Lial v. County Of Stanislaus

Decision Date23 November 2010
Docket NumberCASE NO. CV F 09-1039 LJO JLT
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
PartiesPAMELA LIAL, Plaintiff, v. COUNTY OF STANISLAUS, et al., Defendants.



Defendants County of Stanislaus ("County") and its management employee Tod Woodward ("Mr. Woodward") seek summary judgment in the absence of evidence "to establish" pro se plaintiff Pamela Lial's ("Ms. Lial's") employment harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims. Ms. Lial filed no papers to oppose summary judgment timely. This Court considered the County and Mr. Woodward's (collectively "defendants'") summary judgment motion on the record1 and VACATES the December 6, 2010 hearing, pursuant to Local Rule 230(c), (g). For the reasons discussed below, this Court GRANTS defendants summary judgment.

Ms. Lial's Hiring

The County hired Ms. Lial in 1999, and in 2001, she transferred to the County's Code Enforcement Unit and became a Zoning Enforcement Officer in the current Department of Environmental Resources ("DER").

Relationship With Michael Newton

Ms. Lial has been involved in romantic relationships with two co-workers in the Code Enforcement Unit. In summer 2001, Ms. Lial began a romantic relationship with Michael Newton ("Mr. Newton"), another Zoning Enforcement Officer. In fall 2001, Mr. Newton was promoted to Code Enforcement Manager and became Ms. Lial's supervisor. Ms. Newton's romantic relationship with Mr. Newton ended after about a year in summer 2002.

In 2007, Ms. Lial learned that Mr. Newton had started an "internal investigation" into (using Ms. Lial's words) Ms. Lial's "looking at inappropriate sites on my computer," "work performance issues," and "billing regarding weed-and-seed projects." Ms. Lial believed that Mr. Newton "was going to start to try and fire me."

On May 30, 2007, Ms. Lial complained to DER Equal Rights Officer Merry Rorabaugh ("Ms. Rorabaugh") that Mr. Newton retaliated against her for their failed relationship and for problems in his marriage caused by Ms. Lial. Ms. Lial accused Mr. Newton of humiliating her "in front of others."

The County hired an outside investigator to address Ms. Lial's accusations against Mr. Newton. The investigation did not substantiate Ms. Lial's claims that Mr. Newton harassed her. Nonetheless, the County terminated Mr. Newton in July 2007 for other reasons. After Mr. Newton's termination, Ms. Lial dropped her complaints about him.

Relationship With Mr. Woodward

In September 2005, the County hired Mr. Woodward as a Zoning Enforcement Officer. In October 2005, Ms. Lial and Mr. Woodward began a romantic relationship which ended a year later in October 2006.

On October 29, 2007, Mr. Woodward was promoted to Code Enforcement Manager and became Ms. Lial's supervisor. Mr. Woodward implemented procedures which he expected Zoning Enforcement Officers to follow and met with the Zoning Enforcement Officers to discuss the procedures and provide them a written copy. In her deposition, Ms. Lial testified that some "procedures were warranted" and were "welcome changes" but others were not "necessary." Ms. Lial describes Mr. Woodward's management style as less "laid back" than previous managers in that "prior to Mr. Woodward becoming manager, there was no management and that when he became manager, it was extreme micromanagement." Ms. Lial claims that other Code Enforcement Officers, male and female, had problems with Mr. Woodward's procedures but acknowledges that the procedures were within Mr. Woodward's managerial discretion.

After meeting with Ms. Lial, Mr. Woodward prepared a November 28, 2007 memo regarding "Insubordination, and Rude, Disrespectful Behavior" to address several occasions of Ms. Lial raising her voice "in defiance" to elicit cautions to lower her voice. The memo concluded that Ms. Lial's "behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable," that her "attitude is condescending," and that she is "argumentative to the point of insubordination."

On December 3, 2007, Ms. Rorabaugh met with Ms. Lial to discuss Ms. Lial's claims that Mr. Woodward harassed Ms. Lial. Ms. Rorabaugh provided her meeting notes to Ms. Lial so, as Ms. Rorabaugh stated in her declaration, "she could notify me of any discrepancies or add to her complaint. Ms. Lial informed me that my notes were correct and, accordingly, I began an investigation." Ms. Rorabaugh's investigation revealed no "evidence of harassment that violated the County's Harassment Policy." Ms. Rorabaugh's January 7, 2008 memo to Ms. Lial explained that Ms. Lial's "allegation of harassment appears unfounded based on our investigation." The memo notified Ms. Lial of her right to appeal the findings, but Ms. Lial did not appeal the findings.

