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Justice v. Rockwell Collins, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 22, 2015

TRISTAN JUSTICE, Plaintiff,
v.
ROCKWELL COLLINS, INC., a Delaware corporation; and NARESH AGARWAL, an individual, Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Tristan Justice, plaintiff, Pro se, Portland, Oregon.

For Rockwell Collins, Inc., defendant: Edwin A. Harnden, Sean P. Ray, Barran Liebman LLP, Portland, Oregon.

For Naresh Agarwal, defendant: Paul C. Buchanan, Margaret S. Fonberg, Portland, Oregon.

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OPINION AND ORDER

Ann Aiken, Chief United States District Judge.

Defendant Rockwell Collins, Inc. (" Rockwell" ) moves for summary judgment on all of plaintiff Tristan Justice's claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Defendant Naresh Agarwal (" Agarwal" ) filed a separate, partial motion for summary judgement. In addition, plaintiff moves to impose sanctions. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motions are granted and plaintiff's motion is denied, and this case is dismissed.

BACKGROUND[1]

In February 2010, Agarwal, a 67-year-old Systems Engineer at Rockwell, was

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transferred from San Jose, California, to the company's Wilsonville, Oregon, facility. Agarwal's wife remained in California; Agarwal rented a small apartment in a building near Rockwell's Oregon branch and traveled to San Jose to stay with his family every other weekend.

In June 2010, plaintiff met Agarwal at the gym attached to Agarwal's apartment building. Although he was 38-years-old at the time and not enrolled in college, plaintiff represented himself to be a 25-year-old senior, majoring in analog circuitry at Portland State University (" PSU" ), who was looking for employment and had fallen on hard times. After another chance meeting at the gym in July 2010, plaintiff sent Agarwal his resume, which represented that he was a student at PSU with a 3.70 grade point average and an imminent Bachelor of Science degree; Agarwal then forwarded plaintiff's resume to Salim Aswat, Rockwell's Functional Manager.

On August 9, 2010, Aswat interviewed plaintiff. That same day, plaintiff ran into Argawal at the gym. After learning of his successful interview, Agarwal invited plaintiff over to his apartment to celebrate. They drank wine and ate dinner while plaintiff told Agarwal more about his financial difficulties and family struggles; plaintiff ultimately stayed the night at Agarwal's apartment, despite the fact that Agarwal allegedly made a sexual pass at plaintiff earlier that evening. Plaintiff also spent the following night at Agarwal's apartment, even though Agarwal purportedly made another sexual overture. At some point thereafter, but before he began working at Rockwell, plaintiff moved in with Agarwal.

On August 11, 2010, plaintiff filled out an application for APR Consulting, Inc., (" APR" ) a staffing agency contracted by Rockwell to provide short-term hires. On August 15, 2010, plaintiff entered into an employment agreement with APR, pursuant to which plaintiff was to work at Rockwell as a service coordinator.

Plaintiff's first day of work at Rockwell was August 23, 2010. He was assigned an alternating schedule, wherein he worked 36 hours one week and 44 hours the next. Plaintiff was informed by Aswat early in his tenure at Rockwell that he could not work more than the allotted hours absent prior approval.

Plaintiff allegedly experienced inappropriate sexual contact and comments from Agarwal, both at home and at work, between August and September 2010. Nevertheless, plaintiff frequently socialized with Agarwal outside of work during this period, going on hikes, out to dinner, and shopping; plaintiff also cooked several Indian meals for Agarwal in their apartment.

In October 2010, plaintiff allegedly reported to Aswat that Agarwal and another Rockwell employee, Igor Kalish, had engaged in separate instances of offensive behavior while at work; however, he did not describe any physical conduct of a sexual nature. Aswat purportedly told plaintiff he would take care of it and the behavior ceased - in Agarwal's case, both in and outside of work.

In November 2010, Aswat reiterated to plaintiff that he was not authorized to work additional hours or overtime.

In December 2010, plaintiff gave Agarwal a bottle of wine and cookies for Christmas. Around that time, Agarwal began

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asking plaintiff to move out of the apartment, as he had grown suspicious that plaintiff was not a PSU student; according to Agarwal, plaintiff was also behaving increasingly rudely and erratically.

In February 2011, plaintiff made a general complaint about the air quality at Rockwell. He neither missed any time from work nor raised the subject again.

In late February or early March 2011, plaintiff had a conversation with Aswat about becoming a permanent Rockwell employee after he allegedly resolved a power supply issue successfully. Aswat, who, like plaintiff and Agarwal, was born in India, purportedly told plaintiff that he would not succeed at Rockwell because it was a white organization. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff developed the belief that someone was sabotaging his work, which he reported to Ron Greenley and Patrick Wan, project managers at Rockwell. He later shared his concerns with Aswat and another Rockwell employee, Joanne Hodges, and requested that his work be kept in a locked area.

In March 2011, plaintiff allegedly reported additional inappropriate behavior to Aswat, this time perpetuated by three different Rockwell employees: Greenley, David Davis, and Tu To. The conversation lasted, only a few seconds and plaintiff did not provide any details. The complained-of conduct subsequently stopped.

