Summary Judgment Affirmed for Community College Ending Race Discrimination Lawsuit

By editor on July 13, 2023

In an unpublished opinion, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed a victory for the firm’s employment practice and its client, The San Francisco Community College District, dismissing a race discrimination lawsuit brought by a former Vice Chancellor, Trudy Walton.

Walton contended she was terminated after she sought an increase in salary for an African-American colleague, Shalamon Duke. She also claimed the college wrongly placed her on administrative leave after Vice Chancellor Duke became the subject of sexual harassment allegations by a student at a community college in Los Angeles, where he previously worked. She denied knowing of the sexual harassment allegations made against him.

In support of summary judgment, City College presented the work of three external investigators. The first investigation concerned an alleged hostile workplace for a female employee who pursued a worker’s compensation claim based on stress caused by working under Walton’s supervision. The second investigation concerned a complaint by a female employee that Walton discriminated against her because of her pregnancy. The third investigation involved Walton hiring a former colleague at another community college. That investigation focused on why the individual was not paid as an employee, why payment was made to a corporation run by his wife, and whether this was intended to avoid a reduction in the individual’s state retirement benefits.

In affirming summary judgment, the appellate court noted the trial court’s comment that “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a comprehensive record for … an adverse employment action as we’ve got in this case [¶ ] We’ve got outside law firms doing investigations. [¶ ] We have all kinds of allegations [¶ ] We have – some of those allegations being found to be proven. [¶ ] It’s all set out here. I’m not going to repeat it all. But there are about … six, seven, eight different grounds for this termination.” In reviewing the evidence, the appellate court noted that “all three investigations reported a pattern of abusive, unprofessional, insubordinate and deceptive conduct for nearly a year before CCSF acted. CCSF had no reason to doubt these investigative reports and Walton offers no evidence CCSF did not rely on them in good faith.”

This case is a reminder that conducting independent investigations of alleged misconduct by an employer prior to a termination are critical. Those investigations were the “comprehensive record” relied on to grant summary judgment. It also reminds us that complicated facts should not defeat summary judgment, as long as the facts are presented in an organized, focused way.

Lori Sebransky of the firm briefed and argued the appeal. Kellen Crowe briefed and handled the summary judgment motion in the trial court.

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