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Summary judgment is granted when a moving party establishes the right to the entry of judgment as a matter of law. On appeal, the reviewing court makes an independent assessment of the correctness of the trial court's ruling, applying the same legal standard as the trial court in determining whether there are any genuine issues of material fact or whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In independently examining the record on appeal to determine whether triable issues of material fact exist, the court considers all the evidence set forth in the moving and opposition papers except that to which objections were made and sustained. Further, the court must view the evidence in a light favorable to the plaintiff as the losing party, liberally construing the plaintiff's evidentiary submission while strictly scrutinizing the defendant's own showing, and resolving any evidentiary doubts or ambiguities in the plaintiff's favor. In the summary judgment context, the evidence must be incapable of supporting a judgment for the losing party in order to validate the summary judgment. Thus even though it may appear that a trial court took a reasonable view of the evidence, a summary judgment cannot properly be affirmed unless a contrary view would be unreasonable as a matter of law in the circumstances presented.
Plaintiff Deborah Moore began working in University of California San Diego's marketing and communications department (the Department) in 2008. In early 2010, plaintiff was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy. On or around September 10, 2010, Moore was prescribed and began wearing a heart monitor called a “LifeVest.” According to Moore, after Kimberly Kennedy – the executive director of the Department - became aware of Moore’s heart condition, Kennedy began eliminating Moore’s “main responsibilities,” including her work on an “open enrollment program and advertising.” Moore has subsequently been assigned to work on “less important” projects. In approximately mid-November 2010, Kennedy demoted Moore, through a department restructuring, to a new classification. Moore's salary did not change, but certain other benefits were reduced. Defendant eliminated Moore's position on February 15, 2011, and Moore was terminated. Moore was informed that she was being laid off because her position was being eliminated due to “lack of work” and “budget reasons.” Moore filed her complaint, alleging causes of action under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, failure to engage in the interactive process, and retaliation, as well as causes of action for interference with Moore-Brown-Roberti Family Rights Act (CFRA) and retaliation in violation of CFRA. Defendant moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. According to the trial court, Moore had not demonstrated that there remained triable issues of material fact with respect to any of her causes of action.
Did the trial court correctly grant defendant’s motion for summary judgment?
Yes, but only with respect to Moore’s cause of action for retaliation in violation of the FEHA.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in part, reversed in part, and remanded the matter. The court held that summary judgment was erroneous as to Moore’s disability discrimination claim under the FEHA and her retaliation claim under the CFRA because the evidence was such that a reasonable fact finder could conclude that the employer's proffered reasons for terminating the employee's employment were pretextual. Summary judgment was also erroneous as to Moore’s causes of action for failure to accommodate and failure to engage in the interactive process in violation of the FEHA because a reasonable fact finder could conclude, based on the evidence presented, that the employer regarded the employee as disabled, that the employee requested an accommodation of leave to have surgery related to her perceived disability, that the employer terminated the employee before either providing her with the requested accommodation or engaging with her further to determine whether such accommodation would sufficiently address her perceived disability or whether other or different accommodations might reasonably be provided, and that the termination was pretextual. However, summary adjudication of Moore’s cause of action for retaliation in violation of the FEHA was appropriate because no issues of material fact remained in dispute with respect to that claim. At the time of the relevant events, a request for an accommodation, without more, was insufficient to constitute protected activity under Gov. Code, § 12940, subd. (h).