Edward/Ellis v. New United Motors Manufacturing, Inc., No. 3:2007cv05452 - Document 69 (N.D. Cal. 2008)
Court Description: ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT by Judge William Alsup [granting 57 Motion for Summary Judgment]. (whasec, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 12/22/2008) (Additional attachment(s) added on 12/22/2008: # 1 Certificate of Service) (dt, COURT STAFF).
Edward/Ellis v. New United Motors Manufacturing, Inc. Doc. 69 1 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 8 9 REGINALD EDWARD/ELLIS, 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 12 13 14 Plaintiffs, v. NEW UNITED MOTORS MANUFACTURING, INC. AND DOES 1 THROUGH 13, 15 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Defendants. / 16 17 18 No. C 07-05452 WHA INTRODUCTION In this action for breach of a collective bargaining agreement, breach of the implied 19 covenant of good faith, slander, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy, 20 defendant moves for summary judgment. Because this order finds that there are no genuine 21 issues of material fact as to any of plaintiff’s claims, defendant’s motion for summary judgment 22 is GRANTED. 23 24 STATEMENT Plaintiff was an employee at defendant’s automobile plant, New United Motors 25 Manufacturing. He was a production worker. He began his employment in 2001. He was 26 fired on May 24, 2006. While plaintiff worked at defendant’s plant, he was a member of the 27 United Auto Workers, Local 2244. The union had a collective bargaining agreement with 28 defendant. The agreement governed plaintiff’s employment. Dockets.Justia.com For the Northern District of California United States District Court 1 Plaintiff was terminated when defendant learned that he had not been using his true 2 legal name. Defendant became aware of the situation when members of the Fremont police 3 department initiated a meeting with an assistant manager at the plant, Rachel Petty. The police 4 told her that plaintiff had been convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, 5 possession of cocaine, assault with a deadly weapon, and forcible rape and sodomy. They also 6 told her that plaintiff was under investigation for credit card fraud and that they believed he 7 may have broken into someone’s house. The police also informed her that plaintiff had been 8 using a false name, a false social security number and a false birth date, and was possibly using 9 a fake identity to receive some type of governmental benefits. They also stated that plaintiff 10 was in possession of a firearm, which he was not allowed to do since he was a convicted felon 11 (Petty Decl. ¶ 3). 12 Plaintiff used the name Reggie Lamont Edwards when he applied for his job with 13 defendant. That was the name he used throughout his employment and on company records. 14 Plaintiff’s true legal name is Reginald Edward Ellis (Martin Decl. Exh. L at 5). Plaintiff started 15 using the name Reggie Lamont Edwards around 1990. Plaintiff claims that he started using 16 the name because he was a victim of identity theft (Edward/Ellis Decl. 2). But he provides no 17 documentation that such a theft ever took place. He never legally changed his name. He never 18 informed defendant of his true name. He also never informed his employer that he had ever 19 been convicted of any crimes. 20 Upon learning from the police that plaintiff might have been untruthful about his 21 identity, Petty contacted plaintiff’s union representative, Gabriel Sanchez. Plaintiff contends 22 that Petty told Sanchez that she had to discipline him about another matter that had not 23 been resolved. But apparently the issue, which is not relevant here, was already resolved. 24 This communication took place on May 17, 2006 (id. at 3). 25 On May 23, assistant manager Petty contacted plaintiff at home. Plaintiff was on 26 disability leave. She informed him that he had to come into the office to speak to her. When he 27 arrived, Petty asked Union Rep Sanchez to be present during an “interview” of plaintiff (id. at 28 4). She also stated that Tom Sana, head of security, needed to be present as well (ibid.). In the 2 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 1 presence of Sanchez and Sana, Petty told plaintiff, “You are not who you say you are” (ibid.). 2 She stated that Sana had information about his criminal background. She also accused plaintiff 3 of failing to disclose prior felony convictions in 1985 and 1990. She accused him of being 4 convicted of forcible rape, assault with a deadly weapon, credit card fraud, and being a suspect 5 in a home invasion. Plaintiff denied all accusations. He also denied that he had falsified his 6 employment application. After his meeting with Petty, plaintiff was arrested for a home 7 invasion. He was later cleared of the charge (ibid.). 