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Liou v. CyraCom International Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 20, 2016

Glenn Liou, Plaintiff,
CyraCom International Incorporated, Defendant.


          David G. Campbell United States District Judge

         On March 2, 2016, Defendant CyraCom International, LLC filed a motion for summary judgment. Doc. 50. The motion is fully briefed. Docs. 60; 61. Neither party requested oral argument. The Court will grant Defendant’s motion.

         I. Background.

         The following facts are undisputed. Defendant CyraCom International, LLC (“CyraCom”) is a privately-held company that provides interpreting services to businesses. Doc. 51-1 at 2, ¶ 2. On August 13, 2012, CyraCom hired Plaintiff Menqiong “Glenn” Liou as a Mandarin interpreter. Id. at ¶ 3. When he was hired, Plaintiff signed documents indicating that he agreed to comply with CyraCom’s policies and procedures and CyraCom’s Interpreter Code of Ethics. Id. at 2, ¶ 3; 7-8; 10. CyraCom’s Interpreter Code of Ethics requires interpreters to provide “interpretation without comment, ” where interpreters “render the message in a meaning-for-meaning manner without adding, omitting, or substituting information.” Id. at 2, ¶ 4; 10; 26, ¶ 3. Plaintiff understood that meaning-for-meaning interpretation was important to CyraCom. Id. at 83.

         CyraCom’s interpreter supervisors periodically monitor their interpreters’ calls with clients. Id. at 64, ¶ 2; 73, ¶ 2. Two of Plaintiff’s supervisors, Brian Ko and Julio Noriega, heard him violate the “interpretation without comment” or “meaning-for-meaning” policy (“Policy”) on numerous occasions. Id. After these incidents, both supervisors provided Plaintiff with counseling and coaching on the Policy. Id. During these coaching sessions, Plaintiff expressed to his supervisors his disagreement with the Policy. Id. On April 29, 2014, Plaintiff was again heard violating the Policy. Id. at 26, ¶ 2. As a result, Plaintiff received a “Needs Improvement” rating based on his lack of compliance with the Policy. Id. at 26, ¶ 2; 31; 84.

         In May 2014, Plaintiff discussed the “Needs Improvement” rating with Edmundo Alvarez, the CyraCom Call Center Manager. Id. at 26, ¶¶ 1-2. Plaintiff told Alvarez that the “Needs Improvement” rating was coded incorrectly, and asked him to rescind it. Id. at ¶ 2. Plaintiff also told Alvarez that Plaintiff’s supervisors had given him permission to violate the Policy. Id. Alvarez investigated this claim and found that Plaintiff had not, in fact, been given permission to violate the Policy. Id. at ¶ 4. Plaintiff also argued that he should be given permission to violate the Policy. Id. On May 14, 2014, Plaintiff sent Alvarez an email that explained his disagreement with the Policy and argued that interpreters should be permitted to deviate at times from the Policy. Id. at 26-27, ¶¶ 4-5; 33-37; 85. Alvarez did not rescind Plaintiff’s “Needs Improvement” rating. Id. at 27, ¶ 6.

         On June 2, 2014, CyraCom posted an internal job opening for a first-line supervisor of CyraCom’s Mandarin and Cantonese interpreters (“Supervisor Position”). Id. at 3, ¶ 5; 12-15. The Supervisor Position had a number of essential functions, including providing meaning-for-meaning interpreting and complying with CyraCom’s policies and procedures. Id. at 3, ¶ 5; 13. The job posting also sought candidates who possess certain knowledge, skills, and abilities, including that the candidate be skilled “at communicating, both orally and in writing, ” and “in establishing and maintaining effective work relationships.” Id. at 3, ¶ 5; 14.

         On June 5, 2014, Plaintiff applied for the Supervisor Position. Id. at 39-43. Because only four employees applied for the position, Alvarez interviewed each of the candidates. Id. at 27, ¶ 7; 39-43; 45-50; 52-56; 58-62. Each candidate was given an identical application packet, and each was asked identical questions. Id. Of the four candidates, Plaintiff was the only interpreter who had received a “Needs Improvement” rating on a recent evaluation and who had expressed disagreement with the Policy. Id. at 27-28, ¶ 8. During his interview, Plaintiff focused on the technical aspects of interpreting, rather than management, and “had problems communicating ideas effectively during the interview.” Id. Alvarez concluded that, of the four candidates, Lily Situ had the best interview and was the most qualified person for the Supervisor Position. Id. at 28, ¶ 11. During her interview, Situ “provided specific examples of how she could motivate and coach a team” and “also showed that she was able to communicate more effectively than the other applicants.” Id. Situ received a higher average rating on the interview than the other three candidates. Id. at 43 (Liou: 3/5); 50 (England: 3/5); 56 (Xu: 3/5); 62 (Situ: 4/5). Alvarez selected Situ for the Supervisor Position. Id.

