James v. Group, Case No.: 14-CV-1756-AJB-JMA.

Citation253 F.Supp.3d 1077
Decision Date02 December 2015
Docket NumberCase No.: 14-CV-1756-AJB-JMA.
Parties Kelley JAMES, Plaintiff, v. DEPENDENCY LEGAL GROUP, and Does 1 through 10, inclusive, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of California

Christopher Barnes Barnes, Marcus A. Mancini, Meghan George, Tara Jennifer Licata, Mancini and Associates, Sherman Oaks, CA, for Plaintiff.

Douglas A. Cleary, Law Offices of Douglas A. Cleary, San Diego, CA, for Defendant.


Hon. Anthony J. Battaglia, United States District Judge

Presently before the Court is Defendant Dependency Legal Group's ("DLG") motion for summary judgment, or, in the alternative, for summary adjudication of claims and damages. (Doc. No. 24.) Plaintiff Kelley James ("James") opposes the motion. (Doc. No. 26.) Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1.d.1, the Court finds the matter suitable for determination on the papers and without oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART DLG's motion.


This dispute arises from James's employment with DLG and its treatment of her following her return to work from maternity leave. James was an attorney employed with DLG from 2010 to 2014. (Doc. No. 26–2 at 39; Doc. No. 26–3 at 44.) DLG is a non-profit law firm representing indigent families involved with the juvenile dependency system at each of the state courthouses located throughout San Diego County. (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶¶ 2, 4.) It has a single office located in Mission Valley (the "Office"). (See Doc. No. 26–2 at 10, 41.) Candi Mayes ("Mayes") is DLG's Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, and Brian Blackwood ("Blackwood") is DLG's Chief Operations Officer. (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶¶ 1, 3; Doc. No. 24–3 ¶ 1.)

DLG is comprised of multiple divisions. (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶¶ 5–6.) At all relevant times, James and all other relevant parties were assigned to the Conflict Parent Office ("CPO") Division. (See id. ¶¶ 8, 12.) In each of its divisions, DLG employs two levels of attorneys, Associates and Junior Associates. (Doc. No. 26–2 at 6–7.) Associates are more experienced and thus expected to handle more complex cases and a higher volume of cases than Junior Associates. (Id. ) Associates are accordingly paid more than Junior Associates. (Id. ) As of October 1, 2013, there were four Associates and ten Junior Associates in CPO. (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶ 12.) At all relevant times, James was an Associate. (Doc. No. 24–3 at 6.)

James left for maternity leave on June 15, 2013. (Doc. No. 26–2 at 40.) At that time, she was assigned to the courthouse located in Kearny Mesa ("Kearny Mesa" or "Kearny Mesa Courthouse"). (Id. at 39–40.)

In August or September 2013, Amanda Moreno ("Moreno"), a Junior Associate working at the courthouse located in Vista ("Vista" or "Vista Courthouse"), tendered her resignation. (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶ 10.) On September 24, 2013, while still out on maternity leave, James emailed her supervisor, Robert Gulemi ("Gulemi"). (Doc. No. 26–2 at 2.) James, having heard of Moreno leaving, knew attorneys would likely be moved between courthouses and wanted to inform Gulemi of her thoughts on the matter, including that she "would be devastated to move to Vista ...." (Id. ) On October 1, 2013, Gulemi informed James she would be transferred to Vista. (Id. at 4.) This transfer increased her daily round-trip commute by approximately 70 miles and a minimum of two hours. (See id. at 9–10.)

Mayes made the decision to transfer James after considering several factors. (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶¶ 11–14.) First, Mayes reviewed the CPO attorneys' caseloads. (Id. ¶ 12.) As of October 1, 2013, James carried 52 cases.1 (Id. ¶ 12.) The remaining Associates carried between 91 and 124 cases. (Id. ) Moreno carried the second highest caseload with 101 cases. (Id. ) Second, Mayes considered the makeup and personalities of the teams, and their relationships with the bench officers before whom they appeared. (Id. ¶ 13.) Third, she considered the training needs of the new Junior Associate who would inevitably be hired. (Id. ) Based on these factors, Mayes determined James was the most appropriate attorney to fill Moreno's position, thus putting four of the five largest caseloads in the Associates' hands. (Id. ¶ 14.) The new hire, who would be a Junior Associate, would fill James's position in Kearny Mesa. (Doc. No. 26–2 at 7.)

On October 15, 2013, James requested that DLG reconsider its decision to transfer her to Vista and assign her instead to a courthouse closer to the Office. (Doc. No. 26–2 at 9–10.) She made this request because her infant son had been diagnosed with gastrointestinal issues, resulting in poor weight gain. (Id. at 9.) She wanted to be close to him should any significant medical issue arise and to breastfeed or provide freshly pumped milk to him during her lunch hour. (Id. ) She also wanted to be closer to the Office because she was informed that DLG provided accommodations for her to express milk privately there, but not at the Vista Courthouse. (Id. at 10.)

