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Weil v. Citizens Telecom Services Co., LLC

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

November 8, 2019

DAVID R. WEIL, Plaintiff,
v.
CITIZENS TELECOM SERVICES COMPANY, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JAMES L. ROBART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Defendants Citizens Telecom Services Company, LLC and Frontier Communications Corporation's (collectively, “Defendants”) motion for partial summary judgment to limit plaintiff David R. Weil's damages claim. (Mot. (Dkt. # 68); see also Reply (Dkt. # 72).) Mr. Weil opposes Defendants' motion. (Resp. (Dkt. # 69).) Having considered the parties' submissions, the appropriate portions of the record, and the relevant law, [1] the court GRANTS Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment to limit plaintiff's damages claim.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This case involves alleged employment discrimination “on the basis of race, color, and sex.”[2] (See Am. Compl. (Dkt. # 21) ¶ 1.) In his amended complaint, Mr. Weil, a male of East Indian descent, alleges that Defendants violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), RCW 49.60.010 et seq., when Defendants failed to promote him to the position of call center director and subsequently terminated his employment. (See generally id.) On October 6, 2016, the court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed this case based on the court's finding that Mr. Weil failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact in support of his failure to promote claim and his wrongful termination claim. (See 10/6/16 Order (Dkt. # 51) at 16-24.)

         Mr. Weil appealed, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the court's summary judgment ruling against Mr. Weil's wrongful termination claim, but reversed the court's summary judgment dismissal of Mr. Weil's failure to promote claim. (See 4/29/19 Op. (Dkt. # 60) at 14-19.) On the failure to promote claim, the Ninth Circuit held that the court improperly excluded a statement from one of Mr. Weil's co-workers as hearsay. (See Id. at 8-14.) According to the Ninth Circuit, Mr. Weil's failure to promote claim survived summary judgment once the court considered the co-worker's statement. (See Id. at 16-17.)

         In analyzing Mr. Weil's wrongful termination claim, the Ninth Circuit recognized that the level of proof Mr. Weil needed to establish a prima facie case at the summary judgment stage “is minimal and does not even need to rise to the level of a preponderance of the evidence.” (Id. at 18 (citing Wallis v. J.R. Simplot Co., 26 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 1994)).) Despite this low evidentiary bar, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the “undisputed evidence” in this case shows that Mr. Weil's job performance was not satisfactory at the time Defendants terminated him. (See Id. at 18-19). More specifically, the Ninth Circuit noted that “[Mr.] Weil's performance was steadily declining from 2011 to 2013;” that Mr. Weil's own evaluations of his performance “reflected performance that was unsatisfactory;” and that Mr. Weil “missed deadlines, ” “failed to complete action items in his [developmental action plan], ” and was ultimately “placed on a [performance improvement plan] to address his performance and warned that termination was a possible outcome if he failed to improve.” (See id.) Thus, the Ninth Circuit concluded that Mr. Weil's wrongful termination claim failed because the undisputed evidence showed that Defendants terminated Mr. Weil for poor job performance and not because of his membership in a protected class. (See id.) Additionally, the Ninth Circuit agreed with the court's conclusion that Mr. Weil failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact on the fourth element of his prima facie wrongful termination claim-that Defendants treated him differently than similarly situated employees outside his protected class. (See Id. at 19.)

         Defendants now move for partial summary judgment on the narrow issue of whether Mr. Weil is entitled to back pay or front pay after the date Defendants terminated him. (See Mot at 1-2, 8-12.) Specifically, Defendants argue that, as a result of the court's summary judgment ruling on Mr. Weil's wrongful termination claim and the Ninth Circuit's order affirming that ruling, there is no longer any dispute that Defendants lawfully terminated Mr. Weil. (See Mot. at 1-2, 12.) As such, Defendants assert that Mr. Weil's claims for back pay and front pay should be cut off at his termination date and limited as a matter of law to the amount of back pay that Mr. Weil would have been entitled to had he been promoted but then subsequently terminated. (See Id. at 1-2 (“[E]ven if for the sake of argument Plaintiff succeeds on his remaining failure-to-promote claim, he cannot reap a windfall by recovering damages for a period following his lawful termination from employment. Thus, Plaintiff's potential damages should be cut off at the time of his termination.”).) Defendants allege that Defendants decided not to promote Mr. Weil on April 1, 2013, and terminated him on August 15, 2013. (See Mot. at 12.) In response, Mr. Weil claims that Defendants can limit his entitlement to back pay only if Defendants can show that his loss of earnings was willful, which, he argues, Defendants have not shown. (See Resp. at 4-11.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         Defendants move for partial summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (See Mot at 1.) 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 Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Galen v. Cty. of L.A., 477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he or she is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets his or her burden, then the non-moving party “must make a showing sufficient to establish a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the existence of the essential elements of his case that he must prove at trial” to withstand summary judgment.[3] Galen, 477 F.3d at 658. On a motion for summary judgment, the court is “required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the [non-moving] party.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         B. Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

         1. Standard for Front Pay and Back Pay

         Defendants' motion presents a single issue: Whether Mr. Weil is entitled to back pay or front pay after the date Defendants terminated him. “An award of back pay compensates plaintiffs for lost wages and benefits between the time of the discharge and the trial court judgment.” Johnson v. Spencer Press of Maine, Inc., 364 F.3d 368, 379 (1st Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). In contrast, “front pay is simply money awarded for lost compensation during the period between judgment and reinstatement or in lieu of reinstatement.” Pollard v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 532 U.S. 843, 846 (2001). Back pay and front pay are amongst the available remedies under both state and federal law for employment discrimination claims. See Caudle v. Bristow Optical Co., 224 F.3d 1014, 1020 (9th Cir. 2000) (‚ÄúTitle VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 permits courts to grant equitable remedies to employees who have been impermissibly discriminated against by employers . . . . ...


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