During January-April 2008, Ms. Lial made additional complaints against Mr. Woodward. Ms. Lial's January 16, 2008 email to Ms. Rorabaugh complained that Mr. Woodward required a "Confidential Assistant" to attend his meetings with Ms. Lial but not meetings with her "colleagues" to single out Ms. Lial. Ms. Rorabaugh's January 16, 2008 email responded to Ms. Lial that "we plan to continue the practice of having a confidential assistant in meetings between you and Tod. Based on your complaint of harassment, we feel it is better to take this proactive step."

In March 2008, Ms. Lial complained to Ms. Rorabaugh about a coworker training Ms. Lial. On March 18, 2008, Ms. Rorabaugh discussed with Ms. Lial work related issues, including those Ms. Lial had with Mr. Woodward. Ms. Rorabaugh declares that she "investigated Ms. Lial's concerns and found them to be unsubstantiated."

On April 15, 2008, Ms. Lial complained to Ms. Rorabaugh about Mr. Woodward's demeaning treatment of Ms. Lial by his attitude and demeanor. Ms. Rorabaugh investigated Ms. Lial's complaints and "did not find evidence to substantiate her complaints." Ms. Rorabaugh's April 17, 2008 memo to Ms. Lial regarding Ms. Rorabaugh's findings concluded: "Please be aware that should you continue to make unfounded allegations, we may take corrective action, which could include disciplinary action."

The County notes Ms. Rorabaugh investigated four of Ms. Lial's complaints and that an outside investigator addressed another of her complaints through which none of Ms. Lial's allegations were substantiated. Ms. Lial did not appeal the investigations' findings. Ms. Lial acknowledges that she has "no idea what steps" Ms. Rorabaugh took for her investigations and "can't even begin to guess what she should have done."

Discipline Of Ms. Lial

Since 2005, Ms. Lial has received multiple counselings, a letter of reprimand and two suspensions along with counseling and discipline from five supervisors.

As Ms. Lial's supervisor, Mr. Newton expressed what Ms. Lial concedes as legitimate concerns regarding her performance, for instance, "not closing out a file properly" and "time frames in responding to individuals." Mr. Newton's June 6, 2005 memo to Ms. Lial addressed delays to clean up a property. Mr. Newton's April 10, 2006 memo to Ms. Lial criticized her delay to complete tasks and her disorganization. The memo noted that "placing blame on others when you've missed deadlines and/or failing to take action commensurate with your position is unacceptable and cannot continue." The memo further noted "complaints from other staff that you have a 'disruptive attitude and at times you try to undermine my authority.'"

After Mr. Newton's termination, Denise Wood ("Ms. Wood"), Environmental Health Unit Manager, supervised DER. During her three-month supervision of Ms. Lial, Ms. Wood expressed orally and in writing concerns about Ms. Lial's performance. Ms. Wood orally noted that Ms. Lial was not "diligent enough" to contact a property owner regarding a surfacing sewage complaint and that Ms. Lial failed to take sufficient photos of a property.

Ms. Wood's October 11, 2007 memo to Ms. Lial addressed "continued concerns" with inaccurate weed and seed billing, internet usage to interfere with Ms. Lial's "production," and failure to complete tasks and process cases timely and properly.

Mr. Woodward's February 12, 2008 memo to Ms. Lial followed up their January 30, 2008 meeting and criticized Ms. Lial's "delays in working the cases assigned to you," the disproportionate amount of time Ms. Lial spends in the office compared to the field, and her "time management." The memo further addressed Ms. Lial's "unacceptable attitude":

You are abrupt, harsh and rude during unit meetings, and hostile, argumentative, and disrespectful when speaking to me. Your resistence is evidenced by your unwillingness to follow simple instructions and your constant questioning of direction that you have been given.

... it is inappropriate to be rude, hostile and continue to be argumentive about the direction that you have received. This behavior must stop immediately.

... you must work on improving in the areas you are deficient, which include the inability to accept criticism, your defensiveness when asked questions regarding your cases, your impatience with authority, improving time management and improving follow through when working your cases.

The memo noted that Mr. Woodward scheduled "a follow-up review of cases, in approximately four weeks."

On March 18, 2008, Mr. Woodward met with Ms. Lial, using the words of his declaration, "to reassess her time management and efficiency, and to follow-up our January 30, 2008 meeting. I had discovered that Ms. Lial had not worked on multiple files and delayed working on others. I did not see improvement in her time management and efficiency." Mr. Woodward's March 18, 2008 memo to Ms. Lial addressed "major concerns" of "case management" and "organization" and re-emphasized concerns with "file preparation, research, time management, and attitude expectations." Mr. Woodward directed Ms. Lial to "mandatory" training with coworker Robert Miramontes ("Mr. Miramontes"), using the memo's words, "to help you...

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