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Stonum v. County of Kern

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 15, 2017

DWAYNE C. STONUM, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF KERN, et al., Defendants.


         This matter came before the court on June 6, 2017, for hearing of defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 29.) Plaintiff Dywane C. Stonum, proceeding pro se, appeared telephonically on his own behalf. Attorney James Brannen appeared telephonically on behalf of defendants County of Kern, Patricia Gable, Tracy Selph, James McClellan, Shannon Oastler, Debbie Spears, and Debra Davis. After oral argument, the motion was taken under submission. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion will be granted.


         On July 26, 2016, plaintiff commenced this action against defendants, alleging employment discrimination claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq. (Doc. No. 1.) On March 20, 2017, this court granted defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's ADEA claims as well as his Title VII claims based on hostile work environment. (Doc. No. 26.) On April 4, 2017, plaintiff filed a notice of intent to proceed on the surviving Title VII claims for race discrimination and retaliation. (Doc. No. 27.)

         In the complaint, plaintiff alleges the following facts. Plaintiff is a California resident who was employed with defendant Kern County in the Department of Human Services (“KDHS”) between April 2013 and January 2014. (Id. at 6, 17.) The individual defendants were also employed by KDHS in supervisorial positions during the relevant time frame.[1]

         On April 1, 2013, plaintiff was hired by KDHS to fill the position of Human Services Technician I, charged with determining new and ongoing eligibility for California public assistance programs. (Id. at 6.) In May 2013, plaintiff was placed at Kern County's Mojave office. (Id.)

         During his employment at the Mojave office, plaintiff was exposed to a discriminatory work environment. (Id. at 11.) Specifically, plaintiff observed “Obama-bashing”; the belittling of the Director of KDHS, a black woman; and co-workers celebrating after rejecting individual and family public assistance requests. (Id.) Plaintiff also observed defendants Gable and Selph, together with Melissa Calliston, operating as a management team that “target[ed] to eliminate anyone who disagree[d] with their unlawful acts of discrimination, and to discourage prospective applicants [for state public assistance].” (Id. at 12.)

         On multiple occasions, defendants disputed plaintiff's handling of public assistance cases. (Id. at 11-17.) In May 2013, plaintiff provided a customer with advice about how to avoid losing her public benefits, and Calliston reacted by reprimanding plaintiff and disparaging his character in front of coworkers. (Id. at 11-12.) Calliston ordered plaintiff to send the customer notice that she owed the county eleven years of over-payments; when plaintiff expressed concerns about this determination, Calliston admitted that the customer did not owe money to the county. (Id.)

         At a later time, plaintiff identified an improper public assistance sanction being imposed on a customer, and instructed the customer regarding how to address the problem. (Id. at 14-15.) Defendants Gable and McClellan then met with plaintiff and reprimanded him, with defendant Gable telling plaintiff to be “very careful.” (Id. at 15.)

         Kern County State Investigation Unit (“SIU”) officials also began to harass plaintiff. (Id. at 16.) The SIU officials expressed dissatisfaction with the number of suspected fraud cases plaintiff was reporting, and told him that he was falling short of the required fraud case quota. (Id.)

         Defendant Gable began instructing coworkers to send adverse letters to customers under plaintiffs name, resulting in a series of complaints being made against plaintiff. (Id. at 17.) Defendant Gable also restricted plaintiffs ability to schedule walk-in appointments with customers, causing him to miss a work deadline. (Id.) In response to the missed deadline, defendant Gable wrote plaintiff a negative performance evaluation. (Id.)

         Meanwhile, plaintiffs white co-worker, Donald Burke, was treated more favorably and given less scrutiny in the workplace. (Id. at 18.) In particular, Burke was given an earlier lunch hour, was assigned a desk that was located closer to supervisors and managers, and was asked by Calliston to j oin a union that plaintiff was never asked to j oin. (Id.)

         On July 25, 2013, plaintiff received a Memo of Concern from defendant Gable threatening plaintiff with disciplinary action and termination. (Id. at 13.) Plaintiff was not provided any additional information by defendant Gable, and was not given an August 2013 performance evaluation report. (Id.) Plaintiff did not receive his employee performance report until December 13, 2013. (Id. at 16.)

         On September 4, 2013, plaintiff made a complaint of racial discrimination to defendant Davis. (Id. at 13.) Plaintiff also submitted a written request for an appointment with KDHS Department Head Tony Lopez to discuss his employee performance report, but plaintiffs request for that appointment was denied without explanation. (Id.)

         In November 2013, plaintiff interviewed for the position of KDHS Social Services Worker, for which he had applied earlier that year. (Id.) The interview panel consisted of defendants Selph, McClellan, and Oastler. (Id.) According to plaintiff, he was denied the position in retaliation for his earlier complaint of racial discrimination. (I ...

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