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Duffy v. Facebook, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 4, 2017

ROBERT BARON DUFFY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FACEBOOK, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER RE: MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE RE: DKT. NO. 26

          JACQUELINE SCOTT CORLEY United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Robert Louis Gary brings this civil rights action against his employer, Facebook, Inc., and Facebook managers Wayne Hawkins and James Swenson alleging race discrimination. Gary worked as an engineer at Facebook's Data Center Facility in Forest City, North Carolina. The gravamen of the complaint is that Defendants have intentionally discriminated against him by denying him promotions on the basis of race, denying him pay equal to similarly situated white employees, harassing him and allowing a work environment hostile to African Americans at the North Carolina Data Center. (Dkt. No. 1.[1]) Now pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to transfer this action to the Western District of North Carolina pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).[2](Dkt. No. 26.) Having considered the parties' submissions, and having had the benefit of oral argument on May 4, 2017, the Court GRANTS the motion to transfer.[3]

         BACKGROUND

         Facebook has its principle place of business in Menlo Park, California. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 10.) Beginning in 2012, Facebook built and operated a Data Center Facility in Forest City, North Carolina. (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff is an African-American North Carolina resident who worked on construction of the North Carolina Data Center then was hired as a Facebook employee Facilities Maintenance technician in 2012. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 14-16.) Defendant Hawkins was Plaintiff's manager at the North Carolina Data Center from 2012 to 2014. (Id. ¶ 11, 15, 57; Dkt. No. 26-6 ¶ 2.) Hawkins has, at all relevant times, worked in and resided in North Carolina and continues to reside there. (Dkt. No. 26-6 ¶¶ 2, 4.) Defendant Swenson became Plaintiff's supervisor at the North Carolina Data Center in 2015. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 12, 57.) Swensen primarily resides in Texas and Utah. (Dkt. No. 26-4 ¶ 3.)

         Plaintiff alleges that throughout his employment at Facebook, he has been denied promotions on the basis of race, denied pay equal to similarly situated white employees, harassed and retaliated against by his supervisors, and otherwise denied equal terms and conditions of employment on the basis of race, and that Defendants have “allow[ed] a work environment hostile to African-Americans to fester at the [North Carolina Data Center.]” (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 81.) The peers that received promotions, raises, or higher salaries all worked at the North Carolina Data Center, and most reside there or just across the border in South Carolina. (Id. ¶¶ 22-28; Dkt. No. 26-6 ¶¶ 5, 7; Dkt. No. 26-5 ¶ 7.) Plaintiff does not expressly allege who had decision-making authority for employee pay or promotions, but it appears to be Plaintiff's direct managers in the North Carolina Data Center, like Hawkins. (See, e.g., Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 33.) According to Plaintiff, a number of his co-workers at the North Carolina Data Center overheard comments regarding race in the workplace or have knowledge about the pay rates of employees who are similarly situated to Plaintiff (See Dkt. No. 26-2 at 3-4), and those individuals are North Carolina residents. (See Dkt. No. 26-6 ¶ 5.) Former plaintiff Duffy, another witness to the discrimination, resided in North Carolina during the time of the discrimination but has since relocated to Reno, Nevada. (Dkt. No. 26-2 at 3; Dkt. No. 28 at 9.)

         Plaintiff initially reported the discrimination to his manager, Matt Hamrick, who was and remains a North Carolina resident. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 31; Dkt. No. 26-5 ¶ 7.) Plaintiff also complained about his pay to Facebook global manager James Faccone (Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 31-34); while Plaintiff stated in his initial disclosures that Faccone worked out of Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters, (Dkt. No. 26-2 at 5), according to Facebook Faccone is a North Carolina resident. (Dkt. No. 26-5 ¶ 7.)

         After his complaints “were not resolved locally, ” Plaintiff complained to Facebook Human Resources in Menlo Park. (Dkt. No. 28-1 ¶ 9; Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 34.) He corresponded with a Menlo Park-based Facebook Human Resources employee who informed him that the company's investigation had found no discrimination. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 35; Dkt. No. 28-1 ¶¶ 12-14, 16.) In the summer of 2015, Plaintiff again contacted Facebook Human Resources in Menlo Park to report discrimination and filed an EEOC charge of race discrimination. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 46-47; Dkt. No. 28-1 ¶ 18.) Shortly thereafter, Facebook Human Resources employees from Menlo Park visited the North Carolina Data Center to investigate Plaintiff's claims. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 50.) One of the Menlo Park-based employees interviewed Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 28-1 ¶ 27.) According to Plaintiff, “all or most of the decisions affecting [his] complaints of race discrimination have been made by California-based employees of Facebook.” (Dkt. No. 28-1 ¶ 32.)