         On June 26, 2014, Plaintiff sent an email to CyraCom’s Vice President, Best Ihegborow, and copying CyraCom’s Chief Executive Officer, Jeremy Woan. Id. at 3, ¶ 6; 17-18. The subject line was “[t]he employment law expressly prohibits deceitful and unfair hiring practices.” Id. at 17; 86. In the email, Plaintiff asked Ihegborow to conduct “a thorough investigation” of the hiring process for the Supervisor Position. Id. at 17. Plaintiff stated that he had “heard some rumors” that Situ had received extra training before her interview, had been asked different interview questions, and had been generally preferred for the Supervisor Position before the interview. Id. at 17-18. Plaintiff stated that this email contained all of his complaints against CyraCom. Id. at 86.

         Plaintiff’s June 26, 2014 email was shared with CyraCom’s Human Resources Director, Penie Porter. Id. at 2-3, ¶¶ 1, 6. Porter was asked to “investigate and address the selection process” for the Supervisor Position with Plaintiff. Id. at 3, ¶ 6. Prior to meeting with Plaintiff, Porter spoke with Alvarez, who told her about Plaintiff’s expressed disagreement with the Policy and his assessment of the four candidates. Id. at 3, ¶ 7; 28, ¶ 12. Porter also spoke with Plaintiff’s supervisor, Ko, who explained “that he had spent time with the other three candidates, who were all on his interpreting team, and that Ms. Situ had shown initiative on receiving training and coaching.” Id. at 3, ¶ 7; 64, ¶ 6.

         After speaking with Alvarez and Ko, Porter met with Plaintiff to discuss the selection process. Id. at 4, ¶ 8. Porter explained to Plaintiff why he was not selected for the Supervisor Position, but he “did not accept [her] explanation and demanded that the decision be reversed.” Id. Porter then brought up Plaintiff’s email questioning the Policy, at which point Plaintiff raised his voice, slammed his fist on the desk, and demanded to speak with Ihegborow. Id. Plaintiff left Porter’s office. Id. Porter went to Alvarez and explained what had happened. Id. at 4, ¶ 9; 29, ¶ 13. Alvarez and Porter then summoned Plaintiff to Alvarez’s office to discuss the selection process for the Supervisor Position. Id. Plaintiff refused to look at or address Porter during the meeting. Id. Plaintiff again refused to accept the explanations for why Alvarez had chosen Situ, and left the meeting in the middle of the conversation. Id. Both Alvarez and Porter believed that Plaintiff’s “behavior was defiant, unprofessional, and unacceptable.” Id.

         After meeting with Alvarez and Porter, Plaintiff sent a second email to Ihegborow and Woan. Id. at 4, ¶ 10; 20-21. Plaintiff stated that he had met with Porter twice and thought “she was completely out of it.” Id. at 20. Plaintiff complained that Porter was not focusing on his complaints about the selection process, and that she had “failed to do her homework.” Id. Plaintiff said Porter needed to “dig in for more facts” about whether Ko had shown preferential treatment in preparing Situ for the interview. Id. at 20-21.

         Alvarez and Porter met with Plaintiff’s direct supervisor, Julio Noriega. Id. at 4-5, ¶ 11; 29, ¶ 14; 73, ¶ 4. They discussed Plaintiff’s performance and recent behavior. Id. After this meeting, Porter emailed Woan and copied Ihegborow and Alvarez. Id. at 23-24. Porter summarized the meetings with Plaintiff and with Noriega. Id. Porter also recommended that “Corrective Action” be taken. Id. at 24. Porter and Alvarez ultimately recommended that Plaintiff be terminated. Id. at 4-5, ¶ 11; 29, ¶ 14. Ihegborow agreed, and CyraCom terminated Plaintiff on June 30, 2014. Id. at 4-5, ¶ 11; 29, ¶ 14. Prior to his termination, Plaintiff did not mention age discrimination in his meetings with Porter or his emails to Ihegborow and Woan. Id. at 5, ¶ 12; 86.

         II. ...

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