8 Plaintiff’s employment was terminated on May 24. Plaintiff’s termination was based 9 on his violation of a provision in the collective bargaining agreement. That provision stated 10 that an employee would forfeit his employment for “[f]alsifying or omitting pertinent 11 information on any [c]ompany record. With regards to employment application the rule shall 12 be one year from the initial application unless unusual circumstances exist.” The union filed a 13 grievance on plaintiff’s behalf. The union later dropped the case because it determined that his 14 case could not be won in arbitration. 15 Plaintiff brought this action on August 14, 2007, alleging breach of the collective 16 bargaining agreement, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, slander, 17 and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Defendant now moves for summary 18 judgment. 19 20 ANALYSIS Summary judgment is granted when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to 21 interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is 22 no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as 23 a matter of law.” FRCP 56(c). A district court must determine, viewing the evidence in the 24 light most favorable to the nonmoving party, whether there is any genuine issue of material fact. 25 Giles v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 494 F.3d 865, 873 (9th Cir. 2007). A genuine issue 26 of fact is one that could reasonably be resolved, based on the factual record, in favor of either 27 party. A dispute is “material” only if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing 28 law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248–49 (1986). 3 1 The moving party “has both the initial burden of production and the ultimate burden of 2 persuasion on a motion for summary judgment.” Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz 3 Cos., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). When the moving party meets its initial 4 burden, the burden then shifts to the party opposing judgment to “go beyond the pleadings and 5 by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, 6 designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 7 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). 8 1. PLAINTIFF’S CLAIM FOR BREACH OF THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT. 9 This suit for breach of a collective bargaining agreement is brought under Section 301 10 Section 301 against his employer, plaintiff must first establish that his union breached its duty For the Northern District of California United States District Court of the Labor Management Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 185). To establish a claim brought under 11 12 of fair representation. Not only must the employee-plaintiff show that his “discharge was 13 contrary to the contract” but also that there was “a breach of duty by the union.” DelCostello v. 14 International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164 (1983). Plaintiff made no attempt 15 to satisfy this requirement. Plaintiff cannot sustain his claim for breach of the collective 16 bargaining agreement by his employer. 17 Moreover, there are no facts in the summary judgment record to raise a genuine issue of 18 material fact. Upon plaintiff’s termination, a grievance was filed on his behalf with the union 19 (Martin Decl. Exh. J). The union decided to not pursue plaintiff’s claim that he was unjustly 20 terminated: “After reviewing the facts, it has been determined that your case cannot be won in 21 arbitration. For the above-stated reason, you are hereby notified that [your] case has officially 22 been withdrawn” (id. Exh. K). The union did not violate its duty of fair representation. 23 “A union breaches that duty if its actions in resolving a union member’s claim are 24 arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith toward that member. This standard may be met when 25 the union arbitrarily ignores a meritorious grievance or processes it in a perfunctory fashion.” 26 Herman v. United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local Union No. 971, 27 60 F.3d 1375, 1380 (9th Cir. 1995). If plaintiff “can state facts sufficient to raise a genuine 28 issue of material fact as to whether [his] union breached its duty of fair representation, then 4 1 [he] may proceed to trial on [his] breach of contract action against [his] employer, even 2 though [he] has elected not to join [his] union as a party.” Ibid. Plaintiff has not stated 3 sufficient facts. 4 5 acted arbitrarily, discriminatory, or in bad faith toward him when it withdrew his case. 6 The closest plaintiff comes is in his deposition statements regarding the grievance process. 