LCW Partner Mark Meyerhoff And Associates Viddell Lee Heard, Olga Bryan, And Daniel Ivanov Win Dismissal Of Employee’s Age Discrimination, Harassment, And Retaliation Lawsuit

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Sep 29, 2023

After 19 years as a support specialist in a community college district’s distance education program, an employee sued the district and several of her supervisors, deans, and board members for free speech retaliation, age discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation, and harassment.

In early 2019, heavy rains flooded the employee’s building and the district relocated her from her private office into a shared office space with a handful of new officemates.  Around the same time, the employee submitted an anonymous complaint to Cal/OSHA about asbestos discovered during flooding remediation.  Meanwhile, the employee had also become an active union representative, advocating on behalf of classified staff at board meetings and campus events.

In her new workspace, the employee began engaging in disruptive behavior.  On a regular basis, she swore, threw things, and once threatened to “hurt someone.”  A coworker complained that the employee’s behavior was creating a hostile work environment and that she did not feel comfortable being alone with the employee.  In response, the district placed the employee on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an independent investigation.  The investigator concluded that the employee’s behavior created a tense and unpleasant work environment, as corroborated by the employee’s other officemates. The district issued the employee a written reprimand, and the employee returned to work.

At the end of the school term, the employee was asked to prepare a video presentation.  She claimed she did the best she could but acknowledged that her presentation was “not good.”  When she was told it needed to be redone, the employee resigned and later filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

After several successful motions to dismiss, the employee was left with the claims noted above against the district and two individual defendants.  The remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the case should be dismissed because there was no evidence that any of the district’s actions were motivated by anything other than the employee’s own misconduct and work performance.

The court agreed and granted summary judgment on each of employee’s claims.  The court found that the employee could not demonstrate that her speech was a substantial or motivating factor in any adverse employment action.  The evidence showed that the employee was placed on administrative leave and issued a written reprimand solely because her coworker raised concerns about the employee’s behavior, and not because of her Cal/OSHA complaint or her union activity.  With respect to the retaliation claim, the employee claimed that she threw her computer mouse on the desk and stated she was going to “hurt someone” because of her frustration about the disparate treatment of disabled students and faculty within the distance education program.  The court agreed that this outburst was not “protected activity,” and even if it was, there was no evidence showing that any of the district’s subsequent attempts to investigate and remedy the employee’s behavior were related to the employee’s concerns about disabled students and faculty.

The court also found that there was no evidence that the district or any of its employees impermissibly considered the employee’s age in making any decision regarding her employment.  Nor did the court find any objective evidence that any district employee harassed the employee regarding her age.  The court found that a supervisor’s single comment about the employee’s retirement was insufficient to constitute severe or pervasive harassment that was both objectively and subjectively offensive.  The court granted the district’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case.

View More News

Public Education Matters
LCW Associate Tony G. Carvalho Convinces The Court To Uphold A Sergeant’s Termination
Public Education Matters
School District Must Recognize A Christian Student Group That Has Controversial Views On Marriage And Sexuality