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Rodarte v. Trident Seafoods Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

August 20, 2014



JAMES L. ROBART, District Judge.


Before the court is Defendant Trident Seafoods Corporation's ("Trident") unopposed motion for summary judgment. (Mot. (Dkt. # 21).) Plaintiff Francisca Rodarte filed this lawsuit against Trident over a year ago, and has since participated in discovery and filed several documents with the court including a motion for default judgment. ( See Dkt. ## 5, 13, 14.) However, when Trident filed a motion for summary judgment disposition of the entire case in late July, Ms. Rodarte failed to file any response. ( See Dkt.) The time for filing a response has now passed, and the motion is ripe for the court's consideration. Accordingly, the court has examined the motion, the governing law, the record, and the submissions of the parties. Being fully advised, the court finds that Trident has demonstrated that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and therefore GRANTS Trident's motion for summary judgment.


This is an employment discrimination case set in a remote Alaskan cannery. Plaintiff Ms. Rodarte worked as an employee of the cannery for over twenty years. (Compl. (Dkt. # 3) ¶ 5.) Defendant Trident owns and operates the cannery, which is situated in Akutan, Alaska, a tiny harbor town on Akutan Island in southeast Alaska. (Compl. ¶ 6; Heine Decl. (Dkt. # 26).) Akutan is located in the Aleutian chain a "short distance" from the comparatively larger town of Dutch Harbor but can be reached only by seaplane or boat. (Heine Decl. ¶ 2; Compl. ¶ 9.) Trident's Akutan facility- commonly referred to as a "shore plant"-operates year round, houses as many as 1200 employees at any given time, and is capable of processing three million pounds of fish per day. (Heine Decl. ¶ 2.)

The events that gave rise to this lawsuit took place in late October 2011. (Compl. ¶ 6.) Ms. Rodarte alleges that, around that time, she was suffering from a "severe toothache." ( Id. ¶ 7.) Evidently, a crown had fallen off of her tooth several weeks earlier and the tooth that remained began to cause her pain. ( Id. ) She claims that by late October, her face was swollen and she was in "obvious pain." ( Id. ) On October 27, 2011, she visited a health care center in Akutan where she was seen by a doctor. ( Id. ¶¶ 8, 9.) She was given penicillin and ibuprofen and told to gargle salt water. ( Id. ; Newberry Decl. (Dkt. # 25) ¶ 8.) The physician who treated her observed that she "could speak without apparent distress and did not appear to be otherwise incapacitated by pain." (Newberry Decl. ¶ 7.) He advised Ms. Rodarte that if her symptoms did not improve, she should return to the clinic to "figure out a new approach." ( Id. ¶ 9.) Ms. Rodarte did not return to the clinic. ( Id. ¶ 11.) There was no dentist on Akutan, although there was a dentist in nearby Dutch Harbor. ( Id. ¶ 5; Compl. ¶ 9.)

On October 30, 2011, a boat arrived to take workers to Dutch Harbor. (Compl. ¶ 10.) At that time, Ms. Rodarte had three days remaining on her seasonal contract with Trident. ( Id. ) She alleges that she asked the assistant plant manager if she could leave three days early to seek treatment for her toothache but that he told her to wait until her contract expired. ( Id. ) Ms. Rodarte then quit her job, alleging that she "was incapacitated by pain and had no reasonable alternative than to quit to obtain medical services." ( Id. ¶ 11.) She alleges that she was "forced to quit, " and that as a result she had to purchase her own airplane ticket from Dutch Harbor to Seattle for $839.40. ( Id. ¶ 13.) She returned to her home town of Walla Walla shortly thereafter, and received dental treatment just over a week later-twelve days after she quit her job and left Akutan. (Hendershott Decl. (Dkt. # 22) Ex. A ("Rodarte Dep.") at 129, 134).) She had a tooth extracted on December 27, 2011. ( Id. )

Ms. Rodarte alleges that she suffered adverse employment consequences because of her decision to quit. (Compl. ¶ 15.) She claims that Trident did not hire her until later than usual in the 2012 season. ( Id. ) She also says she received an email stating that she was not rehired for the 2012 season but that she received another email hours later saying she was, in fact, rehired. ( Id. ) She worked for Trident for three seasons in 2012 and 2013, including the very next season after she quit. (Rodarte Dep. at 183-84.)

Ms. Rodarte eventually filed an employment discrimination claim with the Alaska Human Rights Commission. (Compl. ¶ 17.) Trident participated in the Commission's investigation. ( See Hendershott Decl. Ex. D.) The Commission eventually found that the allegations of discrimination were not supported by substantial evidence and dismissed her claims. ( Id. )

Ms. Rodarte filed this complaint in June, 2013. ( See Dkt.) In her complaint, she alleges employment discrimination, constructive discharge, retaliation, and negligence claims against Trident. (Compl. ¶¶ 20-21, IV.2-3.) These claims are based on Trident's refusal to allow her to depart Akutan early to get medical care for her toothache. ( See id. ) She also alleges a claim for defamation based on Trident's participation with the Alaska Human Rights Commission's investigation of her claims. ( Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) She alleges that Trident employees lied to the Commission, which resulted in a "report full of lies" that "destroys her work reputation." ( Id. ¶ 20.) She requests a damages award of $1, 075, 000.00. ( Id. ¶¶ 22, IV.4.)

Trident moved for summary judgment, arguing primarily that Ms. Rodarte has no evidence to support any of her claims. ( See Mot.) Trident has produced a substantial amount of documentary and testimonial evidence in support of its arguments. ( See id. ) In contrast, Ms. Rodarte has not filed a response brief, let alone any evidence that tends to favor her version or interpretation of events. ( See Dkt.) Thus, Trident's motion for summary judgment is unopposed.


A. Standard on an Unopposed Summary Judgment Motion Where the Plaintiff is Pro Se

In general, summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, demonstrates "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Galen v. Cnty. of L.A., 477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that ...

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