Mayes stated she looked to whether she could accommodate James's request, but "ultimately decided that there was no reasonable accommodation in any of the other courtrooms that could be made for [her] that would prevent her from going to Vista." (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶ 17.) However, only eleven minutes after receiving James's email, Blackwood emailed Gulemi, stating, "I will respond to her tomorrow. The answer is NO." (Doc. No. 26–2 at 13.) Blackwood sent this email without requesting documentation from James supporting her need for accommodations, despite this being his typical practice. (Doc. No. 26–3 at 7.) Blackwood's rationale was that "[s]he had just taken all of this time for maternity, and I couldn't find any time available, in my mind." (Id. at 8.) DLG also did not consider allowing James to demote to Junior Associate to permit her to remain in Kearny Mesa or to go to a courthouse closer to her son. (Id. at 29.)

Blackwood responded to James's request for reconsideration on October 16, 2013, informing her that DLG could not grant her request. (Doc. No. 24–3 at 3 ¶ 3, 5–8; Doc. No. 26–2 at 15–18.) He explained the decision was based on DLG's needs and ability to maintain James as an Associate. (Doc. No. 24–3 at 5.) In response to her concerns regarding travel to Vista, Blackwood explained, "DLG reimburses its employees' travel from the [Office] to their assigned courthouse and back to the [O]ffice. ... This reimbursement policy has been in place since DLG began in 2010." (Id. at 6–7.) He further explained she would be provided lactation accommodations at the Office, but no such accommodations were possible in Vista as DLG had no control over the courthouse. (Id. at 7.) However, DLG never investigated whether or where she might be able to express milk there. (Doc. No. 26–3 at 39.)

James returned to work on October 28, 2013, reporting to the Vista Courthouse. (See Doc. No. 26–2 at 4.) Because DLG did not provide lactation accommodations there, while at the Vista Courthouse, she was required to express milk in a variety of places, including a vacant judge's chambers, her car while parked in the courthouse's parking lot or at a park down the street, and the "attorney workroom" in the presence of other attorneys. (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶ 20; Doc. No. 26–2 at 59–62.) Mayes stated James had other options, including driving to the Office after her morning calendar to express milk, and driving back to Vista on days she had an afternoon calendar, 39 miles each way; or, alternatively, driving home after her morning calendar to breastfeed her son or express milk, and driving back to Vista if she had an afternoon calendar, 59 miles each way. (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶ 21; Doc. No. 26–3 at 35–36, 39–40.)

In the mornings, prior to traveling to Vista, James would travel from her home to the Office to gather files and make phone calls while expressing milk. (Doc. No. 26–2 at 41.) However, two days after she returned to work, Gulemi informed her this practice was "frown[ed] upon." (Id. at 44, 46.) He then asked her to sign a special mileage policy and informed her she could not claim reimbursement for her morning trip from the Office to Vista unless she was "doing something significant" in the Office. (Id. at 45–46.)

On January 1, 2014, DLG instituted a new mileage reimbursement policy (the "Policy") requiring its attorneys to report directly to their assigned courthouses for their morning appearances. (Doc. No. 24–2 ¶ 23; Doc. No. 26–2 at 26.) The Policy specifically prohibited DLG's attorneys from stopping by the Office in the morning. (Doc. No. 26–2 at 26) ("Attorneys ma[y] NOT come to [the Office] before traveling to the assigned courthouse.") (emphasis in original). The Policy also made the attorneys' morning commute to their assigned courthouses not subject to reimbursement. (Id. )

On January 28, 2014, James sent Blackwood and Gulemi emails, asking whether she could accept employment as an instructor at California Western School of Law. (Id. at 53.) Blackwood never responded. (Id. at 53–54.) When James complained to Gulemi, he stated, "[W]hat did you expect[? Y]ou're suing them." (Id. at 54.)

James filed the instant action in San Diego Superior Court on May 14, 2014, alleging seven causes of action: disparate treatment; failure to accommodate lactation in violation of California Labor Code section 1031 and the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 207(r) ; failure to provide reinstatement to the same or a comparable position following maternity leave in violation of California's Pregnancy Disability Leave Law ("PDLL"), the California Family Rights Act ("CFRA"), and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"); and failure to reimburse business expenses in violation of California Labor Code section 2802. (Doc. No. 1–2.)

DLG removed the case to this Court on July 25, 2014. (Doc. No. 1.) It filed an...

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