349 F.3d 634 (9th Cir. 2003), 00-56803, Vasquez v. County of Los Angeles

Docket Nº:00-56803
Citation:349 F.3d 634
Party Name:Vasquez v. County of Los Angeles
Case Date:November 07, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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349 F.3d 634 (9th Cir. 2003)

Francisco VASQUEZ, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, erroneously sued as Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 00-56803.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

November 7, 2003

Argued and Submitted Dec. 4, 2001.

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Susan D. Salisbury, Rosemead, CA, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Barry M. Wolf, Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland, LLP, Beverly Hills, CA, for the defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California; Margaret M. Morrow, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-99-08542-MMM.

Before FERGUSON, T.G. NELSON, and W. FLETCHER, Circuit Judges.

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T.G. NELSON, Circuit Judge.

Francisco Vasquez, a deputy probation officer at a Los Angeles County youth detention center, brought this action against the County, alleging that the County violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against him on the basis of his national origin, subjecting him to a hostile work environment, and retaliating against him for filing discrimination chazar,. The district court granted the County's summary judgment motion, and Vasquez appeals. We affirm the district court.

I

Francisco Vasquez is a Deputy Probation Officer, Level I (DPO I), who works for the County of Los Angeles at its Dorothy Kirby Center (DKC). DKC is a detention facility for youth who have committed less serious crimes. The youth live at DKC in various cottages, and the DPOs are assigned to a particular cottage or to the field, where they rotate between cottages. Vasquez was assigned to "turquoise cottage" during the events that led to this lawsuit.

Kelly Berglund was employed at DKC as a DPO II, and was also assigned to turquoise cottage. A DPO II has more supervisory responsibilities and takes on more complex cases than a DPO I. Berglund and Vasquez experienced conflicts while working together. Vasquez claims that Berglund yelled at him and made negative comments about him in front of the youth. During one altercation in February 1998, Berglund made a comment to Vasquez that Vasquez was too domineering with the minors and had a "typical Hispanic macho attitude." Later that month, Vasquez filed a grievance against Berglund for that remark. The director of the facility, Karma Leeds, offered to transfer Vasquez out of turquoise cottage to alleviate the conflict, but Vasquez did not want to leave turquoise cottage so he withdrew his grievance.

The following month, Berglund sent a memo to Leeds describing incidents in which she believed Vasquez had behaved inappropriately. This memo was in response to Leeds' request for information regarding the conduct and behavior of Vasquez. Then, in the fall of 1998, Berglund commented to Vasquez that he should take a job in the field because "Hispanics do good in the field."

The culmination of the conflict occurred on March 27, 1999. Berglund was acting director of DKC on that day because neither the director nor the assistant director were present. Vasquez called Berglund to request permission for his cottage to play football against garnet cottage. Vasquez contends that Berglund granted his request, providing the game was touch football. Berglund claims that there was a policy at DKC that no football of any kind was to be played, and she therefore refused his request to play football but said he could play soccer.

Approximately one half hour after the telephone call, Berglund and two DPO Is walked out to the recreation area. As they approached the area, Berglund noticed two youths sitting on the curb, one of whom stood up, threw a soccer ball toward the field, and yelled something in the direction of the field. When Berglund and the two DPOs arrived at the field, they saw the youth from turquoise cottage and garnet cottage kicking a soccer ball. Some had flags hanging from their waistbands. All play stopped when Berglund arrived at the field. Berglund asked several of the youth if they had been playing football, but they denied it. Vasquez then took the youth back to turquoise cottage. Vasquez later admitted that the youth

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were playing football, and that he saw the game end abruptly and two players throw down their flags as Berglund approached the field.

Berglund next called Mario Ng, the DPO I for garnet cottage. Ng admitted to playing football and stated that he was not aware that Berglund had spoken to Vasquez before the game. Berglund proceeded to turquoise cottage and again questioned the youth about the game. One youth denied playing football, but Vasquez told Berglund that the youth had been playing football. After Berglund left, Vasquez told the youth that they should write letters to Berglund, apologizing for lying to her and being disrespectful, which they subsequently did.

On the following Monday, Berglund sent Leeds a memo detailing her version of the events of March 27. The memo stated that Vasquez disobeyed Berglund's order to not play football. Leeds also read the letters from the youth in turquoise cottage admitting that they had lied to Berglund and that one had acted as a lookout during the football game. Leeds then talked to Vasquez's supervisor, Star French, and Mario Ng. Finally, Leeds spoke with Vasquez, who denied doing anything wrong. However, Leeds received the impression that Vasquez knew he should not have been playing football. On April 2, 1999, Leeds removed Vasquez from turquoise cottage and placed him in a field position. On April 5, 1999, Star French issued a letter of warning to Vasquez for failing to follow instructions from an acting residential supervisor. Vasquez chose not to respond to the letter.

On June 23, 1999, Vasquez filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging harassment and disparate treatment during the period of March 27, 1999, to April 5, 1999. Vasquez then went on disability leave until August 1999 because of stress and depression. Upon Vasquez's return, Leeds asked him if he planned to pursue his claim and threatened to transfer him out of DKC if he did pursue it. In addition, Vasquez was not assigned any overtime work and continued to be denied bilingual pay.

After the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on July 19, 1999, Vasquez filed a complaint against the County of Los Angeles under Title VII. He alleged causes of action for discrimination because of harassment and disparate treatment, and retaliation. The county moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted the motion. The court held that Vasquez could not establish a prima facie case for the disparate treatment claim because there was no adverse employment action and Vasquez failed to show that similarly situated employees were treated differently. It also held that the alleged harassment was not severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. Finally, the court dismissed the retaliation claim because Vasquez did not exhaust his administrative remedies and, in the alternative, did not establish a prima facie case because there was no adverse employment action related to the protected activity. Vasquez appeals each of those decisions. We have jurisdiction to hear this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 and 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

II

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. 1 We must determine, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, whether any genuine issues of material

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fact exist and whether the district court correctly applied the relevant substantive law. 2

III

In order to prevail in a Title VII case, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff succeeds in doing so, then the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its allegedly discriminatory conduct. If the defendant provides such a reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the employer's reason is a pretext for discrimination. 3

For a prima facie case, Vasquez must offer evidence that "give[s] rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination," 4 either through the framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green 5 or with direct evidence of discriminatory intent. 6

Vasquez has offered no direct evidence of discriminatory intent. Direct evidence is "evidence which, if believed, proves the fact [of discriminatory animus] without inference or presumption." 7 The only evidence Vasquez offers are the remarks of Berglund. However, Berglund was not the decisionmaker, and Vasquez has offered no evidence of discriminatory remarks made by Leeds. Therefore, Vasquez must show a nexus between Berglund's discriminatory remarks and Leeds' subsequent employment decisions. 8 Vasquez has not shown the necessary nexus because Leeds conducted her own thorough investigation, and as mentioned above, Vasquez presents no evidence that discriminatory animus motivated Leeds' decision. 9 Therefore, Vasquez must proceed under the McDonnell Douglas framework.

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As discussed above, if a plaintiff can satisfy the fourprong McDonnell Douglas test, we presume unlawful discrimination. The burden then shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the employment action. 10 Vasquez's claim fails because, even assuming (which we do not decide) that he can make out a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas framework, he cannot establish that the County's articulated non-discriminatory reason for his transfer is pretextual. 11

Leeds proffered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for her decision to...

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