Arakji v. Microchip Technology, Inc.,

Filing 94

ORDER DENYING 89 PLAINTIFFS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT. Signed by Judge Beth Labson Freeman on 11/19/2020.(blflc4S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 11/20/2020)<hr><center>Any non-CM/ECF Participants have been served by First Class Mail to the addresses of record listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF)</center>

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Case 5:19-cv-02936-BLF Document 94 Filed 11/20/20 Page 1 of 7 1 2 3 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 4 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 5 SAN JOSE DIVISION 6 7 MAZEN ARAKJI, Plaintiff, 8 v. 9 10 MICROCHIP TECHNOLOGY, INC.,, ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Defendant. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California Case No. 19-cv-02936-BLF 12 13 Before the Court is Plaintiff Mazen Arakji’s motion for summary judgment in this action 14 arising from Defendant Microchip Technology, Inc.’s (“Microchip”) failure to hire Arakji for a 15 senior firmware engineer position. Mot., ECF 89. Arakji alleges that Microchip did not hire him 16 because of his national origin, religion, and disability. See generally First Am. Compl. (“FAC”), 17 ECF 22. No hearing was set for this motion, which constitutes Plaintiff’s one motion for summary 18 judgment that the Court allows per side in the life of the case. See Standing Order for Civil Cases § 19 VI.A. Because there are disputed issues of material fact as to pretext, Arakji’s motion is DENIED. 20 I. BACKGROUND 21 Arakji is a 38-year-old male, who for “[M]uslim religious purposes,” wears a long beard. 22 FAC ¶ 1. Arakji also has a “very obvious musculoskeletal disability which limits [his] ability to grip 23 and lift heavy objects.” Id. Arakji’s “national origin is Lebanese, which is an Arab country in the 24 Middle East” and has “Arabic ancestry and ethnic characteristics.” Id. Arakji’s first name “Mazen” 25 is “known to be an Arabic name” and his surname “Arakji” is “known to be a [M]uslim surname.” 26 Id. 27 Arakji holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Master of 28 Science in Computer Engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. FAC ¶ 2. Arakji has Case 5:19-cv-02936-BLF Document 94 Filed 11/20/20 Page 2 of 7 1 earned various certifications in his field. Id. ¶ 3-4. Arakji worked at Sun Microsystems (now Oracle), 2 where he was promoted within 6 months and was accepted into the “selective Sun Engineering 3 Enrichment & Development (SEED) program” on the technical tract—designed for individuals with 4 a high potential to excel. Id. ¶ 5. He received a letter from a previous employer commending his 5 performance and contributions. Id. Recently, Arakji developed three Android and two iOS 6 applications. Id. Arakji also developed a “novel RTOS architecture for which he has a patent 7 pending.” Id. Arakji applied for “several Firmware Engineer positions at Microsemi1 between January and 9 April of 2017.” FAC ¶¶ 20, 21. On April 14, 2017, Arakji applied for the “Senior Firmware Design 10 Engineer Position (requisition number 5244) . . . on the Microsemi careers website.” Id. ¶ 23. The 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 8 requirements for the position as stated in the online job posting on the Microsemi website are as 12 follows: 13 • Bachelors with 5 years of experience or Master with 3 years’ experience. 14 • Strong C-programming skills and product development experience. 15 • Strong background in Software methodology and full-cycle development (design, implementation, testing, and debugging). 16 17 • Must possess the ability to approach problems systematically. 18 • Must be able to interpret specification and standard documents well. 19 • Excellent written and oral communication skills. 20 Id. ¶ 24. Arakji claims that he not only meets and exceeds the requirements but that he has focused 21 on “embedded systems and firmware” throughout both his academic and professional careers. Id. 22 ¶¶ 25,33. 23 Arakji “was contacted by Srinivas Yelisetti, the hiring manager from Microsemi, in regards 24 to [his] application and was asked to participate in a phone interview.” FAC ¶ 26. After “a positive 25 experience,” Arakji was contacted by Donna Vespe, a Senior Talent Acquisition Partner, and “was 26 offered an invitation for an onsite interview[.]” Id. Arakji describes this interview as “another 27 28 1 Microsemi was later acquired by Microchip. 2 Case 5:19-cv-02936-BLF Document 94 Filed 11/20/20 Page 3 of 7 1 positive experience.” Id. ¶ 28. Nonetheless, Arakji was rejected for the job by the Microsemi career 2 website, which stated “Thank you for your interest in Senior Firmware Design Engineer – 5244. It 3 has been determined that your background is not a match for the requirements set for in the position. 4 We wish you the best in your career search.” Id.; Yelisetti Decl., ECF 91 ¶ 30; ECF 89, Exh. A, 5 Item 1. Arakji claims that “the set of possible reasons the Defendant has for denying [him] 7 employment is limited” to the information that he provided through the online job application and 8 what Microchip learned about Arakji by meeting with him in person during the onsite interview, 9 including: Arakji’s first name (and thus his Arab ancestry by deduction), Arakji’s last name (and 10 thus his religion by deduction), Arakji’s long beard (and thus his religiousness by deduction), 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 6 Arakji’s disability, and Arakji’s qualifications. FAC ¶ 32. 