7 When asked whether he had evidence that the union’s decision was discriminatory, he answered 8 “yes.” When asked what evidence he had, plaintiff replied, somewhat incoherently (Dep. 99): 9 10 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court Plaintiff must state sufficient facts that raise a genuine issue as to whether the union 12 Basically when a person tells you that they don’t know the provision and then they’re the international union representative that was at the table when the negotiation was happening and after the fact of accusing me of different criminal convictions and crimes that I clearly had Alameda County and any other county verify that I had never been charged or convicted with, and documents to support this information. But I’m still being told they can’t help me. 13 Defendant maintains that this testimony can be interpreted to mean that plaintiff accused the 14 union of discriminating against him because it failed to take into account that he had been 15 wrongly accused of crimes he didn’t commit (Br. 12). Plaintiff does not contest defendant’s 16 characterization of his deposition statements. If defendant’s characterization is correct, then 17 plaintiff’s allegations of discrimination miss the mark because they do not go to the correct 18 issue. Plaintiff was fired for falsifying information on company records, not for having a 19 criminal record. 20 But, reading his statements in a light most favorable to plaintiff, as is required on 21 a summary judgment motion, it is possible to characterize them as alleging that the union 22 discriminated against him because he was accused of committing crimes. If this 23 characterization is correct, then plaintiff has sufficiently alleged facts that his union breached 24 its duty of fair representation. 25 Regardless of which interpretation of plaintiff’s statement is correct, plaintiff still fails 26 to meet his burden for establishing that defendant employer breached the collective bargaining 27 agreement. Plaintiff’s employment was terminated for violating the employee standards of 28 5 1 conduct Rule R-22. That rule stated in full that an employee will forfeit his employment for 2 (Martin Decl. Exh. C at 9): 3 Falsifying or omitting pertinent information on any [c]ompany record. With regards to employment application the rule shall be one year from the initial application unless unusual circumstances exist. 4 5 The collective bargaining agreement contains an almost identical provision (id. Exh. B at 27). 6 Plaintiff contends that defendant breached this provision because he was fired more than one 7 year after he allegedly falsified his employment application. Plaintiff filled out his application 8 in 2001. He was fired in 2006. Defendant, however, contends that it did not breach this 9 provision because plaintiff was not fired for falsifying his employment application; he was 10 Plaintiff’s legal name in 1990 was Reginald Edward Ellis (id. Exh. A at 34). The name For the Northern District of California United States District Court fired for falsifying other documents throughout his employment. 11 12 plaintiff used on company records during his entire employment was Reggie Lamont Edwards 13 (id. Exh. A at 104–08) (id. Exhs. D, E, F, G, and H). Plaintiff does not claim that he ever 14 legally changed his name, and he does not provide any evidence to that effect. Plaintiff also 15 does not assert that Reggie Lamont Edwards was his legal name when he used it on company 16 records during his employment at New United Motors Manufacturing. Defendant, on the other 17 hand, contends plaintiff falsified information on numerous company records by using a name 18 other than his legal one. Defendant provides multiple documents and plaintiff’s own deposition 19 testimony as evidence. There is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff 20 falsified company records. Plaintiff’s claim for breach of the collective bargaining agreement 21 cannot survive defendant’s summary judgment motion. 22 2. 23 24 PLAINTIFF’S CLAIM FOR BREACH OF IMPLIED COVENANT OF GOOD FAITH AND FAIR DEALING. Plaintiff contends that defendant breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair 25 dealing because it “wrongfully terminated plaintiff in violation of the conditions of the 26 contract, to which plaintiff duly performed all the conditions required” (First Amd. Compl. 8). 27 Plaintiff’s claim is preempted by Section 301. “Under California law, a claim for breach of this 28 implied covenant is necessarily based on the existence of an underlying contractual relationship, 6 1 and the essence of the covenant is that neither party to the contract will do anything which 2 would deprive the other of the benefits of the contract. This cause of action developed in the 3 employment context to protect the job security of at-will employees who could be fired without 4 cause under common law. No comparable lack of job security, however, generally exists for 5 unionized employees, whose employment relationship is governed by a collective bargaining 6 agreement. Therefore, we have generally held that Section 301 preempts the California state 7 cause of action for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing when an 8 employee enjoys comparable job security under a collective bargaining agreement.” 9 Milne Employees Association v. Sun Carriers, 960 F.2d 1401, 1411 (9th Cir. 1991). For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 Plaintiff enjoyed more job security under the collective bargaining agreement than 11 an at-will employee. The agreement permitted discharge only for “just cause” and other 12 specifically delineated reasons. Section 301, therefore, preempts plaintiff’s claims. Even if it 13 did not preempt his claim, plaintiff still fails to sufficiently show that defendant did anything 14 to deprive him of the benefit of the contract. The closest plaintiff comes is alleging that his 15 termination letter cited a rule which contained out-dated language. The language used in the 16 termination letter was: 17 18 Falsifying or omitting pertinent information on any [c]ompany record. With regards to employment application, the rule shall be one year from the initial application unless unusual circumstances exist. 