Schmidt et al v. Shasta County Marshal's Office et al

Filing 62

MEMORANDUM and ORDER signed by District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr on 6/16/17 ORDERING that Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration, 51 , is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. It is GRANTED as to the Schmidt's retaliation claims, but DENIED as to the remainder of Plaintiffs' claims. (Mena-Sanchez, L)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 12 JAIME SCHMIDT, DEBRA KNOWLES, ELIZABETH SAMPSON, and RYAN HENRIOULLE, 13 Plaintiffs, 14 15 16 No. 2:14-cv-02471-MCE-CMK MEMORANDUM AND ORDER v. SHASTA COUNTY MARSHAL’S OFFICE and JOEL DEAN, Defendants. 17 In this action, Plaintiffs—three former and one current employee of Defendant 18 19 Shasta County Marshal’s Office (“SCMO”)—brought several claims against the SCMO 20 based on alleged sexual discrimination they suffered while working there. On 21 February 21, 2017, the Court granted Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF 22 No. 48, based mainly on Plaintiffs’ failure to demonstrate that the harassment they 23 received was because of sex. Before the Court now is Plaintiffs’ Motion for 24 Reconsideration of that order, ECF No. 51, in which Plaintiffs claim this Court committed 25 clear error. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs’ Motion is DENIED IN PART and 26 GRANTED IN PART. The Motion is denied except with regard to Plaintiff Jamie 27 Schmidt’s retaliation claim. 28 /// 1 1 BACKGROUND 2 Plaintiffs Jaime Schmidt, Elizabeth Sampson, and Ryan Henrioulle are former 3 4 employees of the SCMO, while Plaintiff Debra Knowles is a current employee. Schmidt, 5 Sampson, and Knowles all claim to have been harassed by their boss, Defendant Joel 6 Dean, once he was promoted to sergeant. All three brought claims against Defendants 7 based on a hostile work environment theory, as well as claims of retaliation. Plaintiff 8 Henrioulle brought only a retaliation claim, alleging that he had been terminated in 9 retaliation for standing up for Schmidt, Sampson, and Knowles. On August 25, 2016, Defendants moved for summary judgment, ECF No. 25, 10 11 arguing that the undisputed evidence showed that the claims made against them were 12 meritless. Plaintiffs sought and received leave for an extension of time to file an 13 opposition to that motion, filing an opposition on October 6, 2016, and an amended 14 opposition the next day. See ECF Nos. 32, 34, 36, 39–40. The Court ultimately granted 15 Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on all claims on February 21, 2017. ECF 16 No. 48. The Court found that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the harassment they 17 suffered was because of sex. Mem. & Order, at 10. The Court noted that Plaintiffs 18 “fail[ed] to . . . provide a legal theory to support a finding that the harassment was 19 because Plaintiffs are women.” Id. at 14. Instead, Plaintiffs’ opposition consisted mainly 20 of a recitation of facts. Accordingly, the Court analyzed Plaintiffs’ claims according to 21 two theories that fit best with those facts, but found the evidence provided was 22 insufficient as a matter of law to establish that Plaintiffs suffered harassment “because of 23 sex.” See id. at 11–15. The Court also granted summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ 24 retaliation claims on the basis that they failed to show Defendants violated Title VII. Id. 25 at 15. 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 2 1 STANDARD 2 3 A motion for reconsideration is properly brought pursuant to either Federal Rule of 4 Civil Procedure 59(e) or Rule 60(b). Taylor v. Knapp, 871 F.2d 803, 805 (9th Cir. 1989). 5 A motion for reconsideration is treated as a Rule 59(e) motion if filed within twenty-eight 6 days of entry of judgment, but as a Rule 60(b) motion if filed more than twenty-eight 7 days after judgment. See Am. Ironworks & Erectors, Inc. v. N. Am. Constr. Corp., 8 248 F.3d 892, 898–99 (9th Cir. 2001). Plaintiffs here bring a timely Rule 59(e) motion. A court should be loath to revisit its own decisions unless extraordinary 9 10 circumstances show that its prior decision was clearly erroneous or would work a 11 manifest injustice. Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 817 12 (1988). This principle is embodied in the law of the case doctrine, under which “a court 13 is generally precluded from reconsidering an issue that has already been decided by the 14 same court, or a higher court in the identical case.” United States v. Alexander, 15 106 F.3d 874, 876 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Thomas v. Bible, 983 F.2d 152, 154 (9th Cir. 16 1993)). Nonetheless, in certain limited circumstances, a court has discretion to 17 reconsider its prior decisions. While Rule 59(e) permits a district court to reconsider and amend a previous 18 19 order, “the rule offers an ‘extraordinary remedy, to be used sparingly in the interests of 20 finality and conservation of judicial resources.’” Kona Enters., Inc. v. Estate of Bishop, 21 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting 12 James William Moore, et al., Moore’s 22 Federal Practice § 59.30[4] (3d ed. 2000)). Indeed, a district court should not grant a 23 motion for reconsideration “absent highly unusual circumstances, unless the district court 24 is presented with newly discovered evidence, committed clear error, or if there is an 25 intervening change in the controlling law.” 389 Orange St. Partners v. Arnold, 179 F.3d 26 656, 665 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing Sch. Dist. No. 1J v. ACandS, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 27 (9th Cir. 1993)). Mere dissatisfaction with the court’s order, or belief that the court is 28 /// 3 1 wrong in its decision, is not grounds for relief under Rule 59(e). Twentieth Century-Fox 2 Film Corp. v. Dunnahoo, 637 F.2d 1338, 1341 (9th Cir. 1981). 3 Additionally, Local Rule 230(j) requires a party filing a motion for reconsideration 4 to show the “new or different facts or circumstances claimed to exist which did not exist 5 or were not shown upon such prior motion, or what other grounds exist for the motion.” 6 Finally, motions for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) are addressed to the 7 sound discretion of the district court. Turner v. Burlington N. Santa Fe R.R., 338 F.3d 8 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003). 9 In order to succeed, a party making a motion for reconsideration pursuant to 10 Rule 59(e) must “set forth facts or law of a strongly convincing nature to induce the court 11 to reverse its prior decision.” Pritchen v. McEwen, No. 1:10-cv-02008-JLT HC, 2011 WL 12 2115647, at *1 (E.D. Cal. May 27, 2011) (citing Kern-Tulare Water Dist. v. City of 13 Bakersfield, 634 F. Supp. 656, 665 (E.D. Cal. 1986), aff’d in part and rev’d in part on 14 other grounds, 828 F.2d 514 (9th Cir. 1987)). A motion for reconsideration should not be 15 used to raise arguments or present evidence for the first time when the arguments or 16 evidence could reasonably have been raised earlier in the litigation. 389 Orange St. 17 Partners, 179 F.3d at 665. 18 Furthermore, “courts avoid considering Rule 59(e) motions where the grounds for 19 amendment are restricted to either repetitive contentions of matters which were before 20 the court on its prior consideration or contentions which might have been raised prior to 21 the challenged judgment.” Costello v. United States, 765 F. Supp. 1003, 1009 (C.D. Cal. 22 1991); see also Taylor, 871 F.2d at 805. This position stems from the district courts’ 23 “concerns for preserving dwindling resources and promoting judicial efficiency.” 24 Costello, 765 F. Supp. at 1009. Rule 59(e) and motions for reconsideration are 25 therefore not intended to “give an unhappy litigant one additional chance to sway the 26 judge.” Frito-Lay of P.R., Inc. v. Canas, 92 F.R.D. 384, 390 (D.P.R. 1981) (quoting 27 Durkin v. Taylor, 444 F. Supp. 226, 233 (N.D. Ohio 1967)). 