Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Court of Appeal held that Allergan was not entitled to summary adjudication of plaintiff's first cause of action for disability discrimination. The court held that plaintiff provided direct evidence of disability discrimination where Allergan terminated him because the temporary corporate benefits staffer mistakenly believed he was totally disabled and unable to work. The court held that Allergan was not entitled to summary adjudication of plaintiff's fourth cause of action for retaliation where plaintiff's emails would permit a reasonable trier of fact to find that he sufficiently communicated to Allergan that he believed the way he was treated (i.e. ignored and not accommodated for his disability) was discriminatory. Furthermore, Allergan failed to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for plaintiff's termination. The court held that plaintiff's fifth cause of action for failure to prevent discrimination and seventh cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy should survive summary adjudication for the same reasons as his causes of action for discrimination and retaliation. Accordingly, the court issued a peremptory writ of mandate vacating the trial court's order to the extent it granted summary adjudication on these causes of action. View "Glynn v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Parents, students, taxpayers, and community organizations filed suit alleging that the school district adopted and implemented a district-wide disciplinary program that was biased toward minority students, students who speak limited English, and others similarly situated. This case arose from information released to the public regarding suspensions, transfers, and other disciplinary proceedings in the school district that allegedly demonstrated that racial bias affected how the school district disciplined minority students, and actions taken by the school district to actively hide this fact from the public. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of most of plaintiffs' claims against the state level defendants, either because the claims did not state a cause of action or such claims may be brought against the local level defendants but not the state level defendants. The court held, however, that plaintiffs have stated a cause of action for disparate impact under California's equal protection clause and they have properly petitioned for a writ of mandate based on the state level defendants' ministerial duty to monitor the practices of local school districts for violations of federal law. Therefore, the court held that the trial court wrongly sustained the state-level defendants' demurrer on those claims, along with plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief on the same issues. The court also held that plaintiffs' complaint contained sufficient allegations to demonstrate associational standing for one of the community organizations to pursue these claims against the state level defendants. View "Collins v. Thurmond" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed two separate orders under the anti-SLAPP statute addressing special motions to strike malicious prosecution claims stemming from defendant's commencement of the underlying action, on behalf of his client, against Plaintiffs Lee and Grip Smart. Defendant alleged that his client was denied access to Lee's business, Grip Smart, because the adjacent parking lot did not have a handicapped accessible spot. The court affirmed the order granting defendant's special motion to strike Lee's complaint and order denying defendant's special motion to strike Grip Smart's complaint. The court held that Lee did not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits of his claim for malicious prosecution, because Lee forfeited any argument that he made the requisite prima facie showing with regard to two elements of his claim. The court held that the denial of defendant's motion to strike Grip Smart's complaint was proper where there was no indication that the trial court misunderstood who bore the burden on the second prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis; the underlying action terminated in favor of Grip Smart in a manner that reflected on the merits of the claim, because the underlying action terminated based on the lack of any causal link between Grip Smart's actions and the alleged injury; Grip Smart made the requisite showing that continued prosecution after November 2016 was done without probable cause; and Grip Smart made a sufficient showing to support the element of malice. View "Lee v. Kim" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed the trial court's denial of a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, in a driveway dispute easement action brought by Starview Property. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that an anti-SLAPP motion may be brought within 60 days of service of an amended complaint if the amended complaint pleads new causes of action that could not have been the target of a prior anti-SLAPP motion, or adds new allegations that make previously pleaded causes of action subject to an anti-SLAPP motion. In this case, Starview's three newly pled causes of action in its amended complaint plainly could not have been the target of a prior motion, even if they arose from protected activity alleged in the original complaint. Therefore, the trial court erred by dismissing defendants' motion as untimely. View "Starview Property, LLC v. Lee" on Justia Law

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An employer can sue for declaratory relief to enforce a superior court judgment unfavorable to the Labor Commissioner without violating the anti-SLAPP statute where, as here, the lawsuit does not arise out of activity protected by the statute. In this case, Supershuttle filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the the Labor defendants, seeking a declaration that the doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes the Labor Commissioner from considering wage claims filed by drivers of Supershuttle vans because the Sacramento Superior Court previously found the drivers were independent contractors, not employees. The court found that the gravamen of Supershuttle's complaint was the harm it will suffer from the intended decision of the Labor defendants to deny collateral estoppel effect to a final decision of the Sacramento Superior Court, not from the Labor defendants' writing or statements preceding or communicating that decision; the Labor defendants have not identified speech or writings made in connection with a public issue or issue of public importance from which the causes of action arise; and the trial court did not conclude that the Labor defendants acted illegally as a matter of law within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP law. The court held that, most importantly, the trial court did not rely on any illegality to deny the Labor defendants' motion to strike, and the court did not rely on any illegality to affirm the trial court's order. View "Supershuttle International, Inc. v. Labor & Workforce Development Agency" on Justia Law

