Judge: Robert B. Broadbelt, Case: 23STCV05303, Date: 2024-06-11 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 23STCV05303    Hearing Date: June 11, 2024    Dept: 53

Superior Court of California

County of Los Angeles – Central District

Department 53

 

 

amber height ;

 

Plaintiff,

 

 

vs.

 

 

downtown crenshaw rising , et al.;

 

Defendants.

Case No.:

23STCV05303

 

 

Hearing Date:

June 11, 2024

 

 

Time:

10:00 a.m.

 

 

 

[tentative] Order RE:

 

defendants’ demurrer to second amended complaint

 

 

MOVING PARTIES:              Defendants Downtown Crenshaw Rising, Crenshaw Subway Coalition, Liberty Community Land Trust, and Damien Goodman

 

RESPONDING PARTY:       Plaintiff Amber Height

Demurrer to Second Amended Complaint

The court considered the moving, opposition, and reply papers filed in connection with this demurrer.

REQUEST FOR JUDICIAL NOTICE

            The court grants plaintiff Amber Height’s requests for judicial notice.  (Evid. Code, § 452, subds. (c), (h).)

DISCUSSION

Defendants Downtown Crenshaw Rising, Crenshaw Subway Coalition, Liberty Community Land Trust (“Entity Defendants”), and Damien Goodman (“Goodman”) (together with Entity Defendants, “Defendants”) move the court for an order sustaining their demurrer to each cause of action alleged by plaintiff Amber Height (“Plaintiff”) in her Second Amended Complaint.

The court overrules Defendants’ demurrer to Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint, in its entirety, on the ground that Plaintiff did not adequately allege the existence of an employment relationship because the Second Amended Complaint states facts sufficient to constitute causes of action since Plaintiff has alleged facts establishing that Defendants misclassified Plaintiff as an independent contractor when she was an employee by alleging, inter alia, that (1) Defendants did not hire Plaintiff for a specific job or duty; (2) Defendants expected and required Plaintiff to perform a variety of non-exempt tasks and duties assigned to her for a set monthly salary regardless of the hours she worked; (3) Plaintiff performed her tasks under the control and direction of Defendants; and (4) Defendants had the authority to hire and fire Plaintiff, establish the terms and conditions of her employment, and to manage her daily employment activities. (Code Civ. Proc., § 430.10, subd. (e); SAC ¶¶ 17-18, 22-24, 28-29; Parada v. East Coast Transport Inc. (2021) 62 Cal.App.5th 692, 698 [setting forth requirements of ABC test to show that a worker is an independent contractor], 699, n. 2 [the Dynamex test applies for purposes of the Labor Code]; Lab. Code, § 2775, subd. (b)(1); Morris v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (2022) 78 Cal.App.5th 279, 292 [“To withstand a demurrer, a complaint must allege ultimate facts, not evidentiary facts or conclusions of law”] [internal quotations and citations omitted].)

The court overrules Goodman’s demurrer to the first through eighth and 14th causes of action because they state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action against Goodman since Plaintiff has alleged facts establishing that (1) Goodman is a joint employer of Plaintiff, along with Entity Defendants (SAC ¶ 22), and (2) Goodman, in addition to being a joint employer, was personally involved in the purported Labor Code violations as an officer or managing agent of Entity Defendants within the meaning of Labor Code section 558.1 based on Goodman’s acts in (i) misclassifying her as an independent contractor and “fail[ing] to compensate her for all hours worked, including all overtime hours worked and/or at the correct rate of pay, fail[ing] to provide her with proper meal and rest periods or premium compensation in lieu thereof, fail[ing] to provide her with accurate and itemized wage statements, fail[ing] to reimburse her necessary business expenses, and fail[ing] to pay all wages at the time of termination” (SAC ¶¶ 24, 46, 58, 61, 68), (ii) failing to pay her overtime hours worked at the appropriate rate (SAC ¶ 29) and minimum wages (SAC ¶ 42), (iii) failing to provide to Plaintiff the required meal and rest periods as required (SAC ¶¶ 32, 49-51, 53-55), and (iv) failing to reimburse Plaintiff for business expenses such as the use of her personal cellphone, internet, home office expenses, and office equipment (SAC ¶¶ 38, 65-66).  (Code Civ. Proc., § 430.10, subd. (e); SAC ¶¶ 5 [alleging that Goodman is an officer of Downtown Crenshaw Rising (CEO) and Liberty Community Land Trust (secretary)], 6 [Goodman operated and managed Entity Defendants], 9 [defining “Defendants” to include Goodman]; Medina v. Equilon Enterprises, LLC (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 868, 874 [a joint employer is one who exercises control over wages, hours, or working conditions, directly or indirectly]; Lab. Code, § 558.1, subds. (a) [“Any employer or other person acting on behalf of an employer, who . . . violates, or causes to be violated, Sections 203, 226, 226.7, 1193.6, 1194, or 2802, may be held liable as the employer for such violation”], (b) [limiting definition of “other person acting on behalf of an employer” to be a natural person who is an owner, director, officer, or managing agent of the employer].)