At some unspecified time in early April 2011, plaintiff told Terry Zimmerman, the Director of Human Resources, that he worked overtime and was not compensated properly during an alleged discussion about sabotaged parts. On April 14, 2011, Aswat again cautioned plaintiff against working additional or unscheduled hours without prior approval. That same day, plaintiff sent an email to Zimmerman and Debbie Schramm, Rockwell's Principal Programs Manager, about the alleged sabotage, asserting that Greenley and Wan were complicit. Shortly thereafter, the components on one of the boards plaintiff was working on burned up due to faulty wiring. Rockwell had to bring in an out-of-state expert to diagnose the problem. Ultimately, plaintiff's allegations of sabotage could not corroborated via an investigation.

On May 20, 2011, Aswat terminated plaintiff's contractual duties. Plaintiff remained in Agarwal's apartment until early June 2011, despite the fact that Agarwal had vacated the premises, as his lease had expired at the end of the previous month.

On June 22, 2011, plaintiff filed a complaint with Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries (" BOLI" ), alleging unlawful employment practices by Rockwell. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney - Charese Rohny - during the course of the BOLI investigation, including the filing of the BOLI complaint. On May 21, 2012, after finding insufficient evidence, BOLI provided plaintiff a right-to-sue letter. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) adopted BOLI's findings.

On August 20, 2012, plaintiff 'commenced this lawsuit; his initial pleadings were largely duplicative of his BOLI complaint. He filed a first amended complaint (" FAC" ) on December 31, 2012, asserting the following claims against Rockwell: (1) unpaid overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (" FLSA" ) and Or. Rev. Stat. § 653.261; (2) retaliation for reporting unpaid overtime in violation of the FLSA and Or. Rev. Stat. § 653.060; (3) sexual harassment in violation of the Civil Rights Act (" Title VII" ) and Or. Rev. Stat. § 659A.030; (4) retaliation for reporting sexual harassment in violation of Title VII and Or. Rev. Stat. § 659A.030; (5) racial/national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII and Or. Rev. " Stat. § 659A.030; (6) contractual discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (7) retaliation for reporting

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air quality issues in violation of Or. Rev. Stat. § 659A.199 and Or. Rev. Stat. § 654.062[2]; (8) intentional infliction of emotional distress (" IIED" ); and (9) defamation. Plaintiff also alleges Oregon common law claims against Agarwal for IIED, battery, and assault.

Thereafter, plaintiff filed several discovery motions and one ex parte motion, as well as two motions to appoint counsel. The Court denied each of plaintiff's discovery motions and advised him that he should not lodge motions ex parte. Concerning plaintiff's requests for pro bono counsel, the Court initially appointed an attorney in May 2013; however, the appointment was terminated within a week. The Court denied plaintiff's subsequent motion to appoint counsel. In September 2013, shortly before his responsive documents were due and deposition was to be taken, plaintiff a faxed request for a continuance due to mental health issues, which the Court granted. In December 2013, the Court lifted the stay and ordered both parties to produce certain documents; ' the Court also ordered plaintiff to produce himself for a deposition in February 2014 and to answer all questions posed to him by defendants. The Court then denied two additional motions to compel filed by plaintiff.

In March 2014, defendants moved for summary judgment. In April 2014, plaintiff moved for a guardian ad litem; the Court instead ordered the appointment of Darien Loiselle as pro bono counsel. Loiselle conducted the depositions of Aswat, Agarwal, Zimmerman, and Dan Ellis, another project manager at Rockwell, and participated in an unsuccessful judicial settlement with the Honorable John Acosta. In March 2015, the Court granted Loiselle's motion to withdraw and allocated plaintiff an additional 30 days to respond to defendants' summary judgment motions. In May 2015, plaintiff moved to impose sanctions arising out of defendants' alleged spoliation of evidence.

On June 12, 2015, the Court entered a scheduling order, setting oral argument for July 6, 2015, on the sole issue of whether an employment relationship existed between plaintiff and Rockwell. At the hearing, plaintiff requested to stay the proceedings - to allow time for the Court to appoint a guardian ad litem or for him to seek counsel - and presented a letter, dated July 1, 2015, from his mental health counselor, attesting to his ongoing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Defendants opposed a stay, as they had been no conferral or even any previous notification that such a request would be submitted at oral argument. They also reiterated plaintiff had been aware of both this issue and the date set for oral argument for some time, had engaged in a pattern of delay, and that the case had been ongoing for several years, such that the interests of justice favored a prompt ruling on the merits. Because it was clear in the course of oral argument that plaintiff was both prepared and knowledgeable regarding on the narrow topic of an employment relationship, the Court found that no stay was necessary and denied plaintiff's oral request.

STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories,

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affidavits, and admissions on file, if any, show " that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the [moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive law on an issue determines the materiality of a fact. T.W. Elec. Servs., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). Whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party determines the authenticity of the dispute. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party shows the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and identify facts which show a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

Special rules of construction apply when evaluating a summary judgment motion: (1) all reasonable doubts as to the existence of genuine issues of material fact should be resolved against the moving party; and (2) all inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. T.W. Elec., 809 F.2d at 630.

DISCUSSION

The central issue to be decided in this case is whether any of plaintiff's federal and state rights have been violated by the treatment he received while either working at Rockwell or living with Agarwal.

I. Preliminary Matters

The Court must resolve three issues prior to reaching the substantive merits of defendants' motions: the applicable standard for pro se proceedings, defendants' evidentiary objections, and ...


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