28 /// 4 1 ANALYSIS 2 3 Plaintiffs claim that the Court committed clear error in four ways: (1) “failing to 4 consider the special rules regarding [s]ummary [j]udgment [m]otions of employment 5 cases”; (2) “considering only gender-specific conduct directed towards Plaintiffs 6 themselves”; (3) “h[olding] that only that conduct which is sex[-] or gender-specific may 7 be considered in determining whether there was a hostile work environment”; (4) and 8 “holding that an employee’s opposition is not protected activity unless the conduct 9 opposed is actually unlawful under Title VII.” Mot. for Recons., at 1–2. The Court 10 addresses each in turn. 11 A. “Special Rules” for Summary Judgment in Employment Cases 12 Plaintiffs initially claim “special rules” apply in summary judgment motions in 13 employment cases. See Mot. for Recons., at 2–3. In support, Plaintiffs rely mainly on a 14 California Court of Appeals case, Nazir v. United Airlines, Inc., 178 Cal. App. 4th 243 15 (2009). Plaintiffs point to the following language in Nazir to demonstrate the existence of 16 these “special rules”: “[M]any employment cases present issues of intent, and motive, 17 and hostile working environment, issues not determinable on paper. Such cases, we 18 caution, are rarely appropriate for disposition on summary judgment, however liberalized 19 it be.” Id. at 286. The Court fails to see how a California court that “cautions” against 20 courts granting summary judgment too readily in employment cases establishes “special 21 rules” for such cases in federal court. Nor does the Ninth Circuit authority cited establish 22 “special rules.” For example, in Nigro v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 784 F.3d 495 (9th Cir. 23 2015), the Ninth Circuit only noted “that it should not take much for plaintiff in a 24 discrimination case to overcome a summary judgment motion,” id. at 499. 25 Plaintiffs have accordingly failed to show that any “special rules” regarding 26 motions for summary judgment in employment cases apply, much less that this Court 27 committed clear error in not considering them. As noted above, and discussed more 28 thoroughly below, Plaintiffs wholly failed to present any legal theory that the harassment 5 1 described in their motion and evidence was because of sex. To avoid a defendant’s 2 motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must do more than present a recitation of facts 3 to defeat it; he or she must also provide a cognizable legal theory that makes that 4 evidence relevant and demonstrates that his or her claim is viable. 5 B. 6 Plaintiffs next contend that the Court committed clear error when it “considered Failure to Consider All Gender-Based Conduct 7 only gender[-]specific conduct directed to Plaintiffs themselves.” Mot. for Recons., at 3. 8 In support of their argument, Plaintiffs cite several cases for the first time. Of all the 9 cases cited in this section of Plaintiffs’ motion, only one case—Pantoja v. Anton, 10 198 Cal. App. 4th 87 (2011)—was cited in Plaintiffs’ opposition to Defendants’ Motion for 11 Summary Judgment. In connection with those cases, Plaintiffs provide in their Motion for 12 Reconsideration, also for the first time, a legal theory supporting their contention that 13 they suffered harassment because of sex.1 They now argue that evidence of general 14 hostility on the part of Dean evinces a gender-based motive for harassing Plaintiffs, that 15 is, that evidence of general hostility toward women would allow a reasonable jury to infer 16 that Dean was hostile toward them because they were women. However, “[a] motion for 17 reconsideration is not a proper mechanism for presenting new legal theories that the 18 movant failed to raise with respect to the underlying motion for summary judgment.” 19 Reliance Ins. Co. v. Doctors Co., 299 F. Supp. 2d 1131, 1154 (D. Haw. 2003) (citing 20 Carroll v. Nakatani, 342 F.3d 934, 945 (9th Cir. 2003)). 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 1 The challenged Memorandum and Order noted that “[t]he closest Plaintiffs c[a]me to proposing a legal theory under which the harassment was because of sex” was their citation to Birschtein v. New United Motor Mfg., Inc., 92 Cal. App. 4th 994 (2001). Mem. & Order, at 14 n.2. In Plaintiffs’ Opposition, they quoted the following from that case: “[I]t is 'only necessary to show that gender is a substantial factor in the discrimination and that if the plaintiff “had been a man she would not have been treated in the same manner.”’” Id. at 1001 (citation omitted). The Court found this attempt insufficient to demonstrate a cognizable legal theory, noting “that case concerned the sufficiency of pleading a hostile work environment sexual harassment suit and thus is of limited value.” Mem. & Order, at 14 n.2. Plaintiffs now quibble with the Court’s characterization of Birschtein: “The Court appears to have made an error both of fact and law. . . . [T]he Bir[s]ch[]tein case was an appeal from a [s]ummary [j]udgment, not a [d]emurrer.” Quoting in full the sentence in Birschtein Plaintiffs relied on should clear up the Court’s analysis of that case: “To plead a cause of action for this type of sexual harassment, it is ‘only necessary to show that gender is a substantial factor in the discrimination and that if the plaintiff “had been a man she would not have been treated in the same manner.”’” 