         Plaintiff filed suit in this District on November 22, 2016. (Dkt. No. 1.) Defendants subsequently filed the pending motion to transfer venue to the Western District of North Carolina pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court has discretion to transfer a case to another district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), which provides: “For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

         In deciding whether to transfer a case pursuant to Section 1404(a), “[t]he transferor court must first determine whether the action might have been brought in the transferee court, and then the court must make an individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.” Ctr. for Biological Diversity & Pac. Env't v. Kempthorne, No. C-07-0894, 2007 WL 2023515, at *3 (N.D. Cal. July 12, 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also i, 211 F.3d 495, 498 (9th Cir. 2000) (same). “The moving party bears the burden of showing that jurisdiction and proper venue would exist in the district to which a transfer is requested.” Wireless Consumers Alliance, Inc. v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., No. C 03-3711 MHP, 2003 WL 22387598, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 14, 2003). To determine convenience and fairness, this District commonly articulates the following relevant factors in a motion to transfer venue:

(1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the convenience of the parties; (3) the convenience of the witnesses; (4) ease of access to evidence; (5) familiarity of each forum with applicable law; (6) feasibility of consolidation of other claims; (7) any local interest in the controversy; and (8) the relative court congestion and time to trial in each forum.

Martin v. Global Tel*Link Corp., No. 15-cv-00449-YGR, 2015 WL 2124379, at *2 (N.D. Cal. May 6, 2015); see also Jones, 211 F.3d at 498-99 (articulating additional factors to consider such as “respective parties' contacts with the forum” and “differences in the costs of litigation in the two forums”). “No single factor is dispositive.” Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Kempthorne, No. C 08-1339 CW, 2008 WL 4543043, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 10, 2008). Instead, “[w]eighing of these factors for and against transfer involves subtle considerations and is best left to the discretion of the trial judge.” Ventress v. Japan Airlines, 486 F.3d 1111, 1118 (9th Cir. 2007). Further, “[t]his list is non-exclusive, and courts may consider other factors, or only those factors which are pertinent to the case at hand.” Global Tel*Link, 2015 WL 2124379, at *2.

         “It is not enough for the defendant to merely show that it prefers another forum, and transfer will also not be allowed if the result is merely to shift the convenience from one party to another.” Lax v. Toyota Motor Corp., 65 F.Supp.3d 772, 776 (N.D. Cal. 2014); see also Catch Curve, Inc. v. Venali, Inc., No. CV 05-04820 DDP, 2006 WL 4568799, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2006) (defendant “must demonstrate that the present forum will result in a clear balance of inconvenience to him or her”). In connection with motions to transfer, courts should only consider undisputed facts supported by affidavits, depositions, stipulations, or other relevant documents. See Midwest Precision Servs., Inc. v. PTM Indus. Corp., 574 F.Supp. 657, 659 (N.D. Ill. 1983). Vague generalizations or conclusory declarations are insufficient to meet this burden. See Forte Capital Partners v. Harris Cramer, No. C07-01237 MJJ, 2007 WL 1430052, at *2 (N.D. Cal. May 14, 2007).

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Action Could Have Been Brought in the Western District of North Carolina

         Plaintiffs do not dispute that the case might have been brought in the proposed court. But Defendants bear the burden of showing that jurisdiction and venue would be proper, and the Court cannot assume or consider waiver of jurisdictional issues on a 1404(a) transfer. See Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335, 343-44 (1960) (“[T]he power of a District Court under [Section] 1404(a) to transfer an action to another district is made to depend not upon the wish or waiver of the defendant but, rather, upon whether the transferee district was one in which the action ‘might have been brought' by the plaintiff.”); see also Comm. Lighting Prods., Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Ct., 537 F.2d 1078, 1079 (9th Cir. 1976) (finding “defendants' consent to the transfer is irrelevant”). Instead, the Court may only transfer after determining the transferee court's propriety. See Int'l ...


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