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Parker v. Comcast Cable Communications Management, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 25, 2017

DANIELLE PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMCAST CABLE COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          THELTON E. HENDERSON United States District Judge.

         This matter came before this Court on May 22, 2017 for a hearing on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. After carefully considered the parties' written and oral arguments, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment for the reasons set forth below.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Danielle Parker (“Plaintiff” or “Parker”) was a nine-year employee at Defendant Comcast (“Defendant” or “Comcast”) when she was terminated on May 20, 2013. Ex. 3 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Mot.”) (ECF No. 50-5). She worked as a Sales Ops Consultant (formerly customer service representative) at various Comcast stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. Parker Dep. at 27:8-28:4 (Ex. A to Mot. (ECF No. 50-2)). Christine Jackai-Holloman (“Jackai”) was Parker's direct supervisor. Parker and Jackai had a close working relationship and friendship: Parker testified at her deposition that Jackai was “like a mother” to her. Parker Dep. at 122:11-24 (ECF No. 50-2).

         In the five months leading up to Parker's termination, Parker struggled with personal issues and had trouble keeping up with her work schedule. Jackai Dep. at 51:11-53:14 (Ex. B to Mot. (ECF No. 50-3)). Parker had to take care of her sick son, had ongoing problems with her boyfriend and with her son's father, and had to have her car repossessed. Id. at 55:16-56:1. Jackai testified she “identified with [Parker] at the point of the struggles of a single parent having to worry about childcare” and “tried to work with her.” Id. at 59:3-60:15, 53:3-56:1. Parker told Jackai that she was under a lot of stress, and Jackai noticed that Parker was indeed “very upset all the time” at work during the month of April 2013. Id. at 101:21, 136:7-137:20. Jackai claimed that she often chose to be lenient and not report Parker's absences. Id. at 62:14-63:21.

         Parker did not show up for work for four consecutive scheduled workdays-April 30, May 2, May 3 and May 4, 2013. Ex. 3 to Mot. (ECF No. 50-5). Under Comcast's attendance policy, three or more consecutive days of no call/no show absences constitute voluntary termination. Exs. 5, 6 to Mot. (ECF No. 50-5). As a long-time Comcast employee, Parker was aware of the policy. Parker Dep. at 29:24-30:10 (ECF No. 50-2). Parker claims that on April 30, 2013 she called Jackai to ask if she could take the week off because she was being evicted and needed to move out of her apartment. Id. at 30:20-34:20. According to Parker, Jackai responded “Okay” but did not say anything else during the call. Id. at 34:25-35:9. Jackai denies speaking to Parker on April 30 or approving her absences. Jackai Dep. at 44:19-45:1 (ECF No. 50-3). To the contrary, Jackai noted in the termination paperwork that she tried to contact Parker during the days she was absent but could not reach her. Ex. 3 to Mot. (ECF No. 50-5). On May 6 or May 7, 2013, Jackai submitted Parker's termination paperwork to Comcast Human Resources lead Karen Pierce (“Pierce”). Pierce Dep. at 101:4-25 (Ex. C to Mot. (ECF No. 50-4). The paperwork indicated that Parker had accrued more than three no call/no show days. Ex. 3 to Mot. (ECF No. 50-5). Jackai testified at her deposition that the sole reason why she decided to terminate Parker was because Parker violated Comcast's attendance policy. Jackai Dep. at 83:7-11 (ECF No. 50-3).

         In the late afternoon on May 6, 2013, the day she believed she was supposed to return to work, Parker went to see her primary care doctor, Dr. Hsu. Parker Dep. at 65:12-25 (ECF No. 50-2). Parker informed Dr. Hsu about her “life stressors” and told him that she had been off work for the last four days because she was moving out. Ex. 16 to Mot. at 1 (ECF No. 50-5); Hsu Dep. at 27:2-19 (Ex. D to Mot. (ECF No. 50-4)). Dr. Hsu gave her a note excusing her from work from May 6 to May 13, 2013, but noted that she could return to work at full capacity the following week. Id. at 30:10-32:3; Ex. 7 to Mot. (50-5). Parker claims that after her doctor's appointment on May 6, she went to Comcast's Richmond store to give her doctor's note to Jackai; because Jackai was not there, she left the note with Sherice Elliott, who was an assistant store manager at Comcast's Concord store and did not work in Richmond. Parker Dep. at 50:2-53:12 (ECF No. 50-2). It is undisputed that Parker never gave the note to Jackai. Jackai denies having any knowledge of the note. Jackai Dep. at 96:25-98:18 (ECF No. 50-3).

