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Alonso v. Qwest Commc'ns Co., LLC

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

December 31, 2013

Joseph Alonso et al., Appellants,
Qwest Communications Company, LLC, et al., Respondents

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from Pierce County Superior Court. Docket No: 11-2-09974-7. Date filed: 06/19/2012. Judge signing: Honorable Edmund Murphy.

Stephanie Bloomfield and Eric D. Gilman (of Gordon Thomas Honeywell LLP ), for appellants.

James Sanders (of Perkins Coie LLP ), for respondents.

Authored by Jill M Johanson. Concurring: J. Robin Hunt, Lisa Worswick.


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[178 Wn.App. 738] Johanson, J.

¶ 1 Joseph Alonso sued his employer, Qwest Communications Company LLC, and his supervisor, Ben Martinez, for discrimination; the superior court granted Qwest summary judgment dismissal of Alonso's complaint. [1] Alonso appeals, arguing that he provided sufficient evidence to establish prima facie discrimination claims for (1) disparate treatment, (2) a hostile work environment, and (3) unlawful retaliation. Viewing the record in [178 Wn.App. 739] a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, we hold that Alonso established prima facie disparate treatment and hostile work environment claims; thus, we reverse the superior court's summary judgment dismissal on those matters. Holding that Alonso failed to establish a prima facie retaliation case, however, we affirm the superior court's summary judgment dismissal of that claim.


I. Workplace

¶ 2 Alonso is a Mexican-American Gulf War combat veteran who receives partial disability due to a service-related back injury and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since childhood, he has suffered from a speech impediment that required doctors to surgically modify the roof of his mouth.

¶ 3 In 1999, Qwest hired Alonso as a Central Office Equipment Installation Technician to install and maintain network infrastructure. [2]

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In 2006, Alonso was reassigned from the central office to a position that services customer location sites, which became known as an " AQCB" [3] position. Several months before Alonso was reassigned to AQCB duty, Qwest provided him with a new work van, a cellular telephone, office space, and a computer.[4]

¶ 4 When Alonso was reassigned to AQCB duty, two people performed AQCB responsibilities. Alonso enjoyed AQCB work, and in 2007, according to Alonso, he and his then-co-worker, William Kling, achieved the distinction of " being first in quality and productivity over a 14 state [178 Wn.App. 740] region." Suppl. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 232. The next year, however, Martinez became Alonso's manager. Martinez, also a Mexican-American and military veteran, practiced a management style with which Alonso did not agree; and by April 2010, their work relationship had soured.

¶ 5 Alonso alleges that Martinez surrounded himself with other Qwest employees, Jose Zuniga, Brad Tuttle, and Dave Thomas, who collectively treated Alonso poorly and tormented him because of his military status, Mexican heritage, and disabilities, including his speech impediment. To Alonso's disgust, Martinez and other employees also used offensive workplace language. According to Alonso, Martinez and Zuniga referred to Mexicans as " Spics." CP at 115. Co-workers also described Alonso's speech as like a " ghetto Hispanic," and Zuniga contrasted himself to Alonso because he " spoke correct English," unlike Alonso. CP at 144, 145. The harassment was so open that Alonso's colleagues noticed that some employees, including Martinez, mocked Alonso's speech.

¶ 6 Alonso stated that Martinez knew that Alonso suffered from combat-related disabilities, including PTSD, and held this against him. According to Alonso, Martinez " hated the fact that [Alonso] was receiving disability pay," commenting, " I will tell you what I hate[:] people that served in the first Gulf War for five days and claim a disability" ; and Martinez added, " I served and I got crap." Suppl. CP at 233.

¶ 7 In April 2010, Alonso phoned Qwest's " Corporate Ethics and Compliance Advice Line" (hotline) and reported that Martinez was corrupt, mistreated Alonso by subjecting him to heightened scrutiny, and allowed employees to engage in inappropriate workplace behavior. [5] Alonso did not report to the hotline any conduct that related to or targeted him based on his protected statuses.

[178 Wn.App. 741] ¶ 8 At the first safety meeting following Alonso's initial hotline call, on May 20, Martinez told the entire staff, including Alonso, that " someone had called in" and that " someone is throwing rocks at the big dog and that big dog is going to get you and that big dog is me." Suppl. CP at 234. Alonso felt that Martinez made a " mockery" of his hotline complaint. CP at 77. Employee Margaret Buechel stated, " It was obvious from the way that Ben [Martinez] was acting towards Joseph [Alonso] that he knew that Joseph had complained." CP at 145. At that same safety meeting, Martinez assigned the crew new schedules. To Alonso's dissatisfaction, Martinez changed Alonso's hours so that rather than starting work at 5:00 a.m., he would begin at 6:00 a.m. Following the meeting, Martinez e-mailed the staff that they could no longer report to work early to earn overtime; but, according to Alonso, Martinez continued to allow Zuniga to begin working at 5:00 a.m., one hour before his shift began.

¶ 9 Alonso followed his April hotline call with several other hotline calls in May 2010. During these May calls, Alonso claimed that (1) Martinez retaliated against him for reporting Martinez in April; (2) Martinez had told other employees that Alonso had complained about their behavior to the hotline and, consequently, co-workers vandalized Alonso's work station; (3) since Alonso initially

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complained to the hotline, Martinez had reviewed his work with even greater scrutiny. For example, on May 11, 2010, Alonso was in the middle of working a Fort Lewis job when Martinez telephoned and asked Alonso to leave for a project at Good Samaritan Hospital and " do whatever it takes" to finish it. Suppl. CP at 235. Alonso finished the hospital job; but when Alonso told Martinez that he had worked 11 hours, Martinez told him to manipulate his time card to read that he had worked only 8 hours. Martinez also threatened to change Alonso from a 4-day, 10-hour work week to a 5-day, 8-hour work week.

¶ 10 Eventually, Martinez reassigned Alonso from AQCB back to the central office. According to Alonso, Martinez [178 Wn.App. 742] also forced him to trade his " nice" work van for " an old junky van" and required Alonso to return his cellular telephone [6] and computer. Suppl. CP at 234, 235. Alonso stated that Martinez did not select him for " lucrative 'per diem' jobs" [7] and barred him from earning overtime. Suppl. CP at 235. As Buechel characterized it, " After Ben started looking at Joseph [Alonso,] negative things began to happen to Joseph." CP at 145. For example, one day, when Alonso was away from his desk, either Tuttle or Zuniga spread hand sanitizing liquid over Alonso's desk telephone, to the point that it was dripping. At other times, Zuniga glued a computer mouse to ...

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