19 Plaintiff contends that the rule had been changed as of August 5, 2005. The updated rule stated 20 that “[t]he company can no longer go back more than one year for falsification or omissions on 21 employment applications.” First, as discussed earlier, plaintiff was not fired for falsifying his 22 employment application. Any changes to the rule concerning such falsification would be 23 immaterial. Second, there is no substantive difference between the prior version of the rule 24 and the updated version. Both stated that the company cannot fire someone for falsifying the 25 employment application if the falsification took place more than one year ago. There is no 26 genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendant breached the implied covenant of good 27 faith and fair dealing. 28 7 1 3. 2 In relevant part, California Civil Code Section 46 defines slander as a “a false and 3 unprivileged publication, orally uttered” which “charges any person with crime, or with having 4 been indicted, convicted, or punished for crime” or “tends directly to injure him in respect to 5 his office, profession, trade or business, either by imputing to him general disqualification in 6 those respects which the office or other occupation peculiarly requires, or by imputing 7 something with reference to his office, profession, trade, or business that has a natural tendency 8 to lessen its profits.” The statute of limitations on a slander claim is one year. Cal. Civ. Proc. 9 Section 340(c). For the Northern District of California 10 United States District Court THE CLAIM FOR SLANDER. All plaintiff’s claims that concern statements made on May 18 and 24, 2006, are 11 time-barred by the statute of limitations because they occurred more than one year prior to 12 plaintiff’s filing of the action on August 14, 2007. The only claims that are not time-barred 13 or those that concern statements made in October 2006. 14 In October, Petty submitted documents to the union as part of its grievance procedure. 15 The documents contained Petty’s statements that plaintiff had been convicted of credit card 16 fraud, assault with a deadly weapon, rape, and sexual assault, and that he was a suspect in a 17 home invasion. Plaintiff’s claim that the statements regarding the home invasion and rape were 18 slanderous cannot survive defendant’s summary judgment motion because the statements were 19 substantially true, and plaintiff does not present any evidence that raises a genuine issue of fact 20 as to their truthfulness. 21 “Truth, of course, is an absolute defense to any libel action. In order to establish the 22 defense, the defendant need not prove the literal truth of the allegedly libelous accusation, so 23 long as the imputation is substantially true so as to justify the ‘gist or sting’ of the remark.” 24 Campanelli v. Regents of University of California, 44 Cal.App. 4th 572, 581–82 (1st Dist. 25 1996). Plaintiff admitted that he was suspected of committing a home invasion (Martin Decl. 26 Exh. A at 154). Plaintiff also admitted that he was convicted of statutory rape (id. at 81). 27 The home invasion statement is clearly truthful for purposes of an absolute defense to slander. 28 8 1 The rape statement is a closer call, but it no doubt was substantially true “so as to justify the 2 gist or sting of the remark.” For the Northern District of California United States District Court 3 Petty’s statements regarding plaintiff’s alleged credit card fraud and sexual assault are a 4 different matter. Plaintiff contends that he has never been charged with or convicted of credit 5 card fraud or sexual assault. Plaintiff, however, is still not able to maintain a slander action 6 because the statements were privileged and not covered by the slander statute because they 7 were made without malice to an interested person. A privileged communication is in relevant 8 part one made “in a communication, without malice, to a person interested therein, by one 9 who is also interested.” Cal. Civ. Code Section 47(c). “[M]alice is not inferred from the 10 communication itself. The malice necessary to defeat a qualified privilege is ‘actual malice’ 11 which is established by a showing that the publication was motivated by hatred or ill will 12 towards the plaintiff or by a showing that the defendant lacked reasonable grounds for belief 13 in the truth of the publication and therefore acted in reckless disregard of the plaintiff’s rights.” 14 Id. at 1370. 