This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 08/14/2019 at 09:46:45 (UTC).

MARTHA ORTIZ VS THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY ET AL

Case Summary

On 11/23/2016 MARTHA ORTIZ filed a Labor - Other Labor lawsuit against THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judges overseeing this case are RUTH ANN KWAN and RANDOLPH M. HAMMOCK. The case status is Disposed - Judgment Entered.

Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    ****1793

  • Filing Date:

    11/23/2016

  • Case Status:

    Disposed - Judgment Entered

  • Case Type:

    Labor - Other Labor

  • Court:

    Los Angeles County Superior Courts

  • Courthouse:

    Stanley Mosk Courthouse

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Presiding Judges

RUTH ANN KWAN

RANDOLPH M. HAMMOCK

 

Party Details

Plaintiff and Petitioner

ORTIZ MARTHA

Defendants and Respondents

WALT DISNEY COMPANY THE

DOES 1 -100

VELASCO CARLOS

WALT DISNEY PARKS AND RESORTS U.S. DOE 2

THE WALT DISNEY PICTURES [DOE 1]

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff and Petitioner Attorneys

AIRAPETIAN STEPHAN

MARTIROSYAN SHAHANE ARAYI

Defendant Attorneys

GONZALEZ EMILIO GERMAN ESQ.

RUIZ RODOLFO F. ESQ.

 

Court Documents

DEFENDANT THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY'S NOTICE OF MOTION AND MOTION FOR AN ORDER CONTINUING THE TRIAL DATE AND COMPELLING PLAINTIFF TO APPEAR FOR HER DEPOSITION; ETC.

2/20/2018: DEFENDANT THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY'S NOTICE OF MOTION AND MOTION FOR AN ORDER CONTINUING THE TRIAL DATE AND COMPELLING PLAINTIFF TO APPEAR FOR HER DEPOSITION; ETC.

CIVIL DEPOSIT

4/4/2018: CIVIL DEPOSIT

STIPULATION AND PROTECTIVE ORDER

4/30/2018: STIPULATION AND PROTECTIVE ORDER

DEFENDANT CARLOS VELASCO'S ANSWER TO PLATNTTFF'S COMPLAINT

6/18/2018: DEFENDANT CARLOS VELASCO'S ANSWER TO PLATNTTFF'S COMPLAINT

PLAINTIFF'S UNOPPOSED EX PARTE APPLICATION TO ADVANCE AND SPECIALLY SET PLAINTIFF'S NOTICE OF MOTION AND MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND THE ORIGINAL COMPLAINT FROM JULY 20, 2018 TO JULY 19, 2018; ETC

6/20/2018: PLAINTIFF'S UNOPPOSED EX PARTE APPLICATION TO ADVANCE AND SPECIALLY SET PLAINTIFF'S NOTICE OF MOTION AND MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND THE ORIGINAL COMPLAINT FROM JULY 20, 2018 TO JULY 19, 2018; ETC

DEFENDANT'S OPPO1TION TO PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND THE ORIGINAL COMPLAINT

7/6/2018: DEFENDANT'S OPPO1TION TO PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND THE ORIGINAL COMPLAINT

Minute Order

7/19/2018: Minute Order

Minute Order

8/20/2018: Minute Order

Notice of Change of Firm Name

2/7/2019: Notice of Change of Firm Name

Separate Statement

2/21/2019: Separate Statement

Brief

2/21/2019: Brief

Proof of Service by Mail

4/23/2019: Proof of Service by Mail

NOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

12/23/2016: NOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

4/7/2017: CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

PROOF OF SERVICE OF SUMMONS

4/7/2017: PROOF OF SERVICE OF SUMMONS

Minute Order

4/14/2017: Minute Order

THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY'S ANSWER AND AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES

4/21/2017: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY'S ANSWER AND AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES

CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

5/19/2017: CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

89 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 11/15/2019
  • Hearingat 08:30 AM in Department 47 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Hearing on Motion - Other (name extension)

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 10/31/2019
  • Hearingat 08:30 AM in Department 47 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Hearing on Motion to Tax Costs

