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Valenzuela v. Bill Alexander Ford Lincoln Mercury Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 11, 2017

Antonio Valenzuela, Plaintiff,
v.
Bill Alexander Ford Lincoln Mercury Incorporated, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes, United States District Judge

         Defendants 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.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary 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.

         BACKGROUND

         During 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 recover.

         Plaintiff 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 time period.

         Plaintiff 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).

         DISCUSSION

         I. ADA

         The ADA 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).

         “Establishment 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).

         Defendants 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.

         A. ...


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