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Kim v. Samsung SDS Am., Inc.

Court of Appeal of California, Sixth Appellate District

October 22, 2019, Opinion Filed

H044775

Opinion

Following the termination of his employment at respondent Samsung SDS America, Inc. (Samsung), appellant Joohong Kim brought suit against Samsung, alleging age and race discrimination under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.), among other claims. Kim appeals a judgment entered in favor of Samsung following the trial court's grant of summary judgment.

For the reasons explained below, we conclude the trial court erred in granting summary judgment and therefore reverse the judgment.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND1

A. Factual Background

Samsung builds and sells software systems. Kim began working at Samsung's San Jose project delivery center in 2001 and took over as head of the delivery center in 2011 or 2012. In late 2012, Kim received notice that he would be transferred to a newly-created position as a client manager in Austin, Texas. Kim was told that this transfer was a promotion, he would be receiving a higher salary, and he would be elevated from "Director" to "Senior Director." Kim's job duties in Texas included providing support for the anticipated transfer [*2]  of a project from another company to Samsung and enhancing Samsung's business relationships with its affiliates. Samsung transferred Kim to the position in March 2013, but in September 2014 decided to eliminate the client manager position in Texas and to return Kim to San Jose, where he worked as a project manager at the same delivery center he previously supervised.

Soonpyo Kwon, Kim's direct supervisor in San Jose and Austin, completed Kim's 2014 performance evaluation, assigning Kim a "B" grade. The New Jersey-based director of Samsung's human resources department, Hyunsung Kim (Hyunsung), subsequently modified the grade Kwon had assigned to Kim in the 2014 evaluation from a "B" to a "D." Hyunsung did not consult with Kwon before lowering Kim's grade.

By the end of 2014, Samsung had decided to terminate Kim's employment. In January 2015, Hyunsung invited Kim to dinner and effectively gave Kim notice of his imminent termination, stating that if Kim resigned, Hyunsung would host a farewell party for him. During dinner, Hyunsung called Kim a "'low performer'" and commented, "'Do you have any children? How are they-how old are they? Oh, they're all grown. Now you don't have to spend the [*3]  money on them. You are in a good place now.'"

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2019 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 7037 *; 2019 WL 5386835

JOOHONG KIM, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. SAMSUNG SDS AMERICA, INC., Defendant and Respondent.

Notice: NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 8.1115(a), PROHIBITS COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 8.1115(b). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 8.1115.

Prior History:  [*1] Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. 1-15-CV283549.

CORE TERMS

termination, triable, defamation, delivery, punitive, discriminatory, nondiscriminatory, e-mail, facie, defamatory, evidentiary