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 09/17/2019
  • Hearingat 08:30 AM in Department 47 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Hearing on Motion for Attorney Fees

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 07/08/2019
  • Docketat 09:30 AM in Department 47, Randolph M. Hammock, Presiding; Jury Trial - Not Held - Advanced and Vacated

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 06/25/2019
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 47, Randolph M. Hammock, Presiding; Final Status Conference - Not Held - Advanced and Vacated

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 06/24/2019
  • DocketMotion re: (Attorneys' Fees Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act); Filed by Walt Disney Company, The (Defendant); The Walt Disney Pictures [Doe 1] (Defendant); Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. (Doe 2 (Defendant)

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 06/24/2019
  • DocketDeclaration (and Exhibits (Compendium) In Support of Motion for Attorneys' Fees Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act); Filed by Walt Disney Company, The (Defendant); The Walt Disney Pictures [Doe 1] (Defendant); Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. (Doe 2 (Defendant)

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 06/24/2019
  • DocketDeclaration (and Exhibits (Compendium) In Support of Motion for Fees and Costs Pursuant to CCP 128.5); Filed by Walt Disney Company, The (Defendant); The Walt Disney Pictures [Doe 1] (Defendant); Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. (Doe 2 (Defendant)

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 06/24/2019
  • DocketMotion re: (Fees and Costs Pursuant to CCP 128.5); Filed by Walt Disney Company, The (Defendant); The Walt Disney Pictures [Doe 1] (Defendant); Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. (Doe 2 (Defendant)

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 06/14/2019
  • DocketMotion to Tax Costs; Filed by Martha Ortiz (Plaintiff)

    Read MoreRead Less
176 More Docket Entries
  • 01/24/2017
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 72; Order to Show Cause Re: Failure to File Proof of Service (OSC-Failure to File Proof of Serv; Matter continued) -

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 01/24/2017
  • DocketMinute order entered: 2017-01-24 00:00:00; Filed by Clerk

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 01/24/2017
  • DocketMinute Order

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 12/23/2016
  • DocketNOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 12/23/2016
  • DocketORDER TO SHOW CAUSE HEARING

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 12/23/2016
  • DocketNotice of Case Management Conference; Filed by Clerk

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 12/23/2016
  • DocketOSC-Failure to File Proof of Serv; Filed by Clerk

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 11/23/2016
  • DocketComplaint; Filed by Martha Ortiz (Plaintiff)

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 11/23/2016
  • DocketCOMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES (1) VIOLATION OF THE FAIR EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING ACT; ETC

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 11/23/2016
  • DocketSUMMONS

    Read MoreRead Less

Tentative Rulings

Case Number: BC641793    Hearing Date: November 15, 2019    Dept: 47

Martha Ortiz v. The Walt Disney Company, et al.

 

(1) MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS’ FEES UNDER THE FAIR EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING ACT; (2) MOTION FOR FEES AND COSTS PURSUANT TO CCP 128.5; (3) MOTION FOR ORDER TAXING COSTS AND STRIKING COSTS

MOVING PARTY: (1)-(2) Defendants The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Studios d/b/a Walt Disney Pictures, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc.; (3) Plaintiff Martha Ortiz

RESPONDING PARTY(S): (1)-(2) Plaintiff Martha Ortiz; (3) Defendants The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Studios d/b/a Walt Disney Pictures, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc.

STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS AND/OR PROCEEDINGS:

Plaintiff alleged that she was groped by an unidentified person (later identified as Norik Gharagedaghi, an employee of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts), while she was working and also that supervisor Carlos Velasco (voluntarily dismissed as a Defendant) sexually harassed her by requesting sexual favors in return for Plaintiff getting an open job position.

Following summary judgment in their favor, Defendants The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Studios d/b/a Walt Disney Pictures, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc. move for fees and costs under FEHA and separately under CCP § 128.5. Plaintiff Martha Ortiz moves to tax or strike their costs.

TENTATIVE RULING:

Defendants The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Studios d/b/a Walt Disney Pictures, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc.’s motion for attorneys’ fees under the Fair Employment and Housing Act is DENIED.

Defendants’ motion for fees and costs pursuant to CCP 128.5 is DENIED.

