Manuel v. Superior Court of Santa Clara Cnty.
|California Court of Appeals
|82 Cal.App.5th 719,298 Cal.Rptr.3d 629
|Rigoberto Jose MANUEL, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Respondent, BrightView Landscape Services, Inc., Real Party in Interest.
|26 August 2022
Attorneys for Petitioner RIGOBERTO JOSE MANUEL: Allan Alcon Villanueva, San Bruno, Law office of Allan Villanueva
Attorneys for Real Party in Interest BRIGHTVIEW LANDSCAPE SERVICES, INC.: Benjamin Alexander Emmert, San Jose, Littler Mendelson
Attorneys for Amicus curiae BET TZEDEK et al: Marisa Díaz, Laura Scalia
Attorneys for Amicus curiae CALIFORNIA APPLICANT'S ATTORNEY ASSOCIATION: Beatriz Trejo, Bakersfield, William A. Herreras, San Luis Obispo
Greenwood, P. J.
Petitioner Rigoberto Jose Manuel brought an action for wrongful termination after he was injured during the course of his employment with real party in interest BrightView Landscape Services, Inc. (BrightView). The parties dispute whether Manuel's employment was terminated by BrightView in retaliation for his job injury or whether he failed to return to work due to federal immigration authorities questioning his documentation of his eligibility to work in the United States.
After Manuel objected to BrightView's written discovery requests inquiring into his immigration status, BrightView brought a motion for an order compelling Manuel to provide further responses to its discovery requests, which the trial court granted in its November 16, 2020 order. Manuel challenged the order by filing a petition for writ of mandate in this court. In his petition, Manuel argues that the trial court abused its discretion in granting BrightView's motion to compel further responses to written discovery because BrightView did not meet its burden, pursuant to Senate Bill No. 1818 (Stats. 2002, ch. 1071, § 1, p. 6913) and its statutory enactments, to show by clear and convincing evidence that inquiry into his immigration status was necessary to comply with federal immigration law. For the reasons stated below, we agree.
We will therefore issue a peremptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its November 16, 2020 order and to enter a new order denying BrightView's motion for an order compelling Manuel to provide further responses to written discovery.
II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A. The First Amended Complaint
The currently operative pleading is the first amended complaint (complaint), which names BrightView as the defendant. According to the complaint's allegations, Manuel was employed by BrightView as an irrigation technician from 2007 to 2018. In January 2018 Manuel injured his back while on the job. Manuel alleges that BrightView initially refused to take him to the company medical clinic and then had him sign a waiver for medical treatment. However, after several days of back pain Manuel went to an occupational medicine clinic accompanied by another BrightView employee.
A physician examined Manuel, determined that he had sustained a back injury, and returned him to work with certain restrictions. After Manuel returned to work and completed a full shift on January 22, 2018, Manuel's immediate supervisor told him not to return to work and BrightView terminated his employment.
Based on these and other allegations, Manuel asserts several causes of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy ( Labor Code, §§ 232.5, 1102.5, 6310, 6400 et seq. ; Gov. Code, §§ 12900, 12945.2 ), and a cause of action for failure to permit employee to inspect or copy records ( Labor Code, §§ 226, subds. (c) & (d), 1198.5, subd. (b) ). Manuel seeks compensatory damages, "back pay and front pay," civil penalties, and attorney fees and costs.
B. BrightView's Motion to Compel Further Responses to Discovery
During the course of the litigation, BrightView filed a motion to compel Manuel
to provide further responses to the written discovery that BrightView had propounded, including further responses to form interrogatories, special interrogatories, requests for admission, and requests for production of documents. In support of the motion to compel, BrightView asserted that Manuel had voluntarily terminated his employment by failing to return to work after he was identified by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations as being ineligible to work in the United States. According to BrightView, Homeland Security Investigations sent BrightView a notice of suspect documents stating that it appeared that Manuel was not authorized to work in the United States because the alien registration number he had provided on his Form I-9 to verify his eligibility for employment in the United States belonged to another person. BrightView then requested that Manuel provide documentation showing his authorization to work in the United States, but Manuel failed to do so.
BrightView argued that its written discovery requests properly sought evidence from Manuel "establishing he was legally authorized to work in the United States." For example, special interrogatory no. 20 states: "Please IDENTIFY all DOCUMENTS that YOU contend show YOU were legally authorized to work in the United States at any time between YOUR date of hire by BrightView and the present." Manuel objected to special interrogatory no. 20 "on the grounds that it is overly broad, seeks information not relevant to the claims and not likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, and seeks information prohibited by law to be inquired into, sought or disclosed." Manuel's objection also cited Government Code section 7285, Labor Code section 1171.5, Code of Civil Procedure section 3339; and Health and Safely Code section 24000.
BrightView argued that Manuel had provided only improper and evasive objections in response to its written requests for discovery, including special interrogatory No. 20, and therefore Manuel must be compelled to provide further responses. Further, BrightView argued that its discovery requests were reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, since Manuel's "legal entitlement to work in the United States is a fundamental and foundational issue in this action," and "the basis for one of BrightView's defenses." BrightView sought an order compelling Manuel to provide full and complete responses to BrightView's written discovery requests, and requested an award of monetary sanctions.
C. Manuel's Opposition to the Motion to Compel Further Responses to Discovery
In opposition to BrightView's motion to compel further responses, Manuel argued that most of BrightView's written discovery requests improperly sought irrelevant information about his immigration status, and therefore Manuel's objections were well taken. Manuel relied on the statutory provisions of Government Code section 7285, Labor Code section 1171.5, Civil Code section 3339, and Health and Safety Code section 2400, which he argued prohibited inquiry into a person's immigration status unless the person seeking to make the inquiry has shown by clear and convincing evidence that the inquiry is necessary to comply with federal immigration law.
Manuel further argued that BrightView could not show by clear and convincing evidence that inquiry into his immigration status was necessary for BrightView to comply with federal immigration law, since Manuel's employment had been terminated
and he was not seeking loss of income or reinstatement. Manuel also argued that BrightView had failed to meet and confer reasonably and in good faith.
D. The Trial Court's Order
In the November 16, 2020 order, the trial court granted BrightView's motion to compel Manuel to provide further discovery responses. Although the trial court found that BrightView's efforts to meet and confer were lacking, the court granted the motion on the merits. In so ruling, the trial court noted that wrongful termination was the main issue in the case, since Manuel claimed that BrightView had terminated his employment in retaliation for his back injury, while BrightView claimed that Manuel had voluntarily quit his job after Homeland Security Investigations notified BrightView that the alien registration number that Manuel had provided did not belong to him.
The trial court found that Manuel's immigration status and lawful ability to work in the United States were relevant to BrightView's defense that it was
prohibited by federal law from employing Manuel unless he was legally authorized to work in the United States. The court therefore granted the motion to compel further discovery responses. The November 16, 2020 order...
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...for injuries incurred on the job).EMPLOYER MAY NOT INQUIRE INTO FORMER EMPLOYEE'S IMMIGRATION STATUS Manuel v. Superior Court, 82 Cal. App. 5th 719 (2022)Rigoberto Jose Manuel sued his former employer, BrightView Landscape Services, Inc., for wrongful termination after he was injured on the......