In Collins v. Hertz Corporation (2006 WL 2865646, Cal.App. 2 Dist., Oct. 10, 2006), a California Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court decision granting summary judgment against two employees who had sued their employer for alleged workplace violations. The trial court struck major portions of the employees’ responsive pleadings that failed to comply with state statutes and court rules, and granted judgment in the employer’s favor based largely on the employer’s evidence alone.
Plaintiffs, Donna Collins and Lena Donald (Employees), sued their employer, Hertz Corporation and several individual co-workers or supervisors (Employer). Employees alleged nine separate claims, including racial, disability, and age discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Family Rights Act, and the common law. Collins, who had been terminated prior to bringing the action, also alleged wrongful termination. Employer filed a motion for summary judgment, submitting evidence and arguing that the undisputed facts showed Employer was not liable and Employees therefore were not entitled to a trial.
Employees responded by filing papers that did not comply with California Civil Procedure Code § 437c or Rules of Court, Rule 342. For example, Employees filed three separate briefs when the rules limited them to one joint brief; they also submitted several boxes of documentary evidence but did not cite to it to support their generalized claims that the evidence was disputed and a trial therefore was needed. The trial court identified the specific deficiencies in the Employees’ initial filings and gave them an opportunity to submit corrected opposition papers. Employees’ new filing still did not comply with the rules, and the trial court struck large portions of it. The court then granted judgment in Employer’s favor, based almost entirely on Employer’s evidence which was, by that point, essentially unchallenged. Employees appealed.
Finding the trial court acted well within its discretion in granting judgment against Employees, the Court of Appeal affirmed. The purpose of the summary judgment procedure under California law is to provide courts with an expeditious, convenient mechanism to “cut through the parties’ pleadings” to determine whether a trial is necessary to resolve the dispute, the Court said. That goal is defeated if the trial court is forced to “wade through stacks of documents,” most of which do not comply with the substantive and formatting requirements of § 437c and Rule 342, trying to determine what evidence is admitted and what remains at issue.
It is a party’s duty to direct the trial court to evidence in support of a claim, the Court said, and the court is under no obligation “to rummage through the papers to construct or resuscitate” a case. State law specifically requires a party opposing a summary judgment motion to file a separate statement that unequivocally states whether a fact is disputed, and to cite to the evidence supporting that contention. Employees completely failed to do this, despite having been given more than one opportunity to do so. As a result, the trial court was justified in striking the Employees’ responsive pleading, leaving only evidence demonstrating that Employer’s actions did not constitute harassment and were not motivated by a discriminatory purpose, including Employees’ admissions to that effect.
The Court noted that California’s Legislature felt the “separate statement” requirement of summary judgment procedure was important enough to vest the trial court with authority to grant a motion, in its discretion, for non-compliance with those requirements. The trial court had properly exercised its discretion by granting Employer’s motion in this case, the Court said.
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