Plaintiff Martha Ortiz’s motion for an order taxing costs and striking costs is GRANTED. Defendants’ memorandum of costs is stricken in its entirety.

DISCUSSION:

(1) Motion for Attorneys’ Fees Under FEHA

Defendants move for attorneys’ fees under Government Code § 12965(b), on the ground that Plaintiff’s FEHA claims were unreasonable and meritless and therefore Defendants are entitled to their fees and costs as the prevailing parties. Defendants seek $206,966 in attorneys’ fees. Defendants’ notice of motion also purports to base this motion on CCP § 128.5, but Defendants brought a separate motion for the identical fees based on that provision. That motion is discussed separately below.

Fee awards in FEHA cases are discretionary and are not to be awarded to prevailing defendants except in narrow circumstances:

In civil actions brought under this section, the court, in its discretion, may award to the prevailing party, including the department, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, including expert witness fees, except that, notwithstanding Section 998 of the Code of Civil Procedure, a prevailing defendant shall not be awarded fees and costs unless the court finds the action was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless when brought, or the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.

(Gov. Code, § 12965(b) (bold emphasis added).) Thus, the Court must “make written findings when awarding attorney fees to defendants.” (Leek v. Cooper (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 399, 420.)

In her first cause of action of the 1AC filed July 19, 2018, and in her original complaint filed November 23, 2016, Plaintiff alleged sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in violation of FEHA against all Defendants. The Court granted summary judgment on May 24, 2019, dismissing this and all of Plaintiff’s other causes of action.

Defendants recognize that it is rare for employers to be awarded fees under FEHA, and contrary to their arguments, this is not one of those cases in which fees are warranted. In analyzing whether a cause of action is “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless when brought, or the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so” as required by Government Code § 12965(b), “it is important that a district court resist the understandable temptation to engage in post hoc reasoning by concluding that, because a plaintiff did not ultimately prevail, his action must have been unreasonable or without foundation. This kind of hindsight logic could discourage all but the most airtight claims, for seldom can a prospective plaintiff be sure of ultimate success.” (Rosenman v. Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 859, 865 (quoting Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC (1978) 434 U.S. 412, 421).) The public policies FEHA was designed to vindicate are best vindicated by “limiting defendants’ receipt of attorney fees awards to the extreme cases envisioned by” the case law in this area, such as Christianburg and Cummings v. Benco Building Services (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1383. (Rosenman, supra, 91 Cal.App.4th at 868 (bold emphasis added).)

Here, Defendants assert that it was clear “based solely on the face of the complaint,” from the beginning of the case, that Plaintiff’s FEHA claims were time-barred. (Motion, at p. 15.) Yet Defendants chose not to demur on this basis, which presumably would have disposed of the FEHA claims expeditiously, if this was obvious from the face of the complaint. Defendants were granted summary adjudication of Plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim on the ground that it was time-barred, but they did not seek summary adjudication of Plaintiff’s sexual discrimination claim on that basis. (Ruling, 5/7/19, at pp. 3, 10.) Thus, leaving aside any of Defendants’ other arguments regarding deficiencies in Plaintiff’s discrimination claim, Defendants’ argument that Plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim was time-barred would not have disposed of her entire FEHA cause of action.[1]

Nor does alleging a time-barred cause of action rise to the level of “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.” None of the cases of prevailing employers cited by Defendants involve an award of fees based solely on the Plaintiff’s alleging time-barred claims. Defendants analogize to Linsley v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 762 on that basis, but in that case the plaintiff had executed a general release that covered the alleged causes of action. (Id. at 767.) Here, on the other hand, the last act incident of sexual harassment that Plaintiff alleged was on August 28, 2015 – a year and approximately two months before she filed her DFEH charge – but Plaintiff also alleged that Disney “failed to maintain a work environment free of harassment and discrimination and failed to prevent such illegal conduct from occurring.” (1AC ¶ 24.) Although Plaintiff did not allege a cause of action for failure to prevent harassment or discrimination, and therefore she could not defeat summary judgment on the basis of those arguments, her allegations themselves do not rise to the level of an “extreme case” as to which Defendants may recover their fees.

