Achal v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., Case No. 15–cv–01570–JCS

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
Citation114 F.Supp.3d 781
Decision Date14 July 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 15–cv–01570–JCS
Parties Andrew Achal, Plaintiff, v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., Defendant.

114 F.Supp.3d 781

Andrew Achal, Plaintiff,
Gate Gourmet, Inc., Defendant.

Case No. 15–cv–01570–JCS

United States District Court, N.D. California.

Signed July 14, 2015

114 F.Supp.3d 789

Nicholas John Scardigli, William Joseph Gorham, III, Mayall Hurley PC, Stockton, CA, for Plaintiff.

Mark David Kemple, Greenberg Traurig, Los Angeles, CA, for Defendant.


Re: Dkt. No. 14

JOSEPH C. SPERO, United States Chief Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Andrew Achal, a former employee of Gate Gourmet, filed his First Amended Complaint in federal court

114 F.Supp.3d 790

against Defendants Gate Gourmet, Inc. ("Gate Gourmet") and Does 1—100, inclusive. Achal alleges various violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA") and California Labor Code violations actionable under the California Private Attorneys General Act ("PAGA"). Gate Gourmet now moves to dismiss Achal's First Amended Complaint in its entirety, including Achal's requests for punitive damages, and injunctive and declaratory relief. The Court held a hearing on July 10, 2015. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that Achal may proceed on all of his claims, but dismisses Achal's requests for punitive damages and injunctive and declaratory relief with leave to amend. The Court also dismisses Claim Seven to the extent that it relies on an alleged violation of California Labor Code section 226(a)(6).1


A. Complaint

Achal's First Amended Complaint ("FAC" or "Complaint") alleges that several months after beginning work with Gate Gourmet, Achal experienced religious and disability discrimination, which culminated in his termination. It also alleges that Gate Gourmet failed to furnish and maintain accurate wage statements as required by California Labor Code section 226(a). The Complaint focuses on the following incidents.

First, Achal alleges that his supervisor "began to retaliate" against him in April 2014, after he returned to work from his home country of Fiji to attend a Hindu funeral and religious observance. FAC ¶ 8. The FAC recounts in particular the comments made by Achal's supervisor regarding his return from Fiji, specifically that "it's about time you returned" and that it was "ridiculous for a religious ceremony to take so long." Id. at ¶ 8. It further alleges that following Achal's return, his supervisor began subjecting him to unfavorable scheduling, unreasonable work demands, and set him up for failure on one particular project. Id. at ¶ 9.

Second, Achal claims that the reason given by Gate Gourmet for terminating him—that he fraudulently sought benefits by causing his own disability—is both false and pretextual. Id. at ¶¶ 12–13. The Complaint describes how Achal fell from a platform at work, sustaining injuries that caused him to be off work for several weeks and to require ongoing medical care. Id. at ¶ 10. According to the Complaint, Gate Gourmet completed a worker's compensation claim for Achal, who returned to work with lifting and bending restrictions, but who was otherwise capable of performing his essential job functions with reasonable accommodations for those restrictions. Id. at ¶¶ 11–12. Achal alleges that instead of making reasonable accommodations for his injury and/or engaging him in the interactive process, Gate Gourmet terminated him. Id. at ¶ 12. According to the Complaint, Gate Gourmet issued a letter on October 10, 2014, which stated that it was terminating Achal for intentionally causing his disability. Id. at ¶ 13. Achal maintains that this assertion is false, and that Gate Gourmet had no basis for making this conclusion. Id.

In response to his termination, Achal filed an administrative complaint ("DFEH Complaint") with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH") on February 9, 2015.2 Id. at

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¶ 15. In the DFEH Complaint, Achal alleged that Gate Gourmet had committed several FEHA violations on the basis of his disability and religion.3 DFEH Complaint (FAC Ex. A). He then described the basis for his claims as follows:

Complainant Achal was discriminated against and retaliated against for taking time off from work to attend a religious observance (Hindu) in his home country of Fiji His supervisor stated words to the effect that it was "about time" he returned and questioned the purpose of a religious ceremony connected to a funeral. On June 10, 2014, Complainant Achal fell and injured himself, causing him to become disabled and to be placed on disability leave by his doctor. Respondent failed to reasonable [sic] accommodate this disability and failed to engage in the interactive process. Respondent terminated Complainant Achal on October 6, 2014, based on actual and perceived disability and because he engaged in religious practice and observance. Respondent failed to prevent the discrimination and retaliation.