         On May 8, 2013, Parker self-enrolled in Kaiser's Chemical Dependency Recovery Program (“CDRP”) and was instructed to attend daily treatment for marijuana abuse. Parker Dep. at 101:5-12 (ECF No. 50-2); Ex. 18 to Mot. (ECF No. 50-5). Parker admits she never told Jackai or anyone else at Comcast that she had substance abuse issues or that she needed time off of work to obtain treatment. Parker Dep. at 108:25-110:10, 102:20-103:5 (ECF No. 50-2). Parker testified she told Jackai that she was arrested for a DUI once in April 20, 2013. Parker Dep. at 111:6-25 (ECF No. 50-2).

         Comcast's human resources lead Pierce finalized Parker's termination paperwork on May 20, 2013. Ex. 3 to Mot. (ECF No. 50-5). Pierce admits that between May 7 and May 13, 2013 she became aware of two separate doctor's notes pertaining to Parker: one excusing her absence May 6-13 and another excusing her absence May 8-29. Ex. G to McFadden Decl. (ECF No. 61). Neither note stated a medical reason or excused Plaintiff's earlier no call/no show absences from April 30 to May 4, 2013. On May 13, Pierce emailed Director of Compliance Sarah Stofferahn to confirm that the doctors' notes had no impact on Jackai's recommendation to terminate Plaintiff for her previous unexcused absences. Id. Stofferahn asked if Plaintiff had “indicated that the 4/30, 5/2, 5/3 and 5/4 dates were related to her medical reasons for being off on 5/6 and the subsequent dates.” Id. Pierce responded that she would “triple check[] with the manager.” Id. Pierce testified at her deposition that she believed she confirmed with Jackai that Plaintiff's April 30 to May 4, 2013 absences had nothing to do with a medical reason but she could not specifically recall the conversation. Pierce Dep. at 145:25-147:12 (ECF No. 50-4). Pierce testified that she approved Parker's termination because she had violated Comcast's attendance policy as explained by Jackai. Id. at 149:12-15.

         On May 5, 2015, nearly two years after she was terminated, Parker filed the present lawsuit against Comcast. The case was removed to federal court on December 11, 2015. Notice of Removal (ECF No. 2). Plaintiff raises a single wrongful termination claim and seeks compensatory, general and special damages, as well as punitive damages against Comcast. Complaint (ECF No. 2). On April 17, 2017, Defendant filed the present motion for summary judgment and, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment on punitive damages. Mot. (ECF No. 50). Plaintiff responded (ECF No. 60) and Defendant timely replied (ECF No. 65).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to material facts and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is “genuine” if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. The Court may not weigh the evidence and must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 255. The Court's inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so onesided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52.

         A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for its motion, and of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery responses that “demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the moving party will have the burden of proof at trial, it must “affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party.” Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). However, on an issue for which its opponents will have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party can prevail merely by “pointing out . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden shifts to the opposing party, who must “set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial” to defeat the motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff asserts a single cause of action-a California tort claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. To succeed, Plaintiff must show that she was terminated for a reason that violates a fundamental public policy.[1]Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 27 Cal.3d 167, 176 (1980). In her complaint and discovery responses, Plaintiff asserts three potential bases for wrongful termination: (1) she had a disability, which she identifies as anxiety and severe stress; (2) she was obtaining treatment for substance abuse, which Defendant concedes qualifies as a disability; and (3) she had complained about being shorted on her paychecks. Compl. ΒΆΒΆ ...


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