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Gnanasigamani v. SGS Testcom, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 17, 2017

AMALRAJ GNANASIGAMANI, Plaintiff,
v.
SGS TESTCOM, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

         This case is before the court on plaintiff Amalraj Gnanasigamani's suit against former employer SGS Testcom, Inc., for retaliation and racial discrimination. Defendant moves for summary judgment. At hearing on defendant's motion, Richard Gray and Britney Torres appeared for defendant and Vicki Cody appeared for plaintiff. ECF No. 42. As explained below, the court GRANTS defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed the original complaint against SGS Testcom on June 24, 2015 and the operative First Amended Complaint on June 10, 2016. ECF Nos. 1, 19. The operative first amended complaint presents four claims: (1) retaliatory termination in violation of California Labor Code section 1102.5; (2) retaliatory termination in violation of California's False Claims Act, California Government Code section 12650, et seq.; (3) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; and (4) unlawful racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See generally ECF No. 19. On December 30, 2016, defendant moved for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims. Mot., ECF No. 27.[1] Plaintiff opposed. Opp'n, ECF No. 28. Defendant replied. Reply, ECF No. 30.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         SGS Testcom (SGS) is a national company with an office in Rancho Cordova, California. Christopher Marlow Decl. (Marlow Decl.) ¶ 2, ECF No. 27-6.[2] The Rancho Cordova office is responsible for providing information technology (IT) and help desk support to the California Bureau of Automotive Repair's (BAR) smog check program. Id. The program implements an initiative through which BAR records vehicle smog checks conducted in California. Id. ¶ 5. Smog check facilities throughout the state obtain certificates from the BAR, complete the checks, and report them back to the BAR. Id.

         A. Plaintiff's Employment and Smog Program

         Plaintiff began working at the Rancho Cordova office in 2005 as a contractor, became an ETL developer[3] in 2007, and then a database administrator in 2009 until he was terminated in 2014. UMF No. 2. As a database administrator, plaintiff was responsible for maintaining the IT system used to assess the smog check certificates, as well as continually monitoring and updating the IT system. Marlow Decl. ¶ 5. While a database administrator, plaintiff's supervisor was IT Operations Manager Christopher Marlow. UMF No. 3. Marlow's supervisor was Program Manager Michael Earl. UMF No. 4.

         In 2014, SGS began implementing a new software program to provide assistance to the BAR smog program. UMF No. 6. The new software system, referred to as “CalVis, ” allowed new smog check stations to be added to the SGS IT system database on a continual basis. Marlow Decl. ¶¶ 11, 12.

         B. Plaintiff's Termination

         Defendant contends from May to August 2014 plaintiff engaged in a series of actions warranting termination. On May 29, Michael Earl gave plaintiff a written warning for failing to address IT configuration errors over a weekend while plaintiff was an on-call database administrator. Pl.'s Dep. at 105:7-106:4. Plaintiff argues he could not address the configuration errors because he was addressing a parallel IT issue that same weekend. ECF No. 30-1 at 3. Plaintiff cites to no portion of the record establishing this disputed fact. In any event, plaintiff does not dispute he received the warning from Earl, and the court treats this fact as undisputed. See Huynh v. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., No. 06-0001, 2008 WL 2789532, at *15 (D. Ariz. July 17, 2008) (construing defendant's material fact as undisputed when plaintiff did not cite to record in support of a dispute).

         Slightly more than two months later, on August 7, Chris Marlow asked plaintiff to restore SGS data that had been corrupted. Pl.'s Depo. at 134:10-139:1.[4] Marlow requested plaintiff find the corrupted data as soon as possible to avoid further corruption. Id. Plaintiff attempted to find the corrupted data, but he did so during a non-maintenance window, a time period when SGS handles a high volume of smog-reporting activity sent in from facilities throughout California. Id.; Marlow Decl. ¶ 8. Defendant contends plaintiff's conduct in this respect violated company policy and placed a “significant burden on the [CalVis] system, ” which led to an outage for five to ten minutes during peak hours. Marlow Decl. ¶ 14. Defendant points to evidence suggesting this outage hurt their reputation with the BAR. Id.

         On August 12, plaintiff made IT configuration adjustments, and he did so again during a non-maintenance window. Pl.'s Dep. at 144:22-159:7. Defendant contends plaintiff's conduct caused another system outage, which lasted thirty minutes during peak hours. Marlow Decl. ¶ 15.

         Regarding the August 7 system crash, plaintiff disputes the scope of his contribution to the system outage. He points to his own deposition testimony suggesting any changes to the system could be, and often were, done at various times throughout the day with minimal impact. Pl.'s Dep. at 134:10-24. Plaintiff also points to evidence suggesting the outage occurred because the CalVis developer added two million rows of data to the system without notifying the plaintiff. PUMF No. 6; Pl's. Dep. at 147:14-18. Nothing in the record shows plaintiff received a warning for this conduct.

         Regarding the August 12 system crash, plaintiff also disputes the scope of his contribution to the outage. He points again to his own deposition testimony suggesting the outage occurred after Michael Earl added thousands of smog check stations to the CalVis system without advance warning, which strained the efficiency of the program. Pl.'s Dep. at 139:1-25. And again, nothing in the record shows plaintiff received a warning for this conduct.

         On August 12, 2014, after the system crash on that date, defendant terminated plaintiff's employment. Marlow Decl. ¶ 16. In a video conference with plaintiff, as plaintiff explains, Marlow told him BAR had concluded plaintiff did not know how to “manage [his] own application, ” which prompted his termination. Pl.'s Dep. at 132:21-25, 159:20-23; see also Marlow Decl. ¶ 17. Michael Earl participated in and concurred with the termination decision. UMF No. 10.

         C. Plaintiff's Evidence of Discrimination

         Plaintiff contends he was terminated under racially discriminatory circumstances. To support his contention, plaintiff first points to his own deposition testimony explaining SGS's three-warning then termination policy. Specifically, SGS had a practice of giving three warnings and terminating employment after seeing no improvement. Pl.'s Dep. at 221:14-18. Plaintiff was terminated after one warning. Id. On the other hand, plaintiff says a Caucasian co-worker continued to work at SGS despite three warnings. Id. at 221:1-223:4.

         Defendant also points to plaintiff's deposition testimony, noting plaintiff's concession that SGS's termination policy included flexible disciplinary measures that are discretionary with management, and thereby not as rigid as plaintiff otherwise contends. Id. at 267:10-268:23. Defendant also notes plaintiff conceded he had no first-hand knowledge of the warnings his Caucasian co-worker purportedly received. Id. at 221:8-225:17.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A court will grant summary judgment “if . . . there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The “threshold inquiry” is whether “there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the district court “that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, which “must establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact . . . .” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585 (1986). In carrying their burdens, both parties must “cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record . . .; or show [] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 (“[the nonmoving party] must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”). Moreover, “the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact . . . . Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court draws all inferences and views all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587-88; Whitman v. Mineta, 541 F.3d 929, 931 (9th Cir. 2008). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Ma ...


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