United States District Court, C.D. California
HONORABLE STEPHEN V. WILSON, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
JUDGMENT ON THE VERDICT FOR DEFENDANT
action having been tried before the Court sitting with a
jury, the Honorable Stephen V. Wilson District
Judge, presiding; the issues having been duly tried and the
jury having duly rendered its verdict.
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the plaintiff(s):
Veloz take from the Defendant Sears, Roebuck and Co.
with the Court's attached Order. Judgment on the verdict
is entered for the Defendant on the first, second, third,
fourth, eighth, ninth, and tenth causes of action. Judgment
as a matter of law is entered for the Defendant on the fifth
and sixth causes of action. Judgment as a matter of law is
entered for the Plaintiff on the seventh cause of action.
costs, and fees shall be determined by a later stipulation or
IN CHAMBERS ORDER ALLOWING JUDGMENT ON THE VERDICT AND
DIRECTING THE ENTRY OF JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW .
Daniel Veloz ("Plaintiff) brought this action against
Defendant Sears, Roebuck and Co. ("Defendant" or
"Sears"), for various causes of action related to
Ins termination The Plaintiff worked at Sears as a Loss
Prevention Associate, where his job was to address loss
prevention issues, such as apprehending shoplifting suspects.
While on duty, the Plaintiff was injured when a shoplifting
suspect stabbed him outside of the store when the Plaintiff
ran outside. The Plaintiff then went on disability leave
while healing from the stab wounds. The Plaintiff returned to
work but was terminated by Sears shortly thereafter. The
Plaintiff contended that he was terminated as the result of
his disability or his medical leave, while Sears maintained
that he was fired for violating its policy regarding the
apprehension of shoplifters.
the Court denied Defendant's summary judgment motions,
this case proceeded to a jury trial on June 27, 2017. Dkt.
120. After the conclusion of the evidence and the closing
arguments by the parties, both parties orally submitted
motions for judgment as a matter of law." The Court did not
giant either motion and the action was submitted to the jury.
The jury was given seven questions to answer on the case,
allowing the jury to find for either the Plaintiff or the
Defendant on the relevant causes of action. Dkt. 127. On June
29, 2017. the jury returned a verdict for the Defendant on
the fast six questions and a verdict for the Plaintiff on the
on the answers of the jury and the legal analysis contained
in this Order, the Court now ALLOWS judgment on the verdict
for the Defendant on the first, second, thud, fourth, eighth,
ninth, and tenth causes of action: DIRECTS the entry of
judgment as a matter of law for the Defendant on the fifth
and sixth causes of action, which is the intentional
infliction of emotional distress claim: and DIRECTS the entry
of judgment as a matter of law for the Plaintiff on the
seventh cause of action for failure to provide employment
records on request.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
facts of this case are fairly straightforward and for the
most part are undisputed by the parties. The central dispute
of this action was whether the true motivation for the
Defendant's termination of the Plaintiff was unlawful
discrimination on the basis of his disability or medical
leave, or whether the true motivation was the Plaintiffs
violation of a store policy. The factual disputes in this
case have now been resolved by the jury and its verdict.
Therefore, the Court includes a summary of the facts of this
case and the areas of dispute for convenience's sake.
The Plaintiff and His Training
for the Defendant as a Loss Prevention Associate at a store
located in Pasadena, California. He began his employment on
May 2, 2014, at which time he acknowledged his receipt of the
Sears Employee Handbook. The acknowledgement provides,
"I understand and agree to abide by and be bound by the
rules, policies, and standards set forth in the Handbook and
Company policy." As part of his employment, the
Plaintiff received training on how to perform his job duties.
This training included learning about Sears'
anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies, as well as
safety training specifically designed for Loss Prevention
Associates. The Plaintiff performed a series of online
trainings as well as on-the-job trainings. He learned how to
detect and apprehend shoplifters. He learned how to keep a
safe distance when observing a suspect. Importantly, he
learned that he should never chase a shoplifting subject and
that he could not attempt to apprehend a suspect past the
store's boundaries, which he believed to be the sidewalk
outside of the store. In other words, the Plaintiff
understood from his training that if a suspect passed the
established boundaries of the store, he was supposed to
discontinue the apprehension of the shoplifter. These
policies were put in place by Sears in order to ensure that
safety came first.
The Incident Involving the Shoplifter and Plaintiffs
April 20, 2017, Plaintiff was stabbed by a shoplifter. That
evening, he was monitoring the interior of the store through
the video camera feed when he was alerted to the presence of
a possible shoplifter. The Plaintiff alerted his co-worker
and fellow Loss Prevention Associate, Erick Villanueva, that
Plaintiff had noticed a suspicious man in the store.
Villanueva then observed the suspect in person while the
Plaintiff continued to observe the suspect from the
surveillance monitors. The Plaintiff told Villanueva that he
had seen the suspect take two drills from a display.
suspect then exited the store without paying for the drills.
