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Rivera v. American Federation of State

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 17, 2017



          William H. Orrick United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff Ivette Rivera was an employee of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (“EBMUD”), a public entity in Alameda County. During her time as an employee with EBMUD, Defendant Local 444 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (“Local 444”) was her exclusive bargaining representative. She previously filed a pro se lawsuit in this district against EBMUD, Local 444, and a number of individuals alleging that EBMUD's refusal to reclassify her as a supervisor was tantamount to discrimination on the basis of her sex; as a result, she was underpaid and then retaliated against for protesting that alleged discrimination and unequal pay. In that action, her claims against Local 444, brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), were dismissed with prejudice. She now brings the same claims, based upon the same facts, against the same party. Because this action is prohibited under the doctrine of claim splitting, Local 444's motion is GRANTED. Rivera's complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND. But because her complaint was not brought in bad faith, she need not be imposed the extreme penalty of sanctions.



         In 2015, Rivera brought a pro se action in the Northern District of California against her former employer, East Bay Municipal Utility District (“EBMUD”), Local 444 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (“Local 444”), and a number of individual defendants. See 2015 First Am. Compl. (“2015 FAC”)(Def.'s Request for Judicial Notice, ¶ 1, Ex. A, Dkt. No. 27-1).[1] She alleged that she complained to the EBMUD Board repeatedly about her improper categorization as a non-supervisor, 2015 FAC ¶ 45, that EBMUD and Local 444 prevented her from joining the supervisors' union, Local 21, Id. ¶ 100, that EBMUD informed her that she would have to make any complaints through her union, Local 444, Id. ¶ 58, and that when she filed complaints with EBMUD anyway, they retaliated against her by declining to process her complaints. Id. ¶ 101. On the basis of these facts, she asserted claims against Local 444 for employment discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and for violation of the Equal Pay Act. Id. ¶¶ 99-101.

         The EBMUD defendants and the Union defendants separately moved to dismiss Rivera's complaint. See Rivera v. E. Bay Mun. Util. Dist., No. C 15-00380 SBA, 2015 WL 6954988, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 10, 2015)(“Prior Order”). On November 10, 2015, the Honorable Saundra Brown Armstrong dismissed all of Rivera's claims against each of the defendants. Prior Order at *1. Judge Armstrong granted leave to amend only as to EBMUD. Id. at *8-9. On November 11, 2015, David Poore entered a notice of appearance as counsel for Rivera. Dkt. No. 27-3. Until this point, Rivera had represented herself. See 2015 FAC at 28 (filed by “Ivette Rivera, Pro Se Plaintiff”). Poore represents Rivera in the present action as well.


         Rivera filed this action on August 29, 2016, alleging the same claims stemming from the same set of facts, against Local 444. Compare Compl. (Dkt. No. 1), with 2015 FAC (Dkt. No. 27-1). According to Rivera, EBMUD hired her on January 24, 2005, to be a “Gardener Foreman.” Compl. ¶ 7. This entailed supervising and managing a large portion of the gardening and grounds maintenance staff in the West Division of EBMUD. Id. In December 2013, she spoke to the EBMUD Board about “her concerns of discrimination and unequal pay for females in the workplace.” Id. ¶ 8. Specifically, she complained that she had been misclassified as a non-supervisory employee and was not paid the same as men who performed similar functions. Id. ¶ 9. She asked that she and similar employees be properly classified and allowed to join Local 21, the supervisors' union. Id. Rivera informed the Board that when men had previously held “foreman” positions they were classified as supervisors at the request of Local 444 and moved to Local 21. Id. She also informed Local 444 of these concerns. Id.

         Subsequently, Local 444 and EBMUD changed the internal complaint process to require employees to file all equal employment opportunity complaints through Local 444. Id. ¶ 10. After that change, Rivera reiterated her concerns to the EBMUD Board on January 14 and January 28, 2014. Id. ¶ 12. On January 28, 2014, EBMUD Director Frank Mellon told Rivera that EBMUD would not investigate or process her complaints on the basis that such matters were “owned” by Local 444. Id. ¶ 13. Rivera nonetheless filed a discrimination and unequal pay complaint with the Board. Id. EBMUD “took the position that they were going to … strip Plaintiff of her supervisory duties.” Id. Rivera alleges that Local 444 refused to issue any complaints or grievances to EDMUD, refused to properly classify her as a supervisor, interfered with her rights under Title VII, and failed to transfer her to the supervisor's union, Local 21. Id. ¶ 14. On the basis of these allegations, Rivera brings claims for gender discrimination, id. ¶¶ 16-21, and retaliation, id. ¶¶ 22-27, under Title VII, and for negotiation of unequal wages under the Equal Pay Act, id. ¶¶ 28-31.


         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). “Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory.” Mendiondo v. Centinela Hosp. Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d 1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2008). While a complaint “need not contain detailed factual allegations” to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “it must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1067-68 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A claim is facially plausible when it “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). In considering whether a claim satisfies this standard, the court must “accept factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008). However, “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.” Cousins, 568 F.3d at 1067 (internal quotation marks omitted).


         Rivera's prior suit was based on the same set of facts, and included the same claims against the same defendant. In that action, her Title VII and EPA claims were dismissed without leave to amend as to Local 444. Prior Order at *8-9. The court also determined that the claims against Local 444 were “objectively baseless.” Id. at *10. Rivera brings the same claims here.

         Local 444 now moves to dismiss Rivera's current action with prejudice on the basis that she has impermissibly split her claims. Mot. to Dismiss (“MTD”)(Dkt. No. 25). It also seeks sanctions under Rule 11, 28 U.S.C. §1927, and the court's inherent powers because the current action is “an unreasonable multiplication of proceedings.” MTD at 11; see also Mot. for Sanctions (Dkt. No. 29); Mot. for Sanctions Under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 (Dkt. No. 41).

         I. ...

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