Id. Because Achal requested an immediate right to sue letter, DFEH did not pursue an investigation into the allegations, and issued Achal a right to sue letter that same day, February 9, 2015. FAC ¶ 15; DFEH Complaint (FAC Ex. A).

Third, Achal claims that Gate Gourmet failed to maintain and failed to furnish Gate Gourmet employees, himself included, with accurate itemized wage statements. Id. at 16. The Complaint describes how on at least some of its wage statements, Gate Gourmet failed to report only the last four digits of employees' social security numbers, failed to include the inclusive dates for the period for which employees are paid, or failed to set forth the address of the corporate employer. Id. On December 31, 2014, and on January 26, 2015, Achal notified the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency ("LWDA") and Gate Gourmet of Gate Gourmet's alleged violations of the state Labor Code.4 Id. at ¶ 24.

Based on these core factual allegations, Achal brings seven claims for relief. Claims One through Five allege disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, failure to engage in the interactive process, religious discrimination, and failure to prevent discrimination, under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), Cal. Gov't Code §§ 12940(a), (m), (n), (1), (k). FAC ¶¶ 25–54. Claims Six and Seven allege failure to furnish accurate wage statements and failure to maintain accurate wage statements under the California Labor Code Private Attorney General Act ("PAGA"), which allows aggrieved employees to seek civil penalties for actions taken by employers in violation of specified provisions of the California Labor Code. FAC ¶¶ 55–64.

B. Procedural History

Achal initially filed this action in the California Superior Court for the County of San Francisco on March 9, 2015. See Notice of Removal (dkt.1). Defendant Gate Gourmet removed this action to this Court on April 6, 2015. Id. On April 13, 2015, Gate Gourmet filed an initial Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See First Motion to Dismiss (dkt.8). Achal filed his First

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Amended Complaint on April 20, 2014. See FAC. The Court denied as moot Gate Gourmet's initial Motion to Dismiss on April 22, 2015. See Order (dkt.13). On May 4, 2015, Gate Gourmet filed the present Motion to Dismiss Achal's First Amended Complaint, and to dismiss Achal's requests for punitive damages, and injunctive and declaratory relief. See Second Motion to Dismiss ("Mot.") (dkt.14).

C. Parties' Arguments

1. California Fair Employment and Housing Act Claims

Gate Gourmet moves to dismiss Achal's FEHA claims (Claims 1–5) with prejudice on the basis of two purported deficiencies. Mot. at 1.

First, Gate Gourmet argues that Claims One through Five should be dismissed because Achal fails to properly plead administrative exhaustion under FEHA. Mot. at 2. Gate Gourmet does not dispute that Achal filed an administrative complaint with the DFEH, nor does it dispute that Achal obtained a right to sue letter from DFEH. Rather, Gate Gourmet argues that Achal's DFEH Complaint is insufficiently specific in its allegations, and therefore fails to satisfy the exhaustion requirement. Mot. at 5. Because the timely filing of a DFEH complaint is a jurisdictional prerequisite to the bringing of a civil action for damages under FEHA, Gate Gourmet maintains that this Court should dismiss these claims. Id. In response, Achal argues that FEHA does not require "literary exactitude" in the allegations set forth in administrative complaints, and that Gate Gourmet's position relies on a misreading of the case law, FEHA, and its legislative intent. Opp'n at 4–6 (citing Soldinger v. Nw. Airlines, 51 Cal.App.4th 345, 381, 58 Cal.Rptr.2d 747 (1996) ). Specifically, because courts are to liberally construe DFEH administrative complaints to ensure vindication of employees' FEHA rights, Achal maintains that the information contained in the DFEH Complaint suffices to satisfy the exhaustion requirement. Id....

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