12 Based on these experiences, Arakji claims that Microchip violated Cal. Gov’t Code Section 13 12940 by denying him employment due to his religious creed, national origin, ancestry, or disability. 14 FAC ¶ 37. Arakji alleges that Microchip “intentionally wanted to deny [him] an opportunity for 15 employment despite the fact that [he is] qualified.” Id. ¶ 35. According to Arakji, “Defendant 16 discriminated because the Defendant is revolted by people of [his] religion, national origin, ancestry, 17 ethnic characteristics and disability, and especially those with a combination of all of the above.” 18 Id. 19 II. 20 Summary judgment is not warranted if a material fact exists for trial. See Warren v. City of 21 Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir. 1995). The underlying facts are viewed in the light most 22 favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 23 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). “Summary judgment will not lie if ... the evidence is such that a 24 reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 25 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment has the burden to show initially 26 the absence of a genuine issue concerning any material fact. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 27 U.S. 144, 159 (1970). 28 LEGAL STANDARD Where the moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the movant must 3 Case 5:19-cv-02936-BLF Document 94 Filed 11/20/20 Page 4 of 7 1 affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the movant. 2 Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). Where the non-moving party 3 will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the movant may prevail by presenting evidence 4 that negates an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or by merely pointing out that 5 there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's claim. See 6 James River Ins. Co. v. Schenk, P.C., 523 F.3d 915, 923 (9th Cir. 2008); Soremekun, 509 F.3d at 7 984; Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1105–06 (9th Cir. 2000). If a 8 moving party fails to carry its burden of production, then “the non-moving party has no obligation 9 to produce anything, even if the non-moving party would have the ultimate burden of persuasion.” 10 Nissan Fire, 210 F.3d at 1102–03. United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Once the moving party has met its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party 12 to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will 13 bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). To 14 discharge this burden, the nonmoving party cannot rely on its pleadings, but instead must have 15 evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See id. at 324. In considering a motion for 16 summary judgment, however, “the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the 17 nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Anderson, 18 477 U.S. at 250-51. 19 III. 20 Arakji alleges discrimination on the basis of national origin, religion, and disability in 21 violation of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). See First Am. Compl. 22 (“FAC”) ¶¶ 22-37. The same legal principles that guide a court in a Title VII dispute apply with 23 equal force to Arakji's FEHA claim. See Metoyer v. Chassman, 504 F.3d 919, 941 (9th Cir. 2007). 24 Thus, in analyzing Defendants' motion for summary judgment, the Court applies the burden-shifting 25 framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). At the first step 26 of McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination or 27 retaliation. If the plaintiff makes out her prima facie case of either discrimination or retaliation, the 28 burden then “shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its DISCUSSION 4 Case 5:19-cv-02936-BLF Document 94 Filed 11/20/20 Page 5 of 7 1 allegedly discriminatory [or retaliatory] conduct.” Vasquez v. County of Los Angeles, 349 F.3d 634, 2 640 (9th Cir. 2003). Finally, at the third step of McDonnell Douglas, if the employer articulates a 3 legitimate reason for its action, “the presumption of discrimination drops out of the picture, and the 4 plaintiff may defeat summary judgment by satisfying the usual standard of proof required ... under 5 Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).” Cornwell v. Electra Cent. Credit Union, 439 F.3d 1018, 1028 (9th Cir. 2006) 6 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). 1. Evidentiary Dispute 8 To support his motion, Arakji proffers various documents, photographs and videos. See ECF 9 89-1. Arakji stored this evidence on a cloud hard drive and presented the Court with hyperlinks with 10 which to access the information. Microchip objects to the evidence on multiple grounds. See Oppo., 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 7 ECF 90 at 6-8. Because Arakji’s motion fails to make headway even with the support of his uniquely 12 formatted evidence, the Court assumes, without deciding, that Arakji’s evidentiary offerings are 13 admissible for the purposes of this motion. The Court stresses that it is not making an ultimate 14 determination about the admissibility of Arakji’s evidence. Microchip may re-raise its objections 15 where appropriate. 16 2. Prima Facie 17 To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, the plaintiff must show that: (1) she 18 belongs to a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she was subject to an adverse 19 employment action; and (4) similarly situated individuals outside her protected class were treated 20 more favorably. See Chaung v. Univ. of Cal. Davis, Bd. of Trustees, 225 F.3d 1115, 1123 (9th Cir. 21 2000). Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, “[t]he requisite degree of proof necessary to 22 establish a prima facie case for Title VII ... on summary judgment is minimal and does not even 23 need to rise to the level of a preponderance of the evidence.” Wallis v. J.R. Simplot Co., 26 F.3d 24 885, 889 (9th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). 25 At the prima facie stage, the amount of evidence relating to competence that Arakji must 26 produce is “very little.” Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 358 F.3d 599, 603 (9th Cir. 2004) 27 (quotation omitted). Arakji has met this low bar. There is no dispute that Arakji has proffered 28 evidence that he is a member of more than one protected class based on his national origin, religion 5 Case 5:19-cv-02936-BLF Document 94 Filed 11/20/20 Page 6 of 7 and disability. See ECF 89, Exh. A, Items 35-38. There is also no dispute that Arakji experienced 2 an adverse employment action when he was denied a job by Microchip. See ECF 89, Exh. A, Item 3 1. And Arakji forwards evidence that illustrates he was qualified on paper for Senior Firmware 4 Design Engineer Position (requisition number 5244). See, e.g., ECF 89, Exh. A, Items 4.1 5 (transcript), 5 (diplomas), 6 (transcript), 7 (transcript), 8 (embedded systems engineering 6 certificate), 11 (Coursera certifications), 13 (edX certification), 14 (Java certifications), 22-23 7 (employment offers), 27 (same). As for the fourth factor, there is evidence in the record that 8 Microchip continued to seek other applicants for the position, ultimately hiring one in October 2017. 9 See ECF 89, Exh. A, Item 1; Yelisetti Decl. ¶ 29 (“When this position was not filled after three 10 months it closed automatically . . . I directed that the position be re-posted. It took us many months 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 1 of effort but eventually we hired an engineer and filled the position in October 2017.”); see also 12 ECF 42 (order granting in part motion for reconsideration). 13 3. Legitimate, Non-Discriminatory Rationale 14 Once a prima facie case is established, the employer must “articulate” a legitimate reason 15 for the employment decision that was made. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. To “articulate” 16 means to produce evidence. See Rodriguez v. Gen. Motors Corp., 904 F.2d 531, 533 (9th Cir. 1990). 17 Microchip has adduced substantial evidence in support of its contention that Arakji was not 18 hired because he lacked the technical skills, experience, or background required for Engineer 19 Position 5244. The declarations and exhibits proffered by Microchip establish that the interviewers 20 believed Arakji lacked sufficient skills or experience in C-programming, debugging, and embedded 21 software. See Yelisetti Decl. ¶¶ 16, 21-22, 24-25; Miller Decl., ECF 92, Exh. A (email from Vespe 22 stating that Arakji’s “C-programming skills are not strong” and that he did not have “enough 23 embedded debugging, troubleshooting experience”). None of the four Microchip employees who 24 interviewed Arakji gave him a favorable hiring recommendation. Yelisetti Decl. ¶¶ 21-22, 24-25. 25 Yelisetti reported that her adverse recommendation was predicated on Arakji’s professional 26 qualifications, not his national origin, religion, or disability. See Yelisetti Decl. ¶ 26. Yelisetti further 27 reported that no interviewer referenced Arakji’s national origin, religion, or disability in discussing 28 his candidacy. There can be no doubt that Microchip has articulated, and supported with evidence, 6 Case 5:19-cv-02936-BLF Document 94 Filed 11/20/20 Page 7 of 7 1 its contention that Arakji was not offered employment on account of his national origin, religion 2 and disability. 4. Pretext 4 Because Microchip has articulated a legitimate reason for its decision not to hire Arakji, 5 Arakji must “offer specific and significantly probative evidence that the employer's alleged purpose 6 [was] a pretext for discrimination.” Schuler v. Chronicle Broadcasting Co., 793 F.2d 1010, 1011 7 (9th Cir. 1986). Arakji can prove pretext “(1) indirectly, by showing that the employer's proffered 8 explanation is ‘unworthy of credence’ because it is internally inconsistent or otherwise not 9 believable, or (2) directly, by showing that unlawful discrimination more likely motivated the 10 employer.” Raad v. Fairbanks North Star Borough School Dist., 323 F.3d 1185, 1194 (9th Cir. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 3 2003) (quotation omitted). Microchip has submitted substantial evidence of non-discriminatory 12 reasons for not hiring Arakji, see Section III.3, while Arakji has submitted modest evidence of 13 pretext, see Mot. ¶¶ 8-57 (describing qualifications), 65-70 (explaining pretext). The Court declines 14 to decide whether Arakji’s evidence of pretext is sufficient to meet his ultimate burden, but rather 15 concludes that, at this point in the litigation, there are disputed issues of material fact and Arakji 16 bears the burden of proof on the issue of pretext. 17 IV. 18 Because there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether Microchip’s stated reason 19 20 ORDER for Arakji’s termination is pretextual, summary judgment is DENIED. IT IS SO ORDERED. 21 22 23 24 Dated: November 19, 2020 ______________________________________ BETH LABSON FREEMAN United States District Judge 25 26 27 28 7

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