            The court sustains Entity Defendants’ demurrer to the ninth cause of action for discrimination because it does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 430.10, subd. (e).)  The court acknowledges that Plaintiff has alleged that (1) she was a member of a protected class based on her gender (SAC ¶¶ 26, 74), (2) she suffered an adverse employment action when Defendants terminated her in January 2023 (SAC ¶ 26), and (3) other circumstances suggest discriminatory motive based on Defendants’ conduct in interrupting Plaintiff and other women in meetings, unequally distributing work, and allowing misogynistic humor and jokes while not “treat[ing] similarly situated male employees in the same way” (SAC ¶ 26).  (Khoiny v. Dignity Health (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 390, 297 [elements of prima facie case of discrimination].)  However, Plaintiff did not allege that she was “qualified for the position or w[as] performing competently in the position [she] held” and therefore did not allege all the elements of a prima facie case for discrimination.  (Ibid.)

            The court overrules Entity Defendants’ demurrer to the 10th cause of action for retaliation because it states facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action since Plaintiff has alleged (1) that she engaged in a protected activity by complaining to Defendants about sexual harassment and discrimination (SAC ¶ 82), (2) that Defendants terminated her shortly after she made those complaints (SAC ¶¶ 26, 82), and (3) facts establishing a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action by alleging that Defendants terminated her “shortly thereafter” (SAC ¶ 82).  (Code Civ. Proc.,§ 430.10, subd. (e); Meeks v. AutoZone, Inc. (2018) 24 Cal.App.5th 855, 878-879 [elements of prima facie case of retaliation].)

            The court overrules Entity Defendants’ demurrer to the 11th cause of action for failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation because it states facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action since, for the reasons set forth above, the court has overruled the demurrer to the retaliation cause of action and therefore this derivative cause of action is supported thereby.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 430.10, subd. (e); Featherstone v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 1150, 1166.)

            The court overrules Entity Defendants’ demurrer to the 13th cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy because it states facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action since Plaintiff has alleged (1) the existence of an employer-employee relationship, as set forth above, (2) that Defendants terminated Plaintiff in January 2023 (SAC ¶ 26), (3) the termination was substantially motivated by a violation of public policy (i.e., in retaliation for Plaintiff’s complaining of sexual harassment and discrimination (SAC ¶ 82)), and (4) the discharge caused Plaintiff harm (SAC ¶ 107).  (Code Civ. Proc., § 430.10, subd. (e); Yau v. Santa Margarita Ford, Inc. (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 144, 154 [elements of claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy].)

ORDER

            The court overrules defendants Downtown Crenshaw Rising, Crenshaw Subway Coalition, Liberty Community Land Trust, and Damien Goodman’s demurrer to plaintiff Amber Height’s first through eighth and 10th through 14 causes of action.

            The court sustains defendants Downtown Crenshaw Rising, Crenshaw Subway Coalition, and Liberty Community Land Trust’s demurrer to plaintiff Amber Height’s ninth cause of action.

            The court grants plaintiff Amber Height 20 days leave to file a Third Amended Complaint that cures the defect in the ninth cause of action set forth in this ruling.

 

            The court orders plaintiff Amber Height to give notice of this ruling.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

 

DATED:  June 11, 2024

 

_____________________________

Robert B. Broadbelt III

Judge of the Superior Court