92 Cal. App. 4th at 1001. 6 1 Plaintiffs fail to explain why they did not present this legal theory or the cases they 2 cite in support of their opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. In the 3 absence of a legal theory, the Court applied those that most aligned with the facts 4 related in Plaintiffs’ Opposition. Plaintiffs’ Opposition relied heavily on the incidents the 5 Court found to be “reasonably characterized as sex- or gender-specific,” Mem. & Order, 6 at 11, and made continual allegations that Plaintiffs were treated differently than men, 7 see, e.g., Pls.’ Am. Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 40, at 38 (“Regarding 8 Schmidt, there were several delays in getting her breaks[;] it was not the same with 9 men.”). Accordingly, the Court analyzed two ways that a plaintiff can demonstrate 10 discrimination because of sex: (1) via “[s]ex- or gender-specific content,” and (2) by 11 presenting “direct comparative evidence about how the alleged harasser treated 12 members of both sexes.” Mem. & Order, at 11 (quoting Equal Emp’t Opportunity 13 Comm’n v. Nat’l Educ. Ass’n, Alaska, 422 F.3d 840, 844 (9th Cir. 2005)). Even though 14 applying these theories was more than the Court was required to do in addressing 15 Plaintiffs’ Opposition, see Williams v. Eastside Lumberyard & Supply Co., 16 190 F. Supp. 2d 1104, 1114 (S.D. Ill. 2001) (“A plaintiff's recital of the facts of the case 17 triggers no duty on the part of the judge to research, construct, and further research the 18 best legal arguments he can for that fact-reciting party.”), Plaintiffs fault the Court for not 19 doing more. 20 Because a motion for reconsideration is not the time to espouse legal theories for 21 the first time, Plaintiffs have failed to show that reconsideration of their hostile work 22 environment claims is warranted. 23 24 25 C. Considering Only Sex- or Gender-Specific Conduct in Determining Pervasiveness of Harassment Plaintiffs next contend the Court committed clear error when it considered only 26 sex- or gender-specific conduct in determining whether the harassment Plaintiffs 27 suffered was sufficiently pervasive to support a Title VII sexual harassment claim. Mot. 28 for Recons., at 3. Plaintiffs’ argument, however, suffers the same flaw as their second 7 1 claim of clear error—it is premised on a legal theory that was not presented to the Court 2 until Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Reconsideration. In determining whether the 3 harassment Plaintiffs suffered was sufficiently severe or pervasive, the Court considered 4 only the sex- or gender-specific conduct because it was analyzing Plaintiffs’ claims under 5 the theory that the harassment was because of sex- or gender-specific conduct. See 6 Mem. & Order, at 12–13; Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 81 7 (“Whatever evidentiary route the plaintiff chooses to follow, he or she must always prove 8 that the conduct at issue was not merely tinged with offensive sexual 9 connotations . . . .”). In other words, because Plaintiffs failed to provide a legal theory 10 under which the non-sexual or non-gendered conduct could be considered a basis for 11 sexual harassment, it was not clear error for the Court to disregard it. 12 D. 13 Finally, Plaintiffs challenge the Court’s determination that a retaliation claim under Retaliation for Opposing Sexual Harassment 14 Title VII requires that “Defendants engaged in [a] practice made unlawful by Title VII.” 15 Mem. & Order, at 15. Plaintiffs now provide authority that retaliation claims require only 16 that an employee have “a ‘reasonable belief’ that the employment practice she protested 