Guthrey v. State of California

Decision Date11 May 1998
Docket NumberNos. F025848,F026374,s. F025848
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties, 78 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 963, 98 Daily Journal D.A.R. 4937 Raymond GUTHREY, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. STATE OF CALIFORNIA et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Alcala, Martinez-Senftner & Velez, Carlos M. Alcala, Sacramento, and George P. Harris, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, John E. Mueller and Andrew M. Wolfe, Mill Valley, for Defendants and Respondents.


WISEMAN, Associate Justice.

Anyone who has ever worked in an office or, for that matter, been a school child on the playground knows that petty differences arise which cannot always be resolved without hurt feelings. Does that mean that these festering disputes in the workplace should find their way into the courts for resolution? Absolutely not. This case is a prime example of where such work-related differences have no place in the courtroom.

Raymond Guthrey obviously did not get along with his immediate supervisor, Loreen Lucas. Right or wrong, he was irritated by such things as having to keep his office door open and desk positioned so she could see him from her desk across the hall; for being reprimanded in front of his peers for taking a roundabout trip to a correctional camp which included a stop for gambling; for not receiving interest letters to promote when others received such letters in spite of the fact he was not on the certified list for a "limited term" position for which the letters were sent; and for not being able to put his feet on his desk and having to keep overhead lights turned on. These factors, and others, led him to believe he was being harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment due to his gender. In reliance on these beliefs, his attorney filed a complaint adopting the "kitchen sink" approach of throwing in almost every possible cause of action including discipline in violation of public policy, retaliation, employment discrimination, slander and two counts of invasion of privacy. The initial complaint was filed against the State of California (State), the California Department of Corrections (CDC), the Sierra Conservation Center (SCC), CDC's Director James Gomez (Gomez), and nearly every employee who ever came close to the alleged grievances suffered by Guthrey.

By the time the discovery dust had settled, Guthrey's own deposition testimony revealed that his case was going nowhere fast. Predictably, a motion for summary judgment was filed by the remaining defendants. By this time, five original defendants had been dismissed with prejudice. Parenthetically, we observe it is seldom a good sign for a plaintiff when counsel must defend a motion for summary judgment by submitting plaintiff's own declaration to impeach plaintiff's previous deposition testimony. Not surprisingly, the trial court granted the motion. Undaunted, Guthrey filed an appeal.

Matters did not improve. Guthrey's attorney proceeded to submit an opening brief contending there was "a plethora of admissible evidence" indicating a triable issue of fact existed on his claims of gender discrimination, hostile gender-based harassment, and retaliation. Unfortunately for Guthrey, his attorney failed to comply with basic appellate legal principles which require citation to the record for evidentiary support. To make matters worse, during oral argument his attorney made inappropriate references to numerous documents and witness declarations, none of which were admitted as evidence. Suffice it to say, there is absolutely no evidence in the record that we could find which supports a finding that Guthrey has even established a prima facie case for any of his claims. We therefore affirm the trial court's order granting defendants attorney fees in the amount of $64,796.50. We further grant defendants' request for attorney fees on appeal.

In light of the increasing number of employment discrimination cases coming before our court, we publish simply to alert the bar of the serious consequences to the plaintiff, and perhaps to his or her counsel (if sanctions for filing a frivolous appeal are requested or are granted sua sponte), which might attend the filing and prosecution of employment discrimination cases that are obviously baseless.


On November 2, 1994, plaintiff Guthrey filed a verified complaint for damages suffered for discipline in violation of public policy, employment discrimination, slander, and two counts of invasion of privacy. He named as defendants the State, CDC, SCC, Gomez, and CDC employees Loreen Lucas (Lucas), Robert Shelton, William Heise, Jerry Stocker, Carol Pinkins, and Debra Jacobs.

The defendants filed a demurrer on various grounds to each cause of action except for employment discrimination. The demurrer was sustained with leave to amend on the ground plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with the State Board of Control as required by the California Tort Claims Act. Plaintiff did not file an amended complaint.

On June 5, 1995, defendants filed an answer to the complaint on the remaining cause of action, denying most of its allegations and asserting 15 affirmative defenses.

