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Huh v. Mono County Office of Education

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 6, 2019

JENNIFER HUH, an individual, Plaintiff,
MONO COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION, STACEY ADLER, and DOES 1 through 30, inclusive, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Jennifer Huh brought this action against defendants Mono County Office of Education (“the County”) and Stacey Adler (“Adler”) (collectively, “defendants”) asserting violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California state law arising out of her employment and subsequent termination by the County. Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and motion to strike. (Docket No. 32.)

         I. Facts

         Plaintiff was employed by the County from January 2011 until June 2018. (Second Am. Compl. (“SAC”) ¶ 17 (Docket No. 30).) In July 2017, plaintiff was promoted to Deputy Superintendent and took on the added responsibility of serving as human resources director. (Id. ¶ 20.) As Deputy Superintendent, plaintiff reported directly to defendant Adler, the Superintendent of the County. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 19-20.) Plaintiff alleges that several months after she began working as Deputy Superintendent, she learned that defendant Adler was issuing stipend checks to herself and others without first getting approval from the County's Board of Trustees (“the Board”), accounting for the payments in the public record, or notifying the union. (Id. ¶ 21.) In total, members of Adler's cabinet were paid $73, 000 in stipend checks and Alder herself was paid $24, 000. (Id.)

         Plaintiff confronted Adler about the payments and Adler allegedly offered to issue her a payment, “apparently in an effort to silence [her] about the illegal ‘stipends'.” (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff declined the payment, and instead reported Adler's conduct to the Board. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.)

         In December 2017, plaintiff claims community members and County staff members began urging her to run for Superintendent to replace Adler. (Id. ¶ 25.) The local newspaper formally announced plaintiff's candidacy on January 26, 2018. (Id. ¶ 28.) On February 4, 2018, Adler notified plaintiff that she would no longer serve as the director of human resources or as a member of Adler's cabinet. (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff, believing that her demotion was a retaliatory act that violated the California Education Code, reported it to the Board on February 12, 2018. (Id. ¶ 30.) The Board asked Adler to repay the money she had paid to herself shortly thereafter. (Id. ¶ 31.)

         Plaintiff responded to the local newspaper's questions about the stipend payments Adler made to herself and others allegedly in her capacity as a private citizen and political candidate in March 2018. (Id. ¶ 32.) Plaintiff alleges that, in response, Adler instructed the County's human resources staff to send plaintiff's private personnel file to Adler's campaign office. (Id. ¶ 33.) The staff members did so, allegedly under protest. (Id.)

         In April 2018, the County sent, and plaintiff signed, an “Intent to Return” letter to renew her employment contract with the County from July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36.) Plaintiff alleges that she and Mono County “mutually understood that the submission by [d]efendant to [p]laintiff of an Intent to Return letter constituted an offer for continued employment . . . under [d]efendants' policies and/or practices.” (Id. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff promptly signed and returned the Intent to Return letter, and the human resources department finalized plaintiff's employment contract, although that contract was never signed. (Id. ¶ 36.) On June 29, 2018, Adler fired plaintiff and notified her that the County would not be renewing her contract for the 2018-2019 term. (Id. ¶ 39.) Plaintiff alleges that defendants did not give her notice or the opportunity for a hearing on the revocation of her contract renewal. (Id. ¶ 41.)

         Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges violation of (1) her First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) deprivation of property without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) retaliation in violation of California Education Code § 44113; (4) retaliation in violation of California Labor Code §§ 98.6 and 1102.5; (5) representative action under California Labor Code § 2699; (6) violation of the right of privacy under the California Constitution and (7) wrongful demotion and termination in violation of California public policy. Defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's second, third, and fourth causes of action.[1](Docket No. 32.)

         II. Legal Standard

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the inquiry before the court is whether, accepting the allegations in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, the plaintiff has stated a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “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.” Id. A complaint that offers mere “labels and conclusions” will not survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (citations and quotations omitted).

         III. Discussion

         A. Fourteenth Amendment

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides that “[e]very person who, under color of [state law] subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured.” Section 1983 does not create substantive rights, but instead provides the ...

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