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Alexis v. Rogers

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 27, 2017

LAURA ALEXIS, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES B. ROGERS, an individual; GLADYS HOLDINGS, LLC, a New York Limited Liability Corporation; BEELAND INTERESTS, INC., a Delaware Corporation; and DOES 1 - 50, inclusive, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES [Doc. No. 111]

          Hon. Cathy Ann Bencivengo United States District Judge.

         On June 16, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for attorneys' fees in the amount of $926, 597.75 on the basis that Plaintiff's claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) were frivolous, unreasonable, and without foundation. [Doc. No. 111.][1]For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 30, 2017, this Court adopted the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Barbara L. Major and granted the Defendants' motion for terminating sanctions against Plaintiff. [Doc. No. 103.] Judgment was entered accordingly. [Doc. No. 106.]

         On June 16, 2017, Defendants' filed this motion for attorneys' fees in the amount of $926, 597.75. [Doc. No. 111.]

         On June 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, as well as a motion for permission to appeal in forma pauperis. [Doc. Nos. 112, 113.] On August 10, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal granted Plaintiff's motion for permission to appeal in forma pauperis. [Doc. No. 119.]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         California Government Code section 12965 provides that, “[i]n civil actions brought under this section, the court, in its discretion, may award to the prevailing party ... reasonable attorney's fees and costs, including expert witness fees.” Cal. Gov't Code § 12965(b); Harris v. City of Santa Monica, 56 Cal.4th 203, 213 (Cal. 2013). Where, as here, the defendant is the prevailing party, the defendant must satisfy the standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 434 U.S. 412, 421 (1978), in order to obtain an award of fees pursuant to section 12965. See Villasenor v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., CV 09-9147 PSG FMOX, 2011 WL 939033, at *1 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 15, 2011). In Christiansburg, the Court stated that “a district court may in its discretion award attorney's fees to a prevailing defendant in a Title VII case upon a finding that the plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad faith.” 434 U.S. at 421.

         III. DISCUSSION

         To be awarded attorneys' fees, Defendants must demonstrate that Plaintiff's claim was “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.” Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 421. For the following reasons, the Court finds that Defendants have failed to do so.

         A. Frivolous, Unreasonable or Unfounded.

         Defendants argue that in October 2016, Plaintiff produced “thousands of damning emails . . . that eviscerated her claims against Defendants.” [Doc. No. 111 at 3.] According to Defendants, these emails conclusively prove that Plaintiff “did not suffer any violent, unwelcome, or nonconsensual contact by Rogers.” [Doc. No. 111 at 7.]

         However, what is absent from Defendants' presentation is any evidence to show there was no sexual relationship between Plaintiff and her alleged employer, Mr. Rogers. While perhaps not couched in these terms, the gravamen of the complaint is one for quid pro quo harassment, which occurs when an economic or job benefit is conditioned on the employee's submission to sexual advances or when the employee suffers a job detriment for refusing to comply. Fisher v. San Pedro Peninsula Hospital, 214 Cal.App.3d 590 (1989); Nichols v. Frank, 42 F.3d 503 (9th Cir. 1994). See also Father Belle Cmty. Ctr. V. New York State Div. of Human Rights on Complaint of King, 221 A.D.2d 44, 50(1996)(“The issue in a quid pro quo case is whether the supervisor has expressly or tacitly linked tangible job benefits to the acceptance or rejection of sexual advances; a quid pro quo claim is made out whether the employee rejects the advances and suffers the consequences or submits to the advances in order to avoid those consequences.”)

         Here, while the email evidence certainly speaks to whether the sexual advances were unwelcome, it does not refute whether there was a sexual relationship between Plaintiff and her alleged employer, Mr. Rogers. Moreover, Defendants acknowledge that Plaintiff's employment was terminated by Mr. Rogers, although Defendants dispute the nature of the employment relationship.[2] Thus, at this ...


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