Monday, December 27, 2010

Northern California Judge Rule in Employment Discrimination Cases

The holiday season is upon the Northern District of California.  It is a time for celebrating the birth of Jesus, a new year and a number of new rulings in the employment discrimination field.

Totah v. Lucasfilm Entertainment Co. is a complaint for employment harassment and discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Tabitha Totah worked for Lucasfilm from September 2004 until March 9, 2009, most recently as a marketing and special events coordinator where she hosted exhibitions of artifacts from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. She worked with Jose Araújo and Joanee Honour. Casey Collins and Paul Sothern supervised them. Howard Roffman, in turn, supervised Mr. Collins and Mr. Southern. The record demonstrated that Ms. Totah and Mr. Araújo were a bit crass at times:
Araújo, while working with Totah during two trips to Europe in 2008, told vulgar stories in front of Totah and other Lucasfilm employees, including, on one occasion, describing a “blow job chair” [on] another occasion, remarking upon the “Swedish shaved legs” of two women who ran a coffee cart[,] on “a few occasions,” telling a story about Swedish teens becoming drunk by inserting tampons soaked in alcohol into their anuses[,] and, on “multiple occasions,” talking about having sex with unidentified women on top of a “wild angry bear”[.]
Lovely. Her supervisor also once stated that Ms. Totah, “could wear an Ewok costume.”
The record establishes that an Ewok is a “fictional character from the film Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi,” that Ewoks are “teddy-bear like creatures that inhabit the moon of Endor,” and that Ewoks are not of “arab ancestry.”
That was not enough for a harassment claim.
While the above-described comments may be offensive, they are not “sufficiently severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of [Totah’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.” See Little [v. Windermere Relocation, Inc., (9th Cir. 2002)].
The next part of the case dealt with disparate treatment. Lucasfilm argues that it had some reasons to sack Ms. Totah:
Honour reported that (1) Totah twice failed to show up for work due to “excessive” partying the night before[;] (2) Totah was an “angry drunk,” who called Honour early one morning, woke her up and “screamed” at her that she was late and was needed downstairs, when Honor was not late and was only needed because Totah was drunk [and], on another trip and again drunk, drove Honour “to tears,” yelling at her for being there in place of another employee who could not go because she was breastfeeding[;] and (3) after a night of Totah’s drinking, Honour, at the request of Araújo, had to help Totah, who was “physically” drunk, get through airport security in order to board her flight.
Later on, someone complained to human relations about Ms. Totah’s behavior, and her supervisors reprimanded her. They told her they would not tell her who made the complaint and that she should not seek out that person. Nonetheless, Ms. Totah sought out the snitch, which turned out to be a client. She made a “veiled threat” not to work on the snitch’s project and the client reported this to Mr. Roffman who fired her a few weeks later. Judge Maxine M. Chesney did not find discrimination:
Rather, the undisputed evidence is that, to the extent Totah’s conduct on business trips played a part in any adverse employment action, it was her drinking to such a degree that it caused her to miss work and to be abusive to coworkers and the perception of her engaging in “inappropriate sexual activity with business partners.”
Judge Chesney granted summary judgment for Lucasfilm.

Rice v. Ralph Foods is a sexual harassment case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Charles Rice started working at Ralph Foods in the Castro in San Francisco in March 2000 and resigned in 2007. Shortly after beginning work, Mr. Rice claims that his supervisor, Harvey Woodmansee made repeated sexual advances toward him. After Mr. Rice rebuffed Mr. Woodmansee, the latter “punished” him by sending Mr. Rice to work in other stores. This culminated in Mr. Woodmansee firing Mr. Rice in 2003, which resulted in a grievance with the EEOC. In mediating this grievance the parties entered into a settlement agreement. Mr. Rice apparently wasn’t satisfied with the result since he resigned in February 2007 stating that Ralph Foods had created a hostile work environment. Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong was not convinced.
Notably, Plaintiff does not dispute that his 2008 DFEH complaint is untimely, but argues that he timely exhausted his claims by submitting a complaint to the EEOC in 2003. Pl.s Opp’n at 6.7 This argument lacks merit. As an initial matter, the Complaint alleges only that “[Plaintiff] filed a Complaint with the EEOC in 2003.” Compl. ¶ 9. The Complaint does not allege that Plaintiff exhausted any of his FEHA claims through that particular charge. Nor do the pleadings allege any facts demonstrating that such complaint encompassed any of the conduct that forms the basis of this action.
She granted the motion for judgment on the pleadings.

Reed v. Avis Budget Group is a retaliation claim under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Eleanor Reed worked as a customer service representative for Avis at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). One June 19, 2006 Ms. Reed asked Avis to accommodate her depression and bipolar disorder by giving her permission to work a six-hour day. Avis responded by placing her on unpaid leave for five months until they could meet about it. At the meeting, Avis offered to give her four four-hour shifts per week. Ms. Reed claimed that this was not an acceptable arrangement since she wanted to retain medical benefits and that she would lose under the new arrangement. Nonetheless, she returned to work under the new arrangement for a month until Avis decided to close two of its San Francisco offices and laid her off. Ms. Reed filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) claiming disability discrimination. After that, Avis recalled her and asked her to call a supervisor within seven days if she wished to return to work. Some phone tag resulted, but Ms. Reed never returned to work and was terminated. Relevantly, her supervisors never learned of the DFEH complaint, which Judge Claudia Wilken explained doomed her case:
Plaintiff does not raise a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether Defendant retaliated against her for filing her a DFEH complaint in March, 2007. Defendant contends that Spain and Stephens made the decision to terminate Plaintiff’s right to return to work, and Plaintiff does not offer any contrary evidence. And although Height knew of the March, 2007 DFEH complaint at the time Plaintiff forfeited her recall rights, Plaintiff offers no evidence that either Spain or Stephens were also aware of it or that Height directed them to prevent Plaintiff from returning to work. Plaintiff cannot establish a causal link between her complaint to the DFEH and Spain and Stephens’s alleged retaliation without evidence that they knew that she had filed it.
She granted Avis’ motion for summary judgment.

No comments:

Post a Comment