United States District Court, D. Arizona
Douglas L. Rayes, United States District Judge
are Bill Alexander Ford Lincoln Mercury Incorporated, Bill
Alexander Automotive Center Incorporated, Alexander
Automotive Group, Billy Joe and Alexander Incorporated. This
case principally centers on Plaintiff Antonio
Valenzuela's termination from his position with one of
Defendants' auto dealerships. At issue is Defendants'
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 92), which is fully
briefed. The Court heard oral argument on March 15, 2017,
announced its ruling from the bench on March 28, 2017, and
notified the parties that this written order would follow.
For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted
in part and denied it in part.
judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact and, viewing those facts in a light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is
material if it might affect the outcome of the case, and a
dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the
nonmoving party based on the competing evidence. Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986);
Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054,
1061 (9th Cir. 2002). Summary judgment may also be entered
“against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient
to establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party seeking
summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of
informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and
identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to
the non-movant to establish the existence of a genuine and
material factual dispute. Id. at 324.
the relevant time period, Plaintiff worked as sales
representative for Defendants, selling new and used Toyotas.
On May 15, 2014, Plaintiff visited his eye doctor because he
was experiencing cloudy vision and headaches. Plaintiff
underwent unexpected eye surgery, which impaired his ability
to drive, walk, and see while he recuperated. After the
surgery, Plaintiff's wife drove him to work, where he
notified his supervisor that he would need time off to
returned to work on June 9, 2014 with no restrictions. On
July 17, 2014, approximately five weeks after Plaintiff
returned from medical leave, Defendants terminated him for
“lack of performance.” Plaintiff's
termination coincided with the release of a sales report for
the quarter beginning April 1, 2014 and ending July 16, 2014,
which showed that he had not met minimum sales goals for that
brought this lawsuit asserting eleven claims against
Defendants. He later stipulated to dismissal of six of his
claims. In his five remaining claims, Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants discriminated against him because of his
disability and retaliated against him for exercising his
rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
(Counts I and II), interfered with his Family and Medical
Leave Act (FMLA) leave and retaliated against him for taking
it (Counts VII and VIII), and violated the Fair Labor
Standards Act (FLSA) by not properly compensating him for
overtime work (Count IX). During oral argument, Plaintiff
conceded his FMLA retaliation claim (Count VIII), as well as
one theory pertinent to his ADA disability discrimination
claim. This order will address Plaintiff's remaining four
claims for ADA discrimination and retaliation, FMLA
interference, and unpaid overtime compensation (Counts I, II,
VII, and IX).
protects qualified individuals from adverse employment
actions based on their disabilities, and from retaliation for
engaging in certain protected activities. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 12112(a), 12203(a). Discrimination and
retaliation claims both are governed by the burden-shifting
framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). Under this framework,
the plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing his
prima facie case. To establish a prima face case of
disability discrimination, a plaintiff must show that he (1)
is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) was
qualified to perform the essential functions of his job; and
(3) suffered an adverse employment action because of his
disability. Nunes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 164 F.3d
1243, 1246 (9th Cir. 1999). For retaliation claims, a
plaintiff must show that he (1) engaged in statutorily
protected activity, (2) suffered an adverse employment
action, and (3) would not have suffered the adverse action
but for his protected activity. Brooks v. City of San
Mateo, 229 F.3d 917, 928 (9th Cir. 2000); see Univ.
of Texas Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, -- U.S. --, 133 S.Ct.
2517, 2534 (2013). The burden of making a prima facie case is
not an onerous one; “the requisite degree of proof
necessary to establish a prima facie case . . . on summary
judgment is minimal and does not even need to rise to the
level of a preponderance of the evidence.” Chuang
v. Univ. of Cal. Davis, 225 F.3d 1115, 1124 (9th Cir.
2000); see Snead v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Co., 237
F.3d 1080, 1087 (9th Cir. 2001).
of the prima facie case in effect creates a presumption that
the employer unlawfully discriminated against the
employee.” Wallis v. J.R. Simplot Co., 26 F.3d
885, 889 (9th Cir. 1994). The burden of production then
shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate and
nondiscriminatory/nonretaliatory reason for the adverse
employment action. If the employer does so, the burden shifts
back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the employer's
proffered reason is a pretext for discrimination or
retaliation, “either directly by persuading the court
that a discriminatory [or retaliatory] reason more likely
motivated the employer or indirectly by showing that the
employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of
credence.” Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v.
Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256 (1981); see Curley v.
City of N. Las Vegas, 772 F.3d 629, 632 (9th Cir. 2014).
do not argue that Plaintiff is unqualified to perform the
essential functions of his job, and it is undisputed that
Plaintiff's termination constitutes an adverse employment
action. Defendants contend, however, that Plaintiff cannot
establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination or
retaliation because he (1) is not disabled within the meaning
of the ADA, (2) did not engage in protected activity, and (3)
cannot establish the requisite causal link between his
alleged disability/protected activity and his termination.
Defendants also argue that, even if Plaintiff can establish a
prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, summary
judgment is appropriate because Defendants have proffered a
legitimate, nondiscriminatory and nonretaliatory reason for
their action and Plaintiff has not presented adequate
evidence of pretext.