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Ruiz v. Paradigmworks Group, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

February 22, 2018

CORINNA RUIZ, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motions for summary judgment. The motions have been fully briefed, and the Court deems them suitable for submission without oral argument. For the following reasons, the motions are granted.

         I. Background

         Defendant Paradigmworks Group, Inc. (“PGI”), provided outreach admission services pursuant to a subcontract with Defendant Cornerstone Solutions, Inc. (“Cornerstone”) in San Diego, California. PGI first hired Plaintiff Corinna Ruiz as an outreach and admissions counselor at its El Centro, California, office in October 2009. [Doc. No. 37-3 at 19.] Her job duties included recruiting, interviewing, and processing prospective employees, providing customer service and answering phone calls and emails, and working with agencies and schools. [Id. at 23-24.] On October 31, 2014, PGI relocated Ruiz to an office in San Diego after the El Centro office closed. [Id. at 70.] PGI's subcontract with Cornerstone required PGI to have five admissions counselors performing the scope of work of the subcontract, with acceptable staff vacancy periods not to exceed thirty days. [Doc. No. 47-1 at 7.]

         On November 11, 2015, Ruiz fell and broke her ankle. [Doc. No. 40-2 at ¶¶ 2-3.] Following the fall, Ruiz's doctor faxed a note to PGI stating that Ruiz was temporarily totally disabled from November 16 to 20, 2015. [Id. at ¶ 3; Doc. No. 37-3 at 99.] On November 20, 2015, Ruiz's doctor provided another note to PGI stating that Ruiz would be temporarily totally disabled through February 22, 2016. [Doc. No. 40-2 at ¶ 4; Doc. No. 37-3 at 101.] On November 23, 2015, Ruiz underwent surgery on her ankle. [Doc. No. 40-2 at ¶ 4.] Based on these notes from her doctor, PGI provided Ruiz with unpaid leave through February 22, 2016. [Doc. No. 40-8 at 2.] While Ruiz was on leave, Ruiz could not perform any essential functions of her job. [Doc. No. 37-3 at 30.] Meanwhile, Ruiz received disability benefits from state of California from November 21, 2015 through September 23, 2016. [Doc. No. 37-3 at 18, 48.]

         On February 18, 2016, Ruiz's doctor provided a new note stating that she would be temporarily totally disabled through April 1, 2016. [Doc. No. 37-3 at 114.] On February 29, 2016, PGI terminated Ruiz's employment. [Doc. No. 37-3 at 116.] PGI's president, however, invited Ruiz to apply for any positions that became available when she was able to work again. [Doc. No. 37-3 at 83-84, 90-91.] A position with PGI subsequently became available, but Ruiz did not apply. [Doc. No. 37-3 at 92.]

         II. Legal Standard

         The familiar summary judgment standard applies here. A party is entitled to summary judgment “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. To avoid summary judgment, disputes must be both 1) material, meaning concerning facts that are relevant and necessary and that might affect the outcome of the action under governing law, and 2) genuine, meaning the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Cline v. Indus. Maint. Eng'g & Contracting Co., 200 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

         Typically, the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact falls on the moving party. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-323. If the moving party can demonstrate that its opponent has not made a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case, the burden shifts to the opposing party to set forth facts showing that a genuine issue of disputed fact remains. Id. at 324. When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must view all inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, “[t]he district court need not examine the entire file for evidence establishing a genuine issue of fact, where the evidence is not set forth in the opposing papers with adequate references so that it could conveniently be found.” Carmen v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001).

         Here, however, Ruiz's employers (or alleged employers) are moving for summary judgment meaning:

“the burden is reversed . . . because the defendant who seeks summary judgment bears the initial burden.” Dep't of Fair Emp't & Hous. v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 642 F.3d 728, 745 (9th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). “Thus, [t]o prevail on summary judgment, [the employer is] required to show either that (1) plaintiff could not establish one of the elements of [the] FEHA claim or (2) there was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision to terminate plaintiff's employment.” Id. (quotation omitted) (alterations in original). If the employer meets its burden, the discharged employee must demonstrate either “that the defendant's showing was in fact insufficient or ... that there was a triable issue of fact material to the defendant's showing.” Id. at 746 (quotation omitted) (omission in original).

Lawler v. Montblanc N. Am., LLC, 704 F.3d 1235, 1242 (9th Cir. 2013).

         III. PGI's Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Disability ...

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