Villanueva followed the suspect. The Plaintiff then ran out
of the Merchandise Pick Up doors, although he admitted that
he knew that Villanueva was supposed to apprehend the
suspect. The Plaintiff then encountered the suspect
and identified himself as a Sears Loss Prevention Associate,
telling the suspect to come back to the Sears offices with
him. Instead, the suspect stabbed the Plaintiff in his left
and right arm using a knife, injuring the Plaintiff
significantly. The Plaintiff was taken to a hospital and
treated for his injury. The Plaintiff informed Sears in a
written statement that he had been stabbed on Sears Way,
beyond the sidewalk outside of the store.
The Plaintiffs Subsequent Medical Leave and
the Plaintiffs injury, the Defendant gave him a leave of
absence from April 21, 2015, until he returned to work on May
19, 2015. During his leave, the Plaintiff was in
communication with Sears' Workers' Compensation
carrier, Sedgwick. On May 15, 2015, the Plaintiffs doctor
indicated that the Plaintiff could return to work with
certain restrictions. The Plaintiff never contacted
Sears' Centralized Leave Management Team to request
additional leave beyond what he was granted. He also did not
contact anybody at the Sears Human Resources department to
request additional leave, and did not submit any paperwork
asking for a further leave of absence. However, he does
contend that he told Sedgwick that he was not ready to return
to work and requested a further leave of absence from them.
the April 20 incident, an employee at the store notified Jeff
Young, an employee of Sears responsible for investigating
these types of matters, about the incident and the nature of
the Plaintiff s injury. On April 21, 2015, Yoimg visited the
Pasadena location to review the surveillance video and spoke
with Villanueva about the incident. Villanueva also provided
a witness statement. Villanueva stated that he began running
in the direction of the suspect, but when the suspect ran
into the parking lot, he fumed around and went back to
recover the merchandise. That Villanueva retrieved the drills
was confirmed via the surveillance video. As a result of his
investigation. Young concluded that the Plaintiff had not
used good judgment when he left the boundaries of the store
and confronted the suspect.
19, 2017, the Plaintiff returned to work with restrictions.
The restrictions listed by the Plaintiffs doctor included: no
lifting or carrying, no pushing or pulling, no climbing, no
crawling, no reaching above shoulder, no reaching outward, no
handling/fingering, and no driving. The restrictions allowed
the Plaintiff to bend, squat/kneel, twist/rum, stand, walk,
or sit frequently. The Defendant contended dining trial that
the Plaintiff never communicated to anyone at Sears that his
restrictions were not being respected. The Defendant also
contended that the Plaintiff never was forced to participate
in restricted activities. However, the Plaintiff again
contended that he informed the Defendant's agent,
Sedgwick, that he was not yet ready to return to work due to
his disability and that he needed additional leave. He also
contended that he never received the modified duties that
were promised to his doctor. Instead, he returned to his
normal duties, which required him to hold, carry, and lift
objects in addition to performing apprehensions, which caused
him discomfort and pain. He testified during trial that he
spent time in the video room after his return to work, but
that he was also asked to perform activities that cause him
pain and should have been restricted by the doctor's
the Plaintiff returned to work, he provided three statements
regarding the incident. These statements largely confirm the
preceding version of events, including that the Plaintiff was
stabbed on the street beyond the store's sidewalk. The
Plaintiff confirmed that he understood Sears'
Apprehension Policy, including that stops should not be made
outside of the store's boundary.
together with Human Resources and Tess Viall, the Store
Manager, determined that the Plaintiff should be terminated.
The reason given for the termination was that the Plaintiff
violated the store's policy prohibiting Loss Prevention
personnel from pursuing suspects beyond a store's
boundary. On June 5, 2017, the Plaintiff was informed by
Viall that he was being terminated for violating Sears'
policies, although the Plaintiff did not recall if he was
told that he had specifically violated the boundary policy.
Plaintiff disputed during trial that he was terminated
because he violated the boundary policy. In fact, he
maintained during trial that he did not actually violate the
boundary policy, which only forbids store personnel from
leaving the boundary in order to apprehend a shoplifter. The
Plaintiff repeatedly emphasized to the jury that he left the
store when he lost contact with his partner, Villanueva, and
therefore sought to check on his partner's safety. Then,
while trying to ascertain his partner's whereabouts, he
was run over by the fleeing shoplifter and eventually
stabbed. Therefore. Plaintiffs counsel argued during trial
that a violation of the boundary policy could not have been
the reason for his termination because he never in fact
violated the policy. Plaintiffs counsel also emphasized that
Villanueva was not terminated as a result of the incident
even though he also violated several of the Defendant's
policies, including the boundary policy.
Plaintiff also contended that Young acted improperly during
the course of his investigation. He argued that Young
concluded that Plaintiff had exercised bad judgment and
violated the boundary policy only after he had heard that the
Plaintiff had required surgery but before actually speaking
with the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff also contended that Young
directed Sears employees to interfere with the Plaintiffs
medical leave and rash him back to work. This plan included
contacting the Plaintiffs doctor directly, a violation of
Sears policy, and persuading the Plaintiffs doctor to allow