17 was prohibited under Title VII.” Trent v. Valley Elec. Ass’n, 41 F.3d 524, 526 (9th Cir. 18 1994). Thus, the Court relied on an erroneous statement of the law in entering summary 19 judgment on Plaintiffs’ retaliation claims. Despite Plaintiffs presenting this authority for 20 the first time on reconsideration—in fact, Plaintiffs’ Opposition to the Motion for Summary 21 Judgment did not address retaliation at all—the Court is compelled to examine it in light 22 of reconsideration’s objective to prevent clear error, as the authority now cited goes 23 directly to the legal merits of Plaintiffs’ retaliation claims.2 See Pyramid Lake Paiute 24 Tribe of Indians v. Hodel, 882 F.2d 364, 369 n.5 (9th Cir. 1989). 25 26 27 28 2 The Court notes that even in their Motion for Reconsideration, Plaintiffs fail to cite evidence in support of their retaliation claims and only conclusorily states that “all four Plaintiffs opposed the disparate and hostile treatment of women.” Mot. for Recons., at 16. Though the Court is “neither required to hunt down arguments plaintiffs keep camouflaged, nor required to address perfunctory and undeveloped arguments,” Williams, 190 F. Supp. 2d at 1114 (citations omitted), the Court here applies the corrected statement of retaliation law in light of the facts presented in relation to the original summary judgment motion. 8 1 Each of the four Plaintiffs has provided evidence that he or she opposed Dean’s 2 practices at the SCMO. However, a retaliation claim also requires that a plaintiff “alerted 3 his [or her] employer to his [or her] belief that discrimination, not merely unfair personnel 4 treatment, had occurred.” Lewis v. City of Fresno, 834 F. Supp. 2d 990, 1002 (E.D. Cal. 5 2011); see also Hittle v. City of Stockton, No. 2:12-cv-00766-TLN-KJN, 2016 WL 6 1267703, at *6 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2016). Plaintiffs Schmidt, Sampson, and Knowles all 7 submitted internal complaints about Dean’s behavior. Stmt. of Undisputed Material 8 Facts (“SUMF”), ECF No. 25-2, ¶ 27. However, Sampson and Knowles only complained 9 of general harassment. See Decl. of Melissa Fowler-Bradley, Ex. H, ECF No. 27-8 10 (reporting of “harassment/retaliation conduct” by Knowles); Decl. of Melissa Fowler- 11 Bradley, Ex. O, ECF No. 27-15 (reporting of “ongoing and pervasive harassment, 12 intimidation and favoritism in the workplace as well as retaliation against myself by 13 Sergeant Dean” by Sampson). 14 Conversely, Schmidt provided evidence that she reported “sexual harassment 15 conducted by Sergeant Joel Dean.” Decl. of Melissa Fowler-Bradley, Ex. G, ECF 16 No. 27-7. She also provided evidence that she reasonably believed she suffered sexual 17 harassment when Dean twice repeated a sexual comment made to Schmidt by her field 18 training officer when the training officer asked her to have sex with him at their 19 workplace. See Dep. of Jamie Schmidt, ECF No. 26-19, at 193 (“Q. Okay. Why did you 20 describe that conduct as sexual harassment? A. Because it is sexual, and I believe it is 21 harassment.”). Furthermore, Plaintiffs have provided evidence that the harassment they 22 suffered increased as a result of their internal complaints. For example, Henrioulle 23 testified that after Dean was cleared of wrongdoing, Dean stated that “[i]t’s [my] turn to 24 get them.” Dep. of Ryan Henrioulle, ECF No. 38-7, at 19. 25 For these reasons, Plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration is GRANTED as to 26 Schmidt’s retaliation claims. Cf. Westendorf v. W. Coast Contractors of Nev., Inc., 27 712 F.3d 417, 423–24 (9th Cir. 2013) (affirming summary judgment in favor of the 28 /// 9 1 defendant on the plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim, but reversing and remanding on 2 the plaintiff’s retaliation claim). 3 4 CONCLUSION 5 6 As described above, Plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration, ECF No. 51, is 7 GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. It is granted as to the Schmidt’s retaliation 8 claims, but denied as to the remainder of Plaintiffs’ claims. 9 10 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: June 16, 2017 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 10

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