Second, Defendants argue that there was “no evidence” that Velasco sexually harassed Plaintiff. (Motion, at p. 16.) That is not technically true – more accurately, Defendants argue that there was insufficient evidence of harassment, as a matter of law, because Plaintiff relied on a single incident involving Velasco. In fact, however, “‘even a single incident of severe harassment may be sufficient’ to establish liability by an employer for sexual harassment,” if that incident is “severe in the extreme,” and it generally must include “either physical violence or the threat thereof.” (Herberg v. California Institute of the Arts (2002) 100 Cal.App.4th 142, 151.) Although the Court did not find that Plaintiff’s allegations rose to that level, Plaintiff’s lack of success on that point does not establish that her cause of action was frivolous.

Third, Defendants argue that there was no evidence that Plaintiff was employed by Defendants or suffered any adverse employment action. On this point, Defendants complain that Plaintiff “expanded the scope of her FEHA claims by adding WDS and WDPR” (Motion, at p. 17), without acknowledging that Plaintiff was permitted to do so because the Court granted leave to amend her complaint. Although Defendants prevailed on summary judgment on Plaintiff’s discrimination claim on the ground that they could not be held liable as her employer, that determination required discussion of the nuances of FEHA applicability to independent contractors and the distinctions between harassment and discrimination claims in that context. (Ruling, 5/7/19, at pp. 3-9.) Again, as discussed above, Plaintiff raised an argument that Defendants failed to prevent harassment, which could have subjected them to liability, but Plaintiff had not pled this theory in the 1AC, and therefore it could not be considered. (Id. at p. 8.) This may not have been a successful argument, but its failure does not render the cause of action frivolous.

Defendants also point out that the Court criticized Plaintiff’s evidentiary objections, characterizing them as “without thought” and noting that some “bordered on the absurd.” (Id. at p. 1.) Improper or invalid objections to Defendants’ evidence, however, do not render Plaintiff’s causes of action “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.”

Moreover, the losing plaintiff’s ability to pay must be taken into consideration in determining the amount of the award:

We also note that while there was some evidence in the record regarding Alfaro's limited income and her mounting medical expenses, there was insufficient evidence from which the trial court could have found she lacked the ability to pay any cost award. (See Villanueva v. City of Colton (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1188, 1204 [73 Cal. Rptr. 3d 343] [plaintiff must provide evidence of inability to pay, such as “a declaration setting forth his gross income, his net income, his monthly expenses, his assets, or any other information which … would lend support to his position”].) Indeed, the trial court made several statements to that effect during oral argument, noting that while it seemed Alfaro had limited finances, the court did not actually know the full extent of her assets or income.

We therefore remand to allow the trial court to exercise its discretion in determining whether Colgate’s section 998 offer was made reasonably and in good faith; and if so, the amount of any reasonably necessary expert witness fees. To the extent the record contains sufficient evidence supporting a finding of Alfaro’s inability to pay, the court is within its discretion to consider that factor as well.

(LAOSD Asbestos Cases (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 1116, 1127-1128 (bold emphasis added).)

Here, even if the Court had determined that Defendants could potentially recover their fees, Plaintiff has presented evidence of her limited income which, although not as specific as it could be, supports a finding that she would be unable to pay a fee award of over $200,000 on an annual income of approximately $30,000. (Declaration of Shahane A. Martirosyan ¶ 7.) Ultimately, however, regardless of Plaintiff’s ability to pay or whether it would be appropriate to order Plaintiff’s attorney to pay Defendants’ fees pursuant to CCP § 128.5 (discussed below), Defendants have not shown that this is one of the “extreme cases” in which their recover of fees would be appropriate.

Accordingly, the motion for attorney’s fees is DENIED.

(2) Motion for Fees and Costs Pursuant to CCP § 128.5

Defendants separately seek to recover their fees under CCP § 128.5, which provides that the Court “may order a party, the party’s attorney, or both, to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees, incurred by another party as a result of actions or tactics, made in bad faith, that are frivolous or solely intended to cause unnecessary delay.” (CCP § 128.5(a).) “Actions or tactics” include, but are not limited to, the “making or opposing of motions or the filing and service of a complaint, cross-complaint, answer, or other responsive pleading.” (CCP § 128.5(b)(1).) “Frivolous” means “totally and completely without merit or for the sole purpose of harassing an opposing party.” (CCP § 128.5(b)(2).)

