Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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In an action alleging age and disability discrimination, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of defendant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) on plaintiff's constructive termination claim and defendant's motion for a new trial on all damages. The court held that the evidence showed only plaintiff's personal, subjective reactions to defendant's use of standard disciplinary procedures, all performed with no breach of confidentiality and with no harassment or other mistreatment of plaintiff. The court reasoned that, although the evidence allowed the inference of age or disability discrimination, nothing reflected any unusually aggravated working conditions or a continuous pattern of mistreatment necessary for constructive discharge. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims. View "Simers v. LA Times Communications" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant, J. Brent Arave, brought several claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) against his former employers, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. (Merrill Lynch), Bank of America (BoA), his supervisor Joseph Holsinger, and a human resources supervisor, Katherine Anderson (collectively, defendants). He sought to recover damages caused by discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also sought damages for nonpayment of wages, and whistleblower retaliation. A jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants on all counts that had survived summary judgment and dismissal. The trial court denied Arave’s post-trial motions and awarded defendants, as prevailing parties, costs, expert witness fees, and attorney fees incurred defending against Arave’s wage claim. Arave appealed, alleging numerous alleged evidentiary errors, issues with the trial court’s jury instructions, counsel misconduct, and related claims that he maintained, warranted reversal of the outcome against him. Defendants cross-appealed, contending the trial court abused its discretion when it determined Arave’s FEHA claims were not frivolous and denied them attorney fees on those claims. After careful consideration, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court in all respects but two. The Court concluded the trial court erred by awarding $83,642.68 in costs and expert witness fees though it found Arave’s FEHA claims were nonfrivolous, and therefore reversed the order making the award. However, because a portion of the award could be attributable to Arave’s wage claim, and the trial court erred by awarding $97,500 in attorney fees on the wage claim without determining whether that claim was frivolous, the matter was remanded for the trial court to make those apportionments, as appropriate. View "Arave v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, etc." on Justia Law

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Defendant was arrested and charged with misdemeanor criminal contempt for allegedly violating a permanent anti-gang injunction. Defendant argued that he was not an active gang member covered by the injunction and that enforcement of the injunction against him violated his right to procedural due process. The trial court determined that the injunction burdened defendant's constitutionally-protected liberty interests, whereby defendant was entitled to some adequate predeprivation process to determine whether he was an active gang member covered by the injunction. Because no predeprivation process was available to defendant to challenge the determination that he was covered by the injunction, the trial court held that enforcement of the injunction against him violated his right to procedural due process. The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of the misdemeanor criminal contempt charge predicated on the application of the injunction to defendant. View "People v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Optional filed suit against DAS and its counsel, Akin and Parker, for conversion and fraudulent transfer. Akin and Parker filed special anti-SLAPP motions to strike all claims asserted against them. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of defendants' motions, holding that Optional v. DAS Corp. (2014) 222 Cal.App.4th 1388, was not the "law of the case" for purposes of this appeal; defendants made a prima facie showing that plaintiff's claims arose from defendants' constitutionally protected petition rights where the gravamen of plaintiff's claims was protected activity, namely defendants' representation of DAS in litigation; and plaintiff did not show a probability of prevailing on its claims where the litigation privilege defeated plaintiff's claims. View "Optional Capital, Inc. v. Akin Gump Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit asserting its right to an administrative hearing to determine whether its chemicals constitute hazardous waste. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's denial of the divisions' anti-SLAPP motion to strike the petition and complaint. The court held that the division made a prima facie showing that plaintiff's cause of action arose from an act in furtherance of its right of free speech in connection with a public issue. In this case, plaintiff claimed that the division's decision and notice that Petromax was hazardous waste, by themselves, were causing plaintiff harm even without an enforcement action. The court also held that plaintiff failed to carry its burden of establishing a probability of prevailing on its claim. View "Santa Clara Waste Water Co. v. County of Ventura Environmental Health Division" on Justia Law

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The same standard applies to an individual defendant's request for attorney fees under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) as applies to an employer defendant, and thus a fee award is only available in the discretion of a trial court when the court finds that the plaintiff's claim was frivolous. In this case, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of defendant's motion for attorney fees because plaintiff's FEHA claim was not frivolous. The court noted that individual employee defendants who prevailed on a FEHA harassment suit were not left without a means of recovering attorney fees and costs they may have incurred to defend themselves. The court also denied defendant's request for judicial notice. View "Lopez v. Routt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the City violated certain ordinances and selectively applied others in issuing the permit for a fence separating two neighbors while denying plaintiffs' permit for a deck they had built. The City filed a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP statute), because plaintiffs' complaint targeted "protected speech" where the City's decisions followed official government proceedings. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of the special motion, holding that section 425.16 does not protect a governmental entity's decisions to issue or deny permits. The court agreed with the trial court that granting a special motion to strike in these circumstances would chill citizens' attempts to challenge government action. View "Shahbazian v. City of Rancho Palos Verdes" on Justia Law

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Janice Dickinson filed suit against William H. Cosby, Jr. and his attorney, Martin Singer, for defamation and related causes of action after Singer issued a letter demanding media outlets not to repeat Dickinson's allegedly false accusations of rape against Cosby, and a press release characterizing Dickinson's rape accusations as a lie. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in striking Dickinson's first amended complaint, as it pertained only to a party, Singer, who had not filed an anti-SLAPP motion; the trial court erred in granting the anti-SLAPP motion with respect to the demand letter; and the court correctly denied the anti-SLAPP motion with respect to the press release. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Dickinson v. Cosby" on Justia Law

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Police officer trainee Cornell, off-duty and in street clothes, was running in Golden Gate Park. Uniformed patrol officers spotted him and grew suspicious because the area is known for illicit drug activity. Cornell claims he was unaware of the officers when he heard, “I will shoot you,” and looked behind him to see a dark figure pointing a gun. He darted away, ultimately finding a police officer, who ordered him to the ground. He was arrested at gunpoint and searched, taken in handcuffs to a station, and eventually to a hospital for a drug test, which was negative. Officers searched the areas where he was known to have been, and his truck. After nearly six hours in custody, Cornell was released with a citation for evading arrest. Cornell was never prosecuted but lost his job. Cornell sued. The court determined that Cornell was arrested without probable cause. A jury awarded Cornell $575,242 for tortious interference with economic advantage, and violation of Civil Code section 52.1; the court added $2,027,612.75 in attorney’s fees and costs on the Section 52.1 claim. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the jury’s findings did not support the probable cause determination; the court should have declared a mistrial when the jury deadlocked on one question on the special verdict form; the court failed to address an argument that, under Penal Code 847(b), the defendants were immune from false arrest claims; and even if the tort verdict is upheld, the Section 52.1 verdict and awards were based on insufficient evidence. View "Cornell v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Mary Anna Whitehall worked as a social worker for the San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS or the County). She sought legal advice pertaining to any liability she might have for submitting misleading information and doctored photographs to the juvenile court at the direction of her superiors. Her counsel prepared a filing; subsequently plaintiff was immediately placed on administrative leave for disclosing confidential information to an unauthorized person. Upon being informed she would be terminated for the breach, plaintiff resigned her position and filed a whistle blower action against the County. The County filed a special motion to strike the complaint as an Anti-SLAPP action, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, which was denied by the trial court. The County appealed. On appeal, the County argued the trial court erred in determining plaintiff had established the second prong of the criteria to overcome a special motion to strike an Anti-SLAPP lawsuit by finding a likelihood she would prevail because the County’s actions were not privileged or covered by governmental immunity. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Whitehall v. County of San Bernardino" on Justia Law