Wednesday, March 10, 2004
C.A. Upholds Rejection of Secretary’s Bias Suit Against A.G.’s Office
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Attorney General’s Office was properly granted summary judgment in a racial discrimination action brought by a Caucasian legal secretary who claims the office gives preferential treatment to workers of Filipino descent, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Patricia Wood failed to establish triable issues in support of her claims of disparate treatment, harassment, and retaliation, Justice Margaret Grignon wrote Monday in an unpublished opinion for Div. Five.
The panel also upheld Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Meiers’ order that Wood pay more than $43,000 in attorney fees, based on the judge’s finding that the suit was devoid of merit. Wood failed to appeal from the fee order and cannot challenge it on an appeal from the judgment, Grignon explained.
Wood and fellow employee Theresa Nixon, who is black, sued their supervisor and nine co-workers in June 2001. They claimed, among other things, that Filipino Americans make up five percent of the state’s population, but 45 percent of the office’s legal secretaries; that several Filipino Americans who are related work for the department, but relatives of other employees cannot be hired; and that Filipino Americans are not required to meet the same hiring standards as other employees and are given lighter workloads.
Wood also complained that she was subjected to a hostile work environment after she complained of the alleged unfair treatment, and that other employees were told not to associate with her because she was a “trouble maker.”
The state, in its moving papers, said the allegations were mere speculation and opinion, and that Wood did not suffer an adverse employment action and did not suffer harassment as a matter of law.
After a hearing, Meiers agreed that neither plaintiff had suffered an adverse employment action, thus precluding them from establishing viable claims other than for harassment. After supplemental briefing, the judge rejected those claims as well, ruling that plaintiffs’ mere observations and opinions regarding their co-workers’ attitudes did not amount to facts sufficient to establish a cause of action.
Both plaintiffs appealed, but Nixon dismissed her appeal prior to the court’s ruling.
Grignon agreed with the trial judge that even if her superiors allowed some employees to perform lighter workloads than Wood, this was not an adverse employment action as to the plaintiff.
“It is not an adverse employment action to be required to perform the requirements of one’s job, such as arriving punctually, taking appropriate break time, remaining awake at work, completing assignments within one’s job description, and leaving at a prescribed hour,” the justice wrote. “Wood does not allege that her workload was unmanageable as a result of the additional assignments, her work schedule became more burdensome, or that she suffered any negative employment consequences as a result of her performance.”
Nor did Wood show that she was subjected to a hostile work environment, the jurist went on to say.
“None of the conduct Wood described was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of Wood’s employment and create an abusive working environment,” the justice concluded. “Being told by her coworkers on a handful of occasions that she was a racist was an expression of their opinions. Although it may have been upsetting to Wood to have a negative trait attributed to her, it was not the equivalent of a racial epithet or derogatory slur based on her race. Describing an individual as a racist is not racial harassment.”
While Wood may have been subjected to “[d]iscourtesy and ostracism by her Filipino coworkers,” that does not amount to harassment, especially given that the incidents were admittedly isolated, the jurist added.
Attorneys on appeal were W. James Osborne and James Mark Eisenman for the plaintiff and Deputy Attorneys General Vincent J. Scully Jr. and David J. Neill for the state.
The case is Wood v. California Department of Justice, B162825.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company