Bowen v. M. Caratan, Inc.

Citation142 F.Supp.3d 1007
Decision Date02 November 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 1:14-CV-00397-LJO-JLT
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
Parties Janet Bowen, Plaintiff, v. M. Caratan, Inc., doing business as Columbine Vineyards ; and, Does 1 through 10, Defendants.

Randall Martin Rumph, Law Office of Randy Rumph, Bakersfield, CA, for Plaintiff.

Gary D. Leasure, Todd R. Kinnear, Gordon & Rees LLP, San Diego, CA, for Defendants.



Before the Court in the above-styled and numbered cause of action is Defendants M. Caratan, Inc.'s, doing business as Columbine Vineyards ("Columbine," or "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment, filed July 22, 2015. (Doc. 15). Plaintiff Janet Bowen ("Plaintiff," or "Bowen") filed her Opposition on August 17, 2015 (Doc. 17), and Defendants filed a Reply on August 25, 2015 (Doc. 19). The motion is appropriate for resolution without oral argument. See Local Rule 230(g). Having considered the record in this case, the parties' briefing, and the relevant law, the Court will deny Defendants' motion.


The following relevant facts come primarily from Plaintiff's Complaint ("Compl.," Doc. 1); the parties' Joint Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("JSUMF," Doc. 15-3). Defendants' Separate Statement of Uncontroverted [Material] Facts ("DSSUMF," 15-2); Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed [Material] Facts" ("PRSUMF," Doc. 17-16); Plaintiff Janet Bowen's Declaration (Doc. 17-1) and Deposition (Doc. 17-11, Ex. 8); the depositions of relevant individuals, including Defendants' former CFO and Plaintiff's former supervisor Darrell Knox, Defendants' controller and Plaintiff's former supervisor Kevin Canaday, Defendants' human resources officer Jessica Jones, Defendants' employee and Plaintiff's former co-worker Cecelia Valdez, Defendants' former employee and Plaintiff's former co-worker Patricia Bowshier ("Knox Depo.," Doc. 17-8; "Canaday Depo.," Doc. 17-9; "Jones Depo.," Doc. 17-10; "Valdez Depo.," Docs. 15-5 Ex. 19, 17-12; "Bowshier Depo.," Doc. 17-13); the declarations of relevant individuals, including Jonathan Thomas, Randall M. Rumph, Kevin Canaday, Cecelia Valdez, and Gary Leasure ("Thomas Decl.," Doc. 17-2; "Rumph Decl.," Doc. 17-3; "Canaday Decl.," Doc. 15-5, Ex. 13; "Valdez Decl.," Doc. 15-5 Ex. 19; "Leasure Decl.," Doc. 15-4, 5); electronic communication between Columbine employees (Doc. 17-4); Bowen's employment application (Doc. 17-5); a letter from counsel to the Labor & Workforce Development Agency (Doc. 17-6); Laura Hill's declaration and electronic communications (Docs. 18, 17-7); two letters from the Department of Labor to Defendants, the first identifying interviewees (the "DOL letter," Doc. 17-15, 15-5 Ex. 21), another about the wage and hour investigation (Doc. 15-5, Ex. 20); Defendants' employee exemption status change form (Doc. 15-5 Ex. 26); Plaintiff's Notice of Termination dated November 12, 2013 (Doc. 15-5 Ex. 24).

A. The Parties

Defendants are growers of table grapes with growing fields and principal offices located in Delano, California. DSSUF ¶ 1; PRSUF ¶ 1.

Plaintiff, at all relevant times before her termination, was employed at Columbine as a Senior Accountant.

B. Stipulated and Undisputed Facts

Defendants hired Plaintiff as an accountant in April 2012. JUMF ¶ 1. Plaintiff received an accounting degree from the University of Phoenix in October 2012. JUMF ¶ 2. The United States Department of Labor ("the DOL") advised Defendants in a letter on or about September 19, 2013, that it intended to conduct an audit to determine the company's compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). JUMF ¶ 3. In another letter on or about October 18, 2013, the DOL advised Defendants that it intended to interview certain of Defendants' employees and gave a list of fourteen employees. JUMF ¶ 4. Among the Columbine employees on the DOL's list were Plaintiff and Patricia Bowshier ("Ms. Bowshier"). Plaintiff claims she was concerned about Ms. Bowshier's classification status as an "exempt" employee. JUMF ¶ 6. Other than Ms. Bowshier, Plaintiff never advised anyone else that an employee may be improperly classified. JUMF ¶ 6. After the conclusion of the DOL audit, Ms. Bowshier was reclassified as a "non-exempt" employee. JUMF ¶ 9. Defendants did not terminate Ms. Bowshier's employment. JUMF ¶ 10. Ms. Bowshier continued to work at Caratan until November 2014, when she accepted a controller position elsewhere. JUMF ¶ 10.

Defendants terminated Plaintiff's employment on November 12, 2013. JUMF ¶ 7. Defendants' given reason for terminating Plaintiff was that she lied by stating on her job application that she had a degree in accounting from the University of Phoenix when, in fact, she did not have such a degree at the time she applied. JUMF ¶ 8.

In or around April 2012, Columbine used an outside staffing company, Creative Financial Staffing ("CFS"), which recruits accountants and related personnel in Bakersfield, California, to find a Senior Accountant for its Delano office. DSSUF ¶ 2; PRSUMF ¶ 2.

