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Galarpe v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 2, 2018

ALFONSO G. GALARPE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS DOCKET NO. 35

          EDWARD M. CHEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Docket No. 35 Plaintiff Alfonso Galarpe Jr. alleges he was wrongfully terminated by United Airlines (“United”) on account of his status as a Filipino-American veteran over the age of 40, and that the termination caused him severe emotional distress. He was reinstated to his position after a labor arbitration found the termination lacked just cause, so he seeks only damages related to emotional distress in this case. The Court previously dismissed certain claims with prejudice, but gave Mr. Galarpe leave to amend his claims for wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress if he could adequately plead that his protected status was a substantial factor for his termination. The Court also granted Mr. Galarpe leave to amend his defamation claim to adequately plead a defamatory publication.

         For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS United's motion to dismiss Mr. Galarpe's wrongful termination claim as pled with prejudice, DENIES United's motion to dismiss Mr. Galarpe's defamation claim and intentional infliction of emotional distress claim (to the extent it is based on defamatory publications), and GRANTS Mr. Galarpe's request to file a third amended complaint consistent with this order to attempt to state a claim for age and disability discrimination occurring after his return to United in July 2017.

         I. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiff is Filipino-American and a disabled veteran. SAC ¶ 5. He worked for United for over 30 years with a “discipline free record.” Id. ¶ 6. In July and August 2016, Defendant “accused Plaintiff of committing a hate crime and/or engaging in hate speech when Plaintiff tied two knots known as hangman's known, uniknots, or nooses.” Id. ¶ 5. He tied knots with jet engine packing rope on two consecutive days during idle time at the end of his shift. Id. ¶ 8. United terminated Plaintiff after he admitted to tying the knots. Plaintiff claims that “he was genuinely not aware of the negative connotation of the noose in the context of racism in America, ” id. ¶ 11, because he “was born in the Philippines and came to the United States at the age of ten.” Id. ¶ 12. A labor arbitrator later determined that Plaintiff's actions merited discipline but not termination, and reinstated Plaintiff to his position with backpay. Id. ¶¶ 32-33.

         Plaintiff alleges that United's termination reflected “reckless[] . . . disregard of Plaintiff's rights” because it fired him “without adequate inquiry” after a “flawed investigation.” Id. ¶ 17. In essence, Plaintiff alleges that United fired him knowing he harbored no malicious intent. Plaintiff alleges “[o]n information and belief” that United's “acts and omissions are based on a perception of Filipino people as compliant and malleable, and that this view is shared by those in leadership roles at [United], including . . . Mr. Van Wart, ” id. ¶ 39, who composed and sent the letter of termination. Id. ¶ 8.

         Plaintiff also alleges that United defamed him by branding him a racist to his colleagues. The sole specific publication alleged, however, is the termination letter, which states:

Your actions are contrary to expectations for behavior set forth for all United employees. On two different occasions you made a noose in the workplace and both times displayed the noose in an area where it was likely to be seen and perceived as threatening and intimidating by co-workers. Because such imagery is so closely associated with violent executions and hate crimes, the Company strictly prohibits it in the workplace. Thus, after considering all of the facts and your extremely egregious behavior, I have decided to terminate your employment . . .

Id. ¶ 15 (see also SAC, Ex. A). According to Plaintiff, the termination letter “in effect call[ed him] a racist hate monger or otherwise associate[d] him with racism, bigotry, and discrimination citing [United] policies and even calling [his] conduct 'unlawful.'” Id. ¶ 29.

         Plaintiff alleges that the allegation he “displayed the noose in an area where it was likely to be seen” is false because, in fact, as United knew, “[o]ne rope was tossed on the planning board and the other was left in a pile on the jet engine floor shop such that one would not even know a knot had been tied in it without picking it up.” Id. ¶ 18.

         Plaintiff also alleges that, on the day he was interviewed about the knots, he was escorted out of the building “in a humiliating and shameful fashion” without being permitted to pick up his tools first. Id. ¶ 22. He calls this a “gauntlet of humiliation-the literal march to Plaintiff's car in view of many of Plaintiff's co-workers.” Id. ¶ 23. He argues that the presence of so many witnesses “goes far beyond the circumstances warranted by any arguable qualified privilege, including an investigation privilege.” Id.¶ 25.

         Because of these acts, Plaintiff alleges he “underwent great emotional distress and depression” and has required ongoing treatment. Id. ¶ 34.

         Plaintiff also alleges that after returning to work on July 26, 2017 (following the labor arbitration), United “has failed to honor previously approved workplace reasonable accommodations, ” id. ¶ 36. As of March 27, 2018, Plaintiff claims to have exhausted his administrative remedies and requests permission to amend to state a claim for age and disability discrimination.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must take all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, although “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.” Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2009). While “a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations ... it must plead 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that 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 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. ...


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