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Rosales v. Spencer

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

December 19, 2019

LOUIE M. ROSALES, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD V. SPENCER, Secretary, Dept. of the Navy, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          BENJAMIN H. SETTLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Richard Spencer, Secretary of the United States Department of the Navy's (“Government”) motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 56. The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motion and the remainder of the file and hereby denies the motion for the reasons stated herein.

         I. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Although the facts are set forth in the Court's prior, vacated order granting the Government's first motion for summary judgment, Dkt. 43, the procedural history in this case is complex and requires additional explanation. In that previous order, the Government moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff Louie Rosales's (“Rosales”) claim for retaliatory discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. Id. at 10-15. In his opposition, Rosales conceded that he had “the burden of proving a but-for causal link between his protected activity and the retaliatory conduct.” Dkt. 33 at 20 (citing Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338, 352 (2013) (interpreting § 2000e-3(a)). Under that standard, the Court concluded that, although close, Rosales had failed to establish but-for causation. Dkt. 43 at 15.

         On June 18, 2019, Rosales filed a motion for reconsideration arguing that the proper standard for Title VII claims brought by federal employees under § 2000e-16(a) was the motivating factor test. Dkt. 47. That section provides that federal employees “shall be made free from any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a). On July 10, 2019, the Court granted Rosales's motion and vacated its prior order. Dkt. 52.

         On October 31, 2019, the Government filed the instant renewed motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 56. On November 18, 2019, Rosales responded. Dkt. 57. On November 22, 2019, the Government replied. Dkt. 59-1 (amended brief).

         II. DISCUSSION

         There is a three-step burden-shifting framework for considering summary judgment in an employment retaliation case. Brooks v. City of San Mateo, 229 F.3d 917, 928 (9th Cir. 2000). To establish a triable issue, the plaintiff first must prove a prima facie case by showing “(1) involvement in a protected activity, (2) an adverse employment action[, ] and (3) a causal link between the two.” Id. Second, the burden shifts to the defendant to present a legitimate reason for the adverse employment action. Id. Third, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to “demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the reason advanced by the employer was a pretext.” Id. “Only then does the case proceed beyond the summary judgment stage.” Id.

         In this case, the Government's motion is in part a belated motion for reconsideration of the Court's decision on the causation standard applicable to Rosales's prima facie case and also challenges Rosales's evidence concerning the element of pretext. Dkt. 56.

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper only if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of a claim in the case on which the nonmoving party has the burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). There is no genuine issue of fact for trial where the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (nonmoving party must present specific, significant probative evidence, not simply “some metaphysical doubt”). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Conversely, a genuine dispute over a material fact exists if there is sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute, requiring a judge or jury to resolve the differing versions of the truth. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 253 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).

         The determination of the existence of a material fact is often a close question. The Court must consider the substantive evidentiary burden that the nonmoving party must meet at trial-e.g., a preponderance of the evidence in most civil cases. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630. The Court must resolve any factual issues of controversy in favor of the nonmoving party only when the facts specifically attested by that party contradict facts specifically attested by the moving party. The nonmoving party may not merely state that it will discredit the moving party's evidence at trial, in the hopes that evidence can be developed at trial to support the claim. T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630 (relying on Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). Conclusory, nonspecific statements in affidavits are not sufficient, and missing facts will not be presumed. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888-89 (1990).

         B. Prima Facie Causation

         Federal employees “shall be made free from any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a). In Ayon v. Sampson, 547 F.2d 446 (9th Cir. 1976), the district court dismissed a federal employee's Title VII claim of retaliation for lack of jurisdiction because it concluded that § 2000e-16 did not explicitly prohibit retaliation as Title VII does in § 2000e-3. Id. at 449. The Ninth Circuit disagreed with that conclusion holding “that in enacting § 2000e-16, Congress intended to, and did incorporate into that section the provisions of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting harassment or retaliation for the exercise of those remedial rights established by the Act.” Id. at 450. The Ninth Circuit, however, has ...


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