Court of Appeal:
Justice Segal: There Was No Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies Where True Identity Was Readily Determinable From Facts Set Forth
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district on Friday upheld a judgment in favor of the plaintiff in an action for wrongful termination and employment discrimination, rejecting the employer’s contention that she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies because, in her administrative complaint to the Department of Fair Housing and Employment, she identified as her employer an unrelated entity.
The employer was NBA Automotive, Inc. dba Hooman Chevrolet of Culver City. Yet, the former employee, Gloria Guzman, labeled it “Hooman Enterprises Inc. DBA Hooman Chevrolet.”
That’s close enough, Justice John L. Segal of Div. Seven said in an opinion that affirms a $245,892 judgment, pursuant to jury verdict, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael P. Linfield.
“The administrative complaint unmistakably identified NBA Automotive as the respondent. Although Guzman did not state NBA Automotive’s full correct legal name, she stated that the fictitious business name of her employer was ‘Hooman Chevrolet,’ a name virtually identical to ‘Hooman Chevrolet of Culver City,’ NBA Automotive’s actual fictitious business name. In addition, Guzman’s administrative complaint listed the address of Hooman Chevrolet in Culver City and named the owner (Hooman Nissani).”
He added that Guzman set forth in her administrative complaint—a prerequisite to suing under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”)—the names of those persons at Hooman Chevrolet who had, over a period of 15 years, engaged in in wrongful conduct and the names of managers and supervisors who took adverse employment actions against her.
“Any reasonable investigation would have revealed that NBA Automotive was Guzman’s employer,” Segal said, remarking:
“To allow NBA Automotive to escape liability for discriminatory conduct merely because Guzman identified her employer administratively with a name that was nearly the same as, but not quite identical to, her employer’s actual fictitious business name would be contrary to the purposes of FEHA.”
It has been judicially declared, he noted, that the act is to be liberally construed.
The justice declared that what was contained in the administrative complaint adequately put NBA on notice that she would be proceeding against it in court once she received a right-to-sue letter from the department.
“Hooman Enterprises, Inc.” does exist, and real estate developer Hooman Nissani is its principal. However, that corporation is unrelated to the car dealership that employed Guzman.
‘Very Much Related’
“[E]ven if, as NBA Automotive suggests, it is ‘wholly unrelated’ to Hooman Enterprises, Inc.,” Segal said, “NBA Automotive was very much related to Hooman Chevrolet, the name that appears in Guzman’s administrative complaint. Which the evidence at trial confirmed: NBA Automotive’s service manager testified the name ‘Hooman Chevrolet’ was on the building where he and Guzman worked, and NBA Automotive’s general manager testified he was the general manager at ‘Hooman Chevrolet.’ ”
The case is Guzman v. NBA Automotive, Inc., B303655.
Brentwood attorney Duncan J. McCreary represented NBA. Westwood practitioner Geoffrey C. Lyon and Henry Harmeling IV of Cardiff acted for Guzman.
Nissani has been spotlighted in Los Angeles Times columns by David Lazarus who have told of the Glendale entrepreneur coming under scrutiny of the Office of Los Angeles City Attorney for allegedly shoddy practices.
Lazarus said in a May 29, 2020 column:
“Nissani made headlines last year after being ordered to pay $2.4 million in back pay and penalties to settle what state officials called California’s largest wage-theft case against a carwash company. The business failed to pay minimum wage and overtime to 64 workers over three years.
“I reported that Nissani had nearly a dozen cars towed from his now-closed Hyundai dealership on the border of Playa Vista and Culver City, apparently without warning, and the customers who had brought in their vehicles for service were slapped with thousands of dollars in fees from the towing company.”
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