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Thomas v. County of Riverside

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 18, 2014

WENDY THOMAS; SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, LOCAL 721; Plaintiffs-Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
v.
COUNTY OF RIVERSIDE; LARRY GROTEFEND, individually; DENNIS ERICK SCHERTELL, individually; RICK HALL, individually; BRIAN MCARTHUR, individually; HEATHER WOODS, individually; MARGIE GEMENDE, individually; Defendants-Appellees/Cross-Appellants

Argued and Submitted January 10, 2014, Pasadena, California

As Amended January 8, 2015.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. 5:10-CV-01846-VAP-DTB. Virginia A. Phillips, District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[**]

Civil Rights

The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's summary judgment and remanded in an action brought by an employee and her union alleging that the employee was retaliated against in violation of her First Amendment rights.

The panel held, in part, that the district court erred by dismissing as trivial evidence of multiple adverse employment actions. The panel determined that a reasonable juror might find that the actions, even if viewed in isolation, could deter protected speech and there was evidence suggesting that the actions were taken as part of a more general campaign and might in context have greater materiality than when viewed in isolation.

The panel held that although defendants offered various non-retaliatory business justifications for the employee's workplace transfers, plaintiffs adduced evidence that these transfers came shortly after the employee's acts of speech, that the employer had expressed opposition to that speech, and that the business justifications were pretextual. The panel also held that plaintiffs presented a genuine factual dispute as to whether an internal investigation was retaliatory. The panel held that the district court erred in determining that the defendant County was not subject to liability under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs, 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978).

The panel affirmed the district court's summary judgment as to two other internal investigations and as to an inquiry about the possibility of limiting the employee's release time. Finally, the panel dismissed as moot defendants' cross-appeal from the district court's denial of attorneys' fees.

Alan Crowley (argued), Vincent A. Harrington, Jr. and Gary P. Provencher, Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, Alameda, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

Edward P. Zappia (argued) and Anna Zappia, The Zappia Law Firm, Los Angeles, California, for Defendants-Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

Before: Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, Richard R. Clifton, Circuit Judge, and Jed S. Rakoff, Senior District Judge.[*]

OPINION

Page 1168

PER CURIAM


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