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Featherstone v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group

California Court of Appeals, Second District, First Division

April 19, 2017

RUTH FEATHERSTONE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PERMANENTE MEDICAL GROUP, Defendant and Respondent.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. BC551005, Gail R. Feuer, Judge. Affirmed.

          Rushovich Mehtani, Aanand Ghods-Mehtani and Lisa M. Watanabe-Peagler for Defendant and Appellant.

          Nixon Peabody, Michael R. Lindsay, Alicia C. Anderson and Mae K. Hau for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          JOHNSON, J.

         Ruth Featherstone (Featherstone) appeals from summary judgment entered against her on claims that her former employer, defendant and respondent Southern California Permanente Medical Group (SCPMG), refused to rescind her resignation in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Gov. Code, § 12940 et seq.[1]) and public policy.

         Specifically, Featherstone alleged that while working for SCPMG she suffered a “temporary” disability, which arose as a result of a “relatively uncommon side effect of the medication” she was taking in late December 2013; this “adverse drug reaction” allegedly caused Featherstone to suffer from an “altered mental state.” While under the influence of this altered mental state, Featherstone resigned from her position with SCPMG-first, she resigned orally in a telephone conversation with her supervisor and then, a few days later, confirmed her resignation in writing in an email to her supervisor. A few days after confirming her resignation in writing, Featherstone requested SCPMG to allow her to rescind her resignation. SCPMG, after considering Featherstone's request, declined to do so. Featherstone then sued, alleging that SCPMG acted with discriminatory animus by refusing to allow her to rescind her resignation.

         We affirm for two principal reasons. First, SCPMG's refusal to allow Featherstone to rescind her resignation was not an adverse employment action under the FEHA. Second, Featherstone failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the SCPMG employees who accepted and promptly processed her resignation knew of her alleged temporary disability at the time they took those actions. Because Featherstone failed to present evidence raising a triable issue of material fact about the legality of SCPMG's actions, summary judgment was appropriate.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Featherstone's Employment with SCPMG

         Featherstone began working for SCPMG as an “at-will” employee in 2009. She reported to Vicky Sheppard (Sheppard).

         Prior to joining SCPMG, Featherstone had suffered from chronic sinus conditions that had resulted in the development of an inverted papilloma tumor in her sinus cavity; between 1995 and 2008, she had five surgeries to treat the tumor. Throughout her employment with SCPMG, Featherstone suffered from chronic sinusitis.

         In October 2013, Featherstone's doctor informed her that she needed to have surgery based on changes in her sinus tumor. SCPMG granted Featherstone leave to have and recover from the surgery. Featherstone's medical leave extended to December 13, 2013. On December 16, 2013, Featherstone returned to work without any work restrictions.

         II. Featherstone's Resignation from SCPMG

         On December 23, 2013, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Featherstone called Sheppard and informed her that she was resigning from her employment with SCPMG effective immediately. According to Sheppard, Featherstone told her that “ ‘God had told [her] to do something else.' ”

         Prior to Featherstone's resignation, neither Sheppard nor Sheppard's supervisor/manager were aware that Featherstone was suffering from an altered mental state. During their phone conversation, although Sheppard had to ask Featherstone to “ ‘slow down, ' ” she did not consider Featherstone to be “acting in a way that [she] would consider to be odd in any manner.” On that same day, Sheppard noticed a post by Featherstone on Facebook regarding her resignation that seemed “a little out of the blue, ” “a little erratic”-Featherstone indicated that she had resigned in order to “do God's work.” Featherstone's post, however, did not cause any concern in Sheppard's mind that Featherstone was not in her right mind when she resigned, because the reference to God was not inconsistent with Featherstone's character.

         Following their conversation, Sheppard emailed Featherstone, asking her to confirm her resignation in writing and then informed her supervisor/manager and SCPMG's human resources department of Featherstone's resignation. SCPMG's human resources department instructed Sheppard to immediately process Featherstone's termination paperwork so that Featherstone could receive her final paycheck and other discharge-related paperwork in a timely manner. Sheppard's supervisor/manager completed and submitted Featherstone's voluntary termination paperwork later that same day.[2] The paperwork indicated, inter alia, that Featherstone was eligible to be rehired by SCPMG.

         On December 26, 2013, Featherstone responded to Sheppard's email, confirming her decision to resign effective December 23, 2016.

         III. Featherstone's Hospitalization

         On or about December 21, 2013, Featherstone's behavior at home began to progressively change. For example, Featherstone “took off her clothes and walked around naked in front of others, repeatedly and uncharacteristically swore at family and friends, and took showers for no reason.”

         On December 24, 2013-one day after she resigned-Featherstone was hospitalized. On that same day, a friend and coworker of Featherstone spoke with Featherstone's sister, who advised the coworker of Featherstone's hospitalization. The coworker discussed the matter with her manager, who, because he was not Featherstone's manager, advised her to contact SCPMG's HR department. The HR department advised the coworker that it could not discuss Featherstone's situation with her since she was not a member of Featherstone's family. After this one communication with the HR department, the coworker did not have any other communications with any other SCPMG employees about Featherstone's hospitalization or medical condition.

         On December 26, 2013-the day she confirmed her resignation in writing-Featherstone was released from the hospital and transferred to a Kaiser mental health facility, which released her later that same day.

         IV. Featherstone's Request to Rescind Her Resignation

         On or about December 31, 2013, Featherstone informed Eva Suarez (Suarez) in SCPMG's HR department that at the time of her resignation she was suffering from an adverse drug reaction and, as a result, requested that SCPMG allow her to rescind her resignation. Suarez told Featherstone to send her any documents that she wanted Suarez to review in connection with her rescission request.

         On January 14, 2014, Featherstone sent an email to Suarez describing the events pertaining to her resignation. According to Featherstone, prior to her resignation she was taking Phenergan with codeine for a cough and that medication “caused her to do abnormal things.” Her behavior became so abnormal that she was hospitalized for 72 hours.[3] Featherstone further stated that she was told by a doctor on December 25, 2013, that she had “PCP and cocaine in her system that caused [her] to behave so wildly due to the Phenergan with codeine.” Attached to her email was a note from Dr. An Hong Tran dated January 3, 2013, which seemingly both confirmed and contradicted Featherstone's email. Dr. Tran confirmed that Featherstone had been hospitalized “due to a behavioral change that resulted from an adverse reaction from medication phenergan with codeine.” Dr. Tran, however, also stated that “[o]n confirmatory test, [Featherstone] does not have any PCP or cocaine.”

         After considering the email supporting Featherstone's rescission request and consulting with SCPMG's legal counsel, Suarez determined that there was nothing improper about SCPMG's acceptance of Featherstone's resignation on December 23, 2013 and that there were no facts requiring SCPMG to allow Featherstone to rescind her resignation. On January 21, 2014, Suarez notified Featherstone that SCPMG would not accede to her request.

         At no point following her resignation did Featherstone reapply for her prior position with SCPMG.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         We review an order granting summary judgment de novo, “considering all the evidence set forth in the moving and opposition papers except that to which objections have been made and sustained.” (Gu ...


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