Plaintiff previously worked in several accounting departments. DSSUMF ¶ 3; PRSUMF ¶ 3. She sought CFS's services to assist her in finding a full-time accounting position. DSSUMF ¶ 3; PRSUMF ¶ 3.

Laura Hill, a CFS recruiter, told Plaintiff about the Senior Accountant position at Columbine. DSSUMF ¶ 3; PRSUMF ¶ 3. CFS gave Columbine's controller, also known as M. Caratan's Chief Financial officer, Jerry Meadows ("Mr. Meadows"), Plaintiff's résumé prior to his interviewing her. DSSUMF ¶ 6, 29; PRSUMF ¶ 6, 29. Plaintiff's résumé indicated that she had a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting conferred in February 2012 from the University of Phoenix. DSSUMF ¶ 7; PRSUMF ¶ 7.

Soon after her interview, Defendants offered Plaintiff the Senior Accountant position. DSSUMF ¶¶ 10-12; PRSUMF ¶ 10-12. Plaintiff accepted the job and began working at Columbine on April 30, 2012. DSSUMF ¶ 13; PRSUMF ¶ 13. As part of her duties as a Senior Accountant, Plaintiff supervised accounts payable personnel. DSSUMF ¶ 30.

On her first day, someone at Columbine asked Plaintiff to complete an application for employment ("the Application"). DSSUMF ¶ 14; PRSUMF ¶ 14. On its first page, under the Application's "Education/U.S. Military Service" heading, Plaintiff stated that she had attended the University of Phoenix and listed her major as "accounting." DSSUMF ¶ 15; PRSUMF ¶ 15.

Plaintiff completed an "Additional Acknowledgements" form, executed on April 30, 2012. DSSUMF ¶ 18, 22; PRSUMF ¶ 18, 22. On this form Plaintiff initialed at paragraph three that she understood that any misrepresentation of a material fact in applying for employment with Columbine would be grounds for immediate discharge, regardless of the time elapsed before discovery. DSSUMF ¶ 19; PRSUMF ¶ 19. On the same form at paragraph five, Plaintiff initialed that she understood that her employment at Columbine was not for any definite period of time. DSSUMF ¶ 21; PRSUMF ¶ 21.

On the same day, Plaintiff executed an "Employee Acknowledgements" form, which indicated that Plaintiff's employment was "at will." DSSUMF ¶ 23; PRSUMF ¶ 23. In the "Conditions of Employment" section Plaintiff indicated that she knew that she was an "at will" employee and that either party could terminate the relationship at any time. DSSUMF ¶ 24; PRSUMF ¶ 24.

For a period of approximately three months at the start of Plaintiff's tenure at Columbine, before Meadows left the company, he was Plaintiff's supervisor. DSSUMF ¶ 27; PRSUMF ¶ 27. To replace Meadows upon his departure in 2012 as Chief Financial Officer, Columbine hired Kevin Canaday ("Canaday"). DSSUMF ¶ 29; PRSUMF ¶ 29. After Meadows's departure sometime in 2012, Canaday was Plaintiff's direct supervisor. DSSUMF ¶ 28; PRSUMF 28. In 2013, Columbine changed Canaday's title to Director of Accounting. DSSUMF ¶ 29; PRSUMF ¶ 29.

On or about September 2012, Plaintiff asked for and Canaday approved her time off to attend classes. DSSUMF ¶ 31, 32; PRSUMF ¶ 31, 32. Columbine's Chief Financial Officer and Canaday's supervisor, Darrel Knox ("Knox"), overheard Plaintiff say that she needed to take time off to study for a test. DSSUMF ¶ 33; PRSUMF ¶ 33.

In October 2012, Plaintiff received her degree from the University of Phoenix. DSSUMF ¶ 34; PRSUMF 34. Someone placed Plaintiff's University of Phoenix transcript, now reflecting her degree, in Plaintiff's human resources file. DSSUMF ¶ 35; PRSUMF ¶ 35.

C. Disputed Facts
Events Leading to Plaintiff's Employment at Columbine

According to Defendants, CFS informed neither Columbine nor Meadows about Plaintiff's lack of degree. DSSUMF ¶ 62. Jerry Meadows ("Meadows"), Columbine's controller, described for CFS what he sought in a Senior Accountant candidate. DSSUMF ¶ 4. Specifically, Meadows sought a "degreed" accountant with a background in an accounting software called "Famous." DSSUMF ¶ 4. Defendants contend that CFS provided candidates that it believed met Meadows's requirements. DSSUMF ¶ 4. When Meadows interviewed Plaintiff in approximately mid-April 2012, he believed that she had a degree in accounting, although she did not. DSSUMF ¶ 8, 9. Plaintiff testified that her early 2012 résumé was incorrect. DSSUMF ¶ 25.

Plaintiff also testified that her Application was incorrect in that it reflected that she had a degree in accounting, when she did not. DSSUMF ¶ 26. In her Application, Defendants contend that Plaintiff stated that she had a degree in accounting at the time she was hired. DSSUMF ¶ 51. On her Application, under the subheading "Degrees and/or Diplomas," Plaintiff wrote information relative to her degree in accounting. DSSUMF ¶ 16. Underneath the accounting degree information, the Application had a question which asked whether the applicant was taking any educational courses, but Plaintiff left the response area blank. DSSUMF ¶ 17.

On April 17, 2012, Defendants...

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