsel Office for Inyo County, and was invited to interview for the position. (Id. at 4, ¶ 11.) Plaintiff was offered a position following the interview, pending clearance of certain administrative hurdles including a medical examination. (Id.) While plaintiff submitted to the medical examination, she objected to several tests and questions posed to her on the grounds that they were unlawfully invasive, and she refused to answer certain questions. (Id. at 4, ¶ 12.) She was nonetheless offered employment, and was cleared to work without being required to submit to tests or answer the questions to which she had objected. (Id.)

         Before starting her employment with defendant Inyo County, plaintiff discussed her concerns about the medical examination with defendant Kemp-Williams, and offered to allow defendants to withdraw their employment offer. (Doc. No. 6 at 5, ¶ 13.) Defendant Kemp-Williams told plaintiff that the employment offer was not being withdrawn. (Id.) Defendant Kemp-Williams also indicated to plaintiff that her position would enable her to have a supervisory role over less experienced attorneys with the county. (Id. at 5, ¶ 15.)

         Plaintiff began her employment in February 2015. (Id. at 5, ¶ 14.) During the course of her employment, defendant Kemp-Williams regularly contacted plaintiff after hours to discuss work-related matters. (Id. at 5, ¶ 16.) Plaintiff believed that defendant's actions violated county workplace policies and the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). (Id. at 6, ¶ 17.) In March 2015, plaintiff discussed these concerns with Inyo County HR personnel. (Id. at 6, ¶¶ 17-18.)

         Defendant Kemp-Williams subsequently prepared a memorandum detailing plaintiffs workplace deficiencies, which plaintiff alleges was meritless and designed to retaliate against plaintiff for the objections she had stated to Inyo County HR. (Id. at 6, ¶ 18.) Defendant Kemp-Williams also began to shout at plaintiff in the workplace, and directed plaintiff not to associate with other Inyo County coworkers. (Id. at 7, ¶ 19.)

         As a result of defendant Kemp-Williams's actions, plaintiff began to suffer severe migraine headaches. (Id. at 7, ¶ 20.) Plaintiff took sick days off of work to recover from those headaches, as directed by her medical care provider. (Id.) In May 2015, defendant Kemp-Williams discussed these absences with plaintiff, telling plaintiff that she resented employees taking sick leave. (Id. at 7, ¶ 21.) These comments were intended to coerce plaintiff into not seeking further medical care and recuperation time for her headaches. (Id.)

         On May 14, 2015, plaintiff met with representatives from Inyo County HR-Risk Management in order to raise further concerns about defendant Kemp-Williams' actions. (Id. at 8, ¶ 22.) HR representatives assured plaintiff that she would not be subjected to retaliation as a result. (Id. at 8, ¶ 23.) However, after the meeting, defendant Kemp-Williams began assigning plaintiff trivial legal tasks below her level of expertise. (Id. at 8, ¶ 23.) However, defendant Kemp-Williams did not officially demote plaintiff or otherwise initiate formal employment procedures. (Id. at 8, ¶ 24.)

         As a result of plaintiff s complaints, defendant Inyo County opened an investigation into defendant Kemp-Williams' conduct. (Id. at 9, ¶ 26.) On July 21, 2015, plaintiff was informed that the county had completed its investigation and had concluded that plaintiffs complaints were unfounded. (Id.) Plaintiff was fired from her position on July 30, 2015. (Id. at 9, ¶ 27.) She was not given any notice as to her termination, or provided the opportunity to appeal the termination decision. (Id. at 10, ¶ 28.) Plaintiff alleges that she was terminated in retaliation for her complaints made to HR regarding defendant Kemp-Williams. (Id. at 9-10, ¶ 27.)

         On December 5, 2016, defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs first cause of action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 18.) Plaintiff filed her opposition on January 3, 2017, and defendants filed their reply on January 10, 2017. (Doc. Nos. 20, 21.)


         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, ...

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