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Stephens v. County of Sacramento Department of Human Assistance of Northern California Welfare Division

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 5, 2017

REHEMA STEPHENS, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN ASSISTANCE OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA WELFARE DIVISION, Defendant. v.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          EDMUND F. BRENNAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter was before the court on February 22, 2017, for hearing on defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 10) and the court's January 13, 2017 order to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed for plaintiff's failure to timely file a response to defendant's motion, ECF No. 13. Attorney Shanan Hewitt appeared on behalf of defendant; plaintiff appeared pro se. For the reasons explained below, the order to show cause is discharged and it is recommended that defendant's motion to dismiss be granted.[1]

I. Order to Show Cause

         Defendant's motion to dismiss was originally noticed for hearing on January 25, 2017. Pursuant to Local Rule 230(c), plaintiff was required to file an opposition or statement of non-opposition to the motion by January 11, 2017, but failed to do so. Accordingly, the court continued the hearing and ordered plaintiff to, by no later than February 8, 2017, file an opposition or statement of non-opposition to defendant's motion and to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed for her failure to timely file response to the pending motion.

         In response, plaintiff explains that an unspecified family emergency interfered with her ability to timely file an opposition or statement of non-opposition. ECF No. 14. Plaintiff has now filed an opposition to the motion, and in light of her representation, the order to show cause is discharged and no sanctions are imposed.

         II. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

         A. Complaint's Factual Allegations

         The complaint alleges that plaintiff, a black female, was terminated from her employment based on racial discrimination and retaliation for participating in protected activities in violation of Title VII.

         Plaintiff previously worked for the County of Sacramento, Department of Human Assistance, as a Human Services Specialist. Id. ¶¶ 4, 7. In March 2014, after approximately three months of employment, plaintiff received her first performance evaluation, which indicated that she “meets standards.” Id. ¶¶ 7, 8. Shortly after that review, plaintiff's supervisor provided “some unsolicited advice” regarding plaintiff's intention to take the African American Cultural Specials Skills Exam. Id. ¶ 4. The supervisor allegedly warned plaintiff to “do her due diligence by consulting other Special Skills employees before taking the exam . . . because that particular demographic can be difficult (referring to African Americans).” Id.

         Plaintiff subsequently met with the program director to discuss the supervisor's comments. Id. ¶ 10. The program director allegedly wrote plaintiff “off as a trouble maker with a bad attitude who would not accept supervision.” Id. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff met with the Bowling Green Program Manager and a union representative. Id. ¶ 12. At the meeting she expressed her concern that her supervisor's comments were racially motivated and requested reassignment to a new supervisor. Id. That request was denied.

         On May 23, 2014, plaintiff's employment was terminated. Id. ¶ 23. The primary basis for the decision was plaintiff's “continued pattern of poor behavior and unprofessional attitude when dealing with others.” Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff claims, however, that her termination was motivated by racial discrimination and retaliation for participating in protected activities. Id. at 8-11. Her requested relief includes, among other things, general damages in the sum of $2.5 million and punitive damages. Id. at 12.

         B. Discussion

         Defendant does not seek dismissal of any specific claim. Instead, defendant moves to dismiss from the action the complaint's request for $2.5 million in general damages and punitive damages. ECF No. 10 at 4. Defendant argues that punitive damages are not available against a government entity, and that plaintiff's request for general damages exceeds the statutory cap imposed by Title VII.[2] Id. at 4.

         As argued by defendant, Title VII prohibits an award of punitive damages against a government agency or political subdivision. 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(1). Title VII also limits the amount of compensatory damages[3] a plaintiff may recover based on the size of the employer ///// ///// defendant, with the highest cap set at $300, 000. 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3); see Hemmings v. Tidyman's Inc., ...


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