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Grigorescu v. Board of Trustees of the San Mateo County Community College District

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 29, 2019

VIOLETA GRIGORESCU, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE SAN MATEO COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS DOCKET NO. 29

          EDWARD M. CHEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Violeta Grigorescu filed her second amended complaint (“SAC”) against the San Mateo County Community College District (“District”) and two of its employees, Eugene Whitlock and Charlene Frontiera (collectively “Defendants”). The Court previously dismissed Ms. Grigorescu's first amended complaint with leave to amend. Docket No. 25. Ms. Grigorescu's SAC asserts various federal law violations, which include 42 U.S.C. sections 1983 and 1981, and Title VII. Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the SAC. Docket No. 29 (“Mot.”). Having considered the Parties' briefs, accompanying submissions, [1] and the oral argument of counsel, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' motion to dismiss, but provides Ms. Grigorescu leave to amend.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[2]

         A. Factual Background

         In 2004, Ms. Grigorescu started to work for the District as a lab tech at the College of San Mateo (“CSM”). See SAC ¶¶ 1, 35. Starting in 2011, Ms. Grigorescu began to experience problems with her employment with the District when she organized a group called Friends of CSM Gardens.” Id. ¶¶ 5, 41. In September 2011, Friends filed a lawsuit against, inter alia, the District in state court. See Friends of the Coll. of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Cmty. Coll. Dist., No. CIV 508656 (Cal. Super. Ct.).[3]

         In July 2014, Mr. Whitlock became Vice Chancellor of Human Resources. Id. ¶ 57. Mr. Whitlock, an attorney, advised and represented the District in the state environmental lawsuit that Friends filed against the District in 2011. Id.

         In October 2014, a full-time position for a physics teacher became available. Id. ¶ 59. In March 2015, Ms. Grigorescu applied for the position, but Mr. Whitlock removed her from the application pool and accused her of “dishonesty and . . . misrepresenting her educational credentials.” Id. ¶ 60.

         In June 2015, Mr. Whitlock informed Plaintiff that he was recommending her suspension and termination on the ground that she had “falsely claimed she had a master's degree and the equivalency of a minor in mathematics.” Id. ¶ 77. Shortly thereafter, a Skelly hearing[4] took place before a District employee who upheld the proposed suspension and termination. An administrative hearing followed the Skelly hearing. The administrative hearing officer later issued her findings and recommendations stating there was insufficient cause to terminate Ms. Grigorescu's employment because the District did not meet its burden to establish dishonesty or falsified information. However, the hearing officer found Ms. Grigorescu engaged in a pattern of dishonesty by misrepresenting that she possessed a minor in mathematics, but this dishonesty did not support termination.

         In December 2015, Ms. Grigorescu filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) against the District. In her complaint, Ms. Grigorescu asserted that Mr. Whitlock and Ms. Frontiera had personal animosity against her and that the adverse employment actions were also motivated by “intentional disability discrimination.” Subsequently, after receiving her right-to-sue notice, Ms. Grigorescu filed a lawsuit in state court. The state-court filing contained allegations related to disability discrimination and/or failure to accommodate.

         After filing the state court action, Ms. Grigorescu continued to have problems with her employment. She sought a flexible work schedule to teach a class at San Francisco State University (“SFSU”) on Friday mornings, but the District refused to accommodate her schedule. SAC ¶¶ 84, 87.

         In March 2016, Ms. Grigorescu learned of the District's intent to suspend and terminate her from her lab tech position because she missed six consecutive Fridays. SAC ¶ 91. This event prompted her to file an amended petition and complaint in the state court action, which asserted multiple causes of action centered on disability discrimination and/or failure to accommodate.[5]

         In April 2016, Ms. Grigorescu was informed of the proposed termination due to her decision to accept employment at SFSU that conflicted with her employment at CSM on Fridays. SAC ¶¶ 83-93. Thereafter, in June and July 2016, a second Skelly hearing took place. Id. ¶ 95. This time, the hearing officer recommended termination “due to prior discipline: alleged misrepresentation of her math minor, and alleged misrepresentation of her Baccalaureate high school diploma.” Id. ¶ 96. In January 2017, Ms. Grigorescu's employment as a lab tech was terminated. Id. ¶ 97. Mr. Whitlock did not allow Ms. Grigorescu to return to campus to retrieve her personal belongings until September 2018, with close supervision and prearrangement. Id. ¶¶ 4, 98.

         B. Procedural Background

         The District terminated Ms. Grigorescu's employment on January 19, 2017. SAC ¶ 97. On February 13, 2018, Ms. Grigorescu filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging that she was subject to retaliation and discrimination on the basis of sex, national origin, age, and disability.

         On September 2018, after receiving a notice of right to sue from the EEOC, Ms. Grigorescu filed the instant action. On April 24, 2019, this Court dismissed Ms. Grigorescu's FAC with leave to amend. Ms. Grigorescu subsequently filed this SAC alleging the following eight claims for relief:

First Claim for Relief (42 U.S.C. § 1983): Defendants Mr. Whitlock and Ms. Frontiera retaliated against Ms. Grigorescu for exercising her First Amendment rights through her activism with Friends.
Second and Eighth Claims for Relief (42 U.S.C. § 1981): Defendants Mr. Whitlock and Ms. Frontiera harassed Ms. Grigorescu, failed to promote, and ultimately terminated her employment because of her race.
Third through Seventh Claims for Relief (Title VII): Defendants terminated, discriminated, and harassed Ms. Grigorescu because of her race/national origin and gender, and retaliated against her because she engaged in protected activity by opposing unlawful employment practices.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint that fails to meet this standard may be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss after the Supreme Court's decisions in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), a plaintiff's “factual allegations [in the complaint] ‘must . . . suggest that the claim has at least a plausible chance of success.'” Levitt v. Yelp! Inc., 765 F.3d 1123, 1135 (9th Cir. 2014). The court “accept[s] factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] 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). But “allegations in a complaint . . . may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action [and] must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Levitt, 765 F.3d at 1135 (internal quotation marks omitted).[6] “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Third through Seventh Claims (Title VII)

         Ms. Grigorescu asserts various Title VII claims. The Court previously dismissed these claims for failure to timely exhaust administrative remedies but gave Ms. Grigorescu leave to amend to allege a ...


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