On July 6, 1995, plaintiff requested dismissal with prejudice of the following defendants from the lawsuit: William Heise, Jerry Stocker, Carol Pinkins, Debra Jacobs, and James Gomez. Dismissal was entered that same day.

On August 28, 1995, a motion for summary judgment was made by the remaining defendants (State, CDC, SCC, Lucas, and Shelton). Plaintiff filed an opposition and response to the motion on September 12, 1995. Defendants filed a reply to plaintiff's response, and objections to plaintiff's evidence concerning the motion for summary judgment on September 21, 1995.

The trial court granted the motion finding that plaintiff failed to present any admissible evidence to dispute the defendants' referenced facts. Upon request by defendants, the court specifically ruled on their objections regarding plaintiff's proffered evidence which the court had found inadmissible. Plaintiff filed an objection to the request with no points and authorities, but did not request a hearing. On October 23, 1995, the court order regarding defendants' objections to plaintiff's evidence was filed.

On December 12, 1995, judgment for defendants was entered, and notice of entry of judgment was filed on February 22, 1996.

On June 3, 1996, an order was filed granting defendants' motion for attorney fees and denying plaintiff's motion to tax costs.

Timely notices of appeal were filed from the judgment and the order awarding attorney fees. The appeal from the award of attorney fees (F026734) was ordered consolidated with the appeal from the judgment (F025848).


Plaintiff is a male hired as a Correctional Counselor I by CDC in November of 1986. Since that time, plaintiff has either met or exceeded the expected standards of job performance in his regularly scheduled evaluations. On June 28, 1993, plaintiff was assigned to SCC located in Jamestown. In that position he did work regarding inmates in conservation camps located away from SCC. As a camp counselor, plaintiff worked in an office with three other counselors--one man and two women--who were supervised by defendant Lucas. Defendant Shelton was the camp program administrator and Lucas's supervisor.

Lucas implemented routine procedures and policies for her employees which were applied equally to men and women in the office. These included leaving the office doors open, that personnel sign out before leaving the office, and that employees who "flexed" their time and came to work earlier than Lucas punch a time clock.

On November 2, 1993, plaintiff traveled to Camp 26 located in Bishop, California, via Highway 88, staying one night in Minden, Nevada. On November 4, plaintiff returned from Camp 26 over Highway 108. Plaintiff admitted he did not call California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) or inquire about road conditions, and he took the longer three-day route even though the mountain passes were open. Plaintiff admitted the weather was clear and warm on November 2, the day he left SCC and traveled to Camp 26. On his return, plaintiff told Lucas he had not checked road conditions and had taken "some leeway in the time frame" on his trip.

On December 3, 1993, Lucas wrote a memorandum to Associate Warden Heise requesting that a formal investigation be conducted, and that plaintiff be disciplined. Heise agreed and recommended to Warden Ingle that this action be taken, and Ingle authorized the investigation.

An investigation by CDC was undertaken, including an interview of plaintiff on December A notice of adverse action was issued on March 4, 1994, by Warden Ingle finding that plaintiff had committed several serious violations including insubordination and dishonesty. 1 He imposed a pay cut of five percent for six months. Following a "'Skelly hearing"' (Skelly v. State Personnel Bd. (1975) 15 Cal. 3d 194, 124 Cal.Rptr. 14, 539 P.2d 774.) Warden Ingle reduced the penalty to a letter of reprimand.

22, 1993. A report was issued on January 14, 1994, [63 Cal.App.4th 1114] which found that plaintiff had committed eight serious violations, including insubordination and dishonesty, inefficiency and inexcusable absence without leave. Plaintiff does not claim the internal investigation was handled in a discriminatory manner.

Immediately following his interview on December 22, 1993, plaintiff left work on stress leave until January 31, 1994. Plaintiff filed his first complaint alleging gender discrimination on December 26, 1993. CDC denied the complaint for insufficient evidence. Plaintiff appealed to the State Personnel Board, and that board denied the appeal.

Even after plaintiff received the letter of reprimand, CDC continued to need his...

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