Monday, September 24, 2001
Court of Appeal, Citing Civil Service Ruling, Rejects Bias Suit Against City
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A lawsuit by a longtime employee, charging the city of Los Angeles with firing him because of his age, race, and national origin, is barred by an adverse ruling on his civil service appeal, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Four affirmed a summary judgment rejecting the suit by Edward Castillo Jr., terminated by the Bureau of Public Works for excessive tardiness and unauthorized absences after 29 years of employment.
The panel agreed with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brett Klein that Castillo was collaterally estopped from suing under the Fair Employment and Housing Act after the Civil Service Commission found that he had in fact been late or absent without leave on an excessive number of days.
Castillo was dismissed in June 1996. Following an administrative hearing, the commission sustained the charges, but sent the case back to the Board of Public Works for reconsideration of the penalty.
The board reaffirmed the discharge in January 1997, a ruling that Castillo challenged by filing a petition for writ of mandate in the Superior Court.
While the petition was pending, Castillo filed an administrative claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, claiming he was terminated because he is Mexican American and was 49 years old at the time. He claimed that his absences were authorized and that younger workers and those of other ethnicities engaged in conduct similar to his without being disciplined.
The department closed the cases in July 1997 and issued a right-to-sue letter. Castillo then filed his FEHA suit.
The mandate petition was denied in January 1999, following which the city successfully moved for summary judgment on the bias claims. Klein held that “the principles that bar relitigation” precluded Castillo from litigating his claims in the FEHA suit “as a result of the administrative proceedings and the subsequent judicial review of the administrative proceedings.”
Justice Norman Epstein, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct.
All of the requirements for collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, were met, the justice concluded. The issues raised in the Superior Court complaint were identical to those that were raised in the administrative and mandate proceedings, were actually litigated and necessarily decided in those proceedings, and were finally resolved adversely to the plaintiff, Epstein said.
Castillo’s counsel, Ronald P. Kaplan, argued that the issue of discrimination wasn’t litigated before the commission. Epstein rejected the contention, saying it was belied by the hearing transcript and that in any event, there was no showing that Castillo was prevented from offering admissible evidence on the issue.
By affirming the firing, the justice added, the administrative decisionmakers necessarily rejected the bias claim.
“The hearing examiner necessarily decided that Castillo’s discharge was for proper reasons when she found the discharge ‘appropriate,’” Epstein explained. “Further, if the hearing examiner were to have found that the reasons for discharge were merely a pretext for discrimination, she would not have found the discharge was appropriate.”
The justice went on to say that applying collateral estoppel effect to the administrative ruling and the denial of writ of mandate was consistent with public policy. It will avoid inconsistent adjudications, protect the integrity of the administrative process, save judicial resources, and avoid vexatious litigation, he explained.
Even if the doctrine weren’t applied, Epstein added, summary judgment was proper because Castillo lacked a triable claim that his termination was wrongful.
The case is Castillo v. City of Los Angeles, B143598.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company