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After a client fired her attorney and his firm, the firm placed a lien on the client's further recovery and filed suit against the client's daughter for defamation. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of the daughter's motion under the anti-SLAPP law. The court held that Bel Air Internet, LLC v. Morales (2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 924, 929, foreclosed the firm's argument that, because the daughter denied making the posts, plaintiffs' cause of action was not arising from any act of the daughter. The court agreed with the trial court's conclusion that plaintiffs did not make a prima facie showing that the daughter was legally responsible for the Yelp review postings that underly their defamation claim. In this case, the posts themselves did not establish that the daughter was the author or poster, because none of the posts were in her name and their content suggested that the author was the client, the one represented by the attorney and law firm. The court rejected plaintiffs' remaining arguments and held that the daughter was entitled to her costs on appeal. View "Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP v. Lahiji" on Justia Law

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The Teamsters Union represents skilled crafts employees at UCLA and UCSD and was campaigning to unionize University of California Davis (UCD) employees. Teamsters distributed a flyer making statements about the impact that unionizing had upon the skilled crafts employees at UCLA and UCSD. In response, Regents distributed an “HR Bulletin,” stating: “the University is neutral on the issue of unionization” and that UCLA and UCSD employees had been in extensive contract negotiations, which had the effect of freezing salaries for several years. The flier included favorable statements about UCD salaries, benefits, and grievance procedures. Teamsters filed suit, citing Government Code 16645.6, which prohibits a public employer from using state funds to “assist, promote, or deter union organizing.” Regents filed an "anti-SLAPP" special motion to strike (Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) arguing that the complaint arose from protected conduct: a statement made in a place open to the public in connection with an issue of public interest; that Teamsters could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on its claim because the action was preempted by the exclusive jurisdiction of the Public Employment Relations’ Board (PERB); and that nothing in section 11645.6 prohibited noncoercive speech. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. PERB had exclusive jurisdiction over unfair labor practices. The bulletin was not alleged to be an unfair labor practice. The bulletin could be construed as an attempt to influence the employees, so Teamsters had a reasonable probability of prevailing on its section 16645.6 claim. View "Teamsters Local 2010 v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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In 2006, SFSU hired Gupta, an American woman of Indian ancestry, as a tenure-track assistant professor. In 2009, Gupta and other women of color in the School of Social Work raised issues concerning “hostile work environment” and discrimination. Two months later, Gupta received a critical fourth-year review. Shortly thereafter, Gupta sent emails to a colleague complaining that her workplace was hostile towards women of color. Her supervisor told Gupta “I know about [the emails] ... I’m going to get even.” Another professor witnessed the exchange. After being denied early tenure Gupta filed an EEOC complaint and a federal lawsuit. An arbitrator ordered SFSU to review Gupta for tenure the following year. Despite excellent evaluations and recommendations, Gupta was denied tenure; her supervisor made threatening remarks to a colleague who questioned the decision. SFSU granted tenure to Dr. J.H., another School of Social Work professor, who had not filed a complaint. Gupta’s scores were better than J.H.’s scores and Gupta had more than double the minimum publication requirement, while J.H. had not met that requirement. SFSU terminated Gupta’s employment in 2014. A jury awarded Gupta $378,461 for retaliation; the court awarded $587,160.75 in attorney fees and costs. SFSU has reinstated Gupta as a tenured professor. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court erred in: allowing Gupta to present evidence of a “comparator professor” without requiring her to show her qualifications were clearly superior; refusing to give a special jury instruction regarding comparator evidence; and intervening in the questioning of witnesses in a manner that favored Gupta. View "Gupta v. Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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After the City filed suit against plaintiffs from their jobs as hearing examiners at the Department of Transportation, they filed suit alleging violations of the Bane Act and a claim for whistleblower retaliation. The jury found for plaintiffs and the trial court assessed a penalty under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), awarding them attorney fees. The court held that plaintiffs have established a prima facie case of retaliation; assumed that the City established legitimate, nonretaliatory reasons for firing plaintiffs; and held that there was evidence to support the jury's finding that the City's proffered reasons for firing plaintiffs were pretextual. In this case, there was evidence plaintiffs were not fired because of how they conducted hearings or for behavioral problems. Rather, a jury could have reasonably inferred that the City was punishing plaintiffs for their prior complaints. The court rejected the City's contention that the penalty award must be reversed based on plaintiffs' failure to comply with prefiling notice requirements, and held that attorney fees were appropriately awarded under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. Finally, the court held that it need not reach the Bane Act issues. View "Hawkins v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of plaintiff's petition for writ of administrative mandate, arguing that the University's disciplinary proceeding concerning his sexual misconduct with another student was unfair and the evidence did not support the adjudicator's findings. The court held that plaintiff's hearing was fair where the University's policy complied with all the procedural requirements identified by California cases dealing with sexual misconduct disciplinary proceedings: both sides had notice of the charges and hearing and had access to the evidence, the hearing included live testimony and written reports of witness interviews, the critical witnesses appeared in person at the hearing so that the adjudicator could evaluate their credibility, and the respondent had an opportunity to propose questions for the adjudicator to ask the complainant. The court also held that plaintiff's contentions that the hearing was unfair were meritless where his arguments concerning the charge evaluation worksheet were forfeited and did not support mandamus relief; the hearing coordinator was not biased; the independent adjudicator was not biased; and there was no cumulative impact. Therefore, the court held that there was substantial evidence that plaintiff should have known that the student was incapacitated. View "Doe v. Occidental College" on Justia Law