15 Petty was clearly an interested party as an assistant manager. Her job was to interpret 16 and enforce the collective bargaining agreement. She also conducted investigations regarding 17 employee conduct (Petty Decl. ¶ 2). Petty gave or made the statements to Tom Sana, Debra 18 Johnson, and Gabriel Sanchez. Sana was the security manager for defendant. Johnson was 19 manager of human resources. Sanchez was plaintiff’s union representative. All three 20 individuals were interested parties. Sana clearly had an interest in plaintiff’s alleged criminal 21 background as security manager. Johnson and Sanchez both had an interest in whether plaintiff 22 had violated any company rules. Petty also had reasonable grounds for believing the truth of 23 the statements because she learned of the alleged criminal charges from the Fremont police 24 department. Her statements regarding plaintiff’s alleged credit card fraud and sexual assault 25 were privileged communications not covered by the slander statute even if they were not true. 26 In summary, plaintiff’s claims that defendant committed slander by stating that he was 27 convicted for a marijuana violation, credit card fraud, assault with a deadly weapon, rape, and 28 sexual assault, and that he was a suspect in a home invasion cannot survive defendant’s motion 9 1 for summary judgement. The claims are either time-barred, or defendant presents an absolute 2 defense of truthfulness, or the allegedly slanderous statements were privileged. Plaintiff raises 3 no genuine issue of material fact as to any of these defenses. 4 4. PLAINTIFF’S CLAIM FOR WRONGFUL TERMINATION IN VIOLATION OF PUBLIC POLICY. 5 Plaintiff contends that defendant wrongfully terminated him in violation of California 6 public policy. Plaintiff’s claim must fail because it is preempted by Section 301. “A claim that 7 a discharge violates public policy is preempted if it is not based on any genuine state public 8 policy or if it is bound up with interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement and furthers 9 no state policy independent of the employment relationship. A claim is not preempted if it 10 in protecting the public transcending the employment relationship.” Jackson v. Southern For the Northern District of California United States District Court poses no significant threat to the collective bargaining process and furthers a state interest 11 12 California Gas Co., 881 F.2d 638, 643–44 (9th Cir. 1989). The only state public policy 13 plaintiff points to is California Labor Code Section 923. That section concerns the right of an 14 “individual unorganized worker” to have “full freedom of association.” Plaintiff was, in fact, 15 represented by a union. The policy plaintiff cites is, therefore, inapplicable and cannot provide 16 the basis for his wrongful termination claim. 17 The closest plaintiff comes to making a viable claim that defendant violated public 18 policy is in his complaint where he stated that defendant denied him “the full protection of 19 union representation when it lied to his union representative, Gabriel Sanchez, as to the nature 20 of the meeting which led to plaintiff’s termination” (First Amd. Compl. 9). Defendant 21 allegedly lied when Petty called plaintiff at home “to demand him to come into the office to 22 speak with her. When he arrived, Ms. Petty asked union-representative Gabriel Sanchez to be 23 present during an ‘interview’ of plaintiff” (Edward/Ellis Decl. 4). Rather than interview him, 24 Petty confronted him with the information she had learned from the Fremont police. After the 25 interview plaintiff was arrested. Although plaintiff was not interviewed by Petty, plaintiff does 26 not show how this misrepresentation denied him his right to “full protection of union 27 representation.” If anything, Petty guaranteed him that right by insisting that his union 28 10 1 representative was present when she accused plaintiff of falsifying company records. 2 Plaintiff’s claim, therefore, is preempted by Section 301. For the Northern District of California United States District Court 3 Even if the claim was not preempted by the section, it would still fail because he 4 presents no evidence that would raise a genuine issue of fact as to any of the elements of a 5 tort for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The tort exists when the employee 6 was terminated for (i) refusing to violate a statue; (ii) performing a statutory obligation; 7 (iii) exercising a constitutional or statutory right; or (iv) reporting a statutory violation for the 8 public’s benefit. Green v. Ralee Engineering Co., 19 Cal.4th 66, 76 (1998). Plaintiff was fired 9 for falsifying company records, not for any of the above-mentioned actions. Plaintiff’s claim 10 for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, therefore, cannot survive defendant’s 11 motion for summary judgment. 12 13 CONCLUSION The Court has been generous in granting plaintiff many opportunities to shore up his 14 pleadings and prove, but fairness now requires that this tortured action come to an end in favor 15 of defendant. For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion for summary judgment is 16 GRANTED. 17 18 IT IS SO ORDERED. 19 20 21 Dated: December 22, 2008. WILLIAM ALSUP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 11