The factual basis for this motion is the same as Defendants’ motion under FEHA. Accordingly, for the reasons discussed in connection with that motion, Defendants’ motion for fees and costs pursuant to CCP § 128.5 is DENIED.

(3) Motion for Order Taxing Costs and Striking Costs

In addition to challenging particular costs in Defendant’s memorandum of costs, Plaintiff argues that the entire memorandum of costs must be stricken because it is not supported by evidence. Plaintiff is correct that the entire memorandum of costs must be stricken, but for a different reason: Defendant did not show that Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant were “objectively meritless.”

As with attorneys’ fees, to recover costs, a prevailing defendant in a FEHA action must demonstrate that Plaintiff’s action was objectively without foundation when brought or continued to be litigated after it became clearly without foundation:

We conclude Government Code section 12965, subdivision (b), governs cost awards in FEHA actions, allowing trial courts discretion in awards of both attorney fees and costs to prevailing FEHA parties. We further conclude that in awarding attorney fees and costs, the trial court’s discretion is bounded by the rule of Christiansburg; an unsuccessful FEHA plaintiff should not be ordered to pay the defendant's fees or costs unless the plaintiff brought or continued litigating the action without an objective basis for believing it had potential merit.

(Williams v. Chino Valley Independent Fire Dist. (2015) 61 Cal.4th 97, 99-100 (bold emphasis added).)

For the reasons discussed in connection with Defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees under FEHA, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s lawsuit does not qualify as having been objectively without foundation when he filed it.

Accordingly, Plaintiff’s request to tax Defendant’s costs in their entirety is GRANTED.

Moving party to give notice, unless waived.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: November 15, 2019 ___________________________________

Randolph M. Hammock

Judge of the Superior Court

Any party may submit on the tentative ruling by contacting the courtroom via email at Smcdept47@lacourt.org


[1] Defendants purported to argue in their summary judgment motion that “Plaintiff’s FEHA claims” were time-barred (Motion for Summary Judgment/Adjudication, at p. 2), but they only raised the timeliness argument in connection with the

Case Number: BC641793    Hearing Date: October 31, 2019    Dept: 47

Martha Ortiz v. The Walt Disney Company, et al.

 

(1) MOTION FOR FEES AND COSTS PURSUANT TO CCP 128.5; (2) MOTION FOR ORDER TAXING COSTS AND STRIKING COSTS

MOVING PARTY: (1) Defendants The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Studios d/b/a Walt Disney Pictures, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc.; (2) Plaintiff Martha Ortiz

RESPONDING PARTY(S): (1) Plaintiff Martha Ortiz; (2) Defendants The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Studios d/b/a Walt Disney Pictures, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc.

STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS AND/OR PROCEEDINGS:

Plaintiff alleged that she was groped by an unidentified person (later identified as Norik Gharagedaghi, an employee of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts), while she was working and also that supervisor Defendant Velasco sexually harassed her by requesting sexual favors in return for Plaintiff getting an open job position.

Following summary judgment in their favor, Defendants The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Studios d/b/a Walt Disney Pictures, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc. move for fees and costs under CCP § 128.5. Plaintiff Martha Ortiz moves to tax or strike their costs. Defendants also have a motion pending for their fees under FEHA that is scheduled to be heard on November 15.

TENTATIVE RULING:

On the Court’s own motion, Defendants The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Studios d/b/a Walt Disney Pictures, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc.’s motion for fees and costs pursuant to CCP 128.5 is CONTINUED to November 15, 2019, to be considered in conjunction with Defendants’ motion for attorneys’ fees under FEHA.

Plaintiff Martha Ortiz’s motion for an order taxing costs and striking costs is also CONTINUED to November 15, 2019, to be considered in conjunction with Defendants’ motion for attorneys’ fees under FEHA.

Moving party to give notice, unless waived.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: October 31, 2019 ___________________________________

Randolph M. Hammock

Judge of the Superior Court