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Law v. Kinross Gold U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

April 18, 2014

RONALD LAW, Plaintiff,
v.
KINROSS GOLD U.S.A., INC., Defendant.

ORDER

LARRY R. HICKS, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Kinross Gold U.S.A., Inc.'s ("Kinross") Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. #30.[1] Plaintiff Ronald Law ("Law") filed an Opposition (Doc. # 42), to which Kinross replied (Doc. #46).

I. Factual Background

This case arises out of Law's employment with and subsequent termination from Kinross. In January 2007, Kinross hired Law as an accounting manager. Doc. #30, Ex. B, ¶2. Kinross' employee guidelines explicitly state that employees are "at-will." Doc. #30, Ex. A, p. 4. The guidelines also contain information for reporting work-related injuries, obtaining worker's compensation, as well as submitting Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") claims. Doc. #30, Ex. A, pp. 16-17, 50-52.

Throughout Law's employment at Kinross, he developed a pattern of "making false allegations of retaliation and asserting unsupported allegations of fraud." Doc. #30, Ex. B, ¶6; Doc. #30, Ex. O; Doc. #30, Ex. P; Doc. #30, Ex. Q; Doc. #30, Ex. R. Kinross investigated these allegations and, where warranted, took action to resolve any issues.[2] Doc. #30, Ex. B, ¶17. In January 2009, Kinross' management began discussing Law's termination. Doc. #30, Ex. C. In February 2009, it was determined that, due to concerns regarding timing and locating a replacement for Law, mid-April would be an appropriate time to officially terminate Law's employment. See Doc. #30, Ex. C; Ex. D. Kinross based its decision to terminate Law on "his inability to communicate with Kinross' managers and employees, his track record of making false allegations of retaliation against him, his history of asserting unsupported allegations of fraud, and his combative work manner." Doc. #30, Ex. B, ¶8.

On April 5, 2010, Law sent an email to various Kinross employees, which contained allegations of fraud and harassment against Kinross employees. See Doc. #30, Ex. F. Many of these allegations had been previously asserted and investigated by Kinross. See Doc. #30, Ex. O; Doc. #30, Ex. P; Doc. #30, Ex. Q; Doc. #30, Ex. R. As a result of the April 5, 2010 email, Kinross placed Law on paid leave pending an investigation into Law's allegations. Doc. #30, Ex. H; Doc. #30, Ex. I. On April 6, 2010, Kinross became aware that Law had been admitted to the hospital. Doc. #30, Ex. A, ¶12; Doc. #30, Ex. K. On April 12, 2010, Kinross provided Law with the requisite forms to request FMLA leave. Doc. #30, Ex. L. Law did not return the completed forms to Kinross or otherwise provide Kinross with a request for FMLA leave. Doc. #30, Ex. A, ¶13.

On May 14, 2010, Law's employment with Kinross was terminated. Doc. #30, Ex. J. In a letter memorializing Law's termination, Kinross identified a number of reasons for Law's termination. Specifically, Kinross cited "numerous allegations of wrongdoing, both against the Company and individuals employed by the Company" since September 2008. Doc. #30, Ex. J, p. KIN001276. Kinross further explained that "[Law's] communications have contained false and defamatory statements" and stated that "Kinross has looked into [his] allegations and found they were either without merit, or in a few instances were legitimate issues that had already been identified and were being handled by Kinross in a responsible manner." Id. Kinross explicitly cited Law's April 5, 2010 email as one such instance of "previously investigated" and "unfounded allegations." Id. Finally, Kinross identified various false representations that Law had made as to his qualifications when he applied for and throughout his employment at Kinross.[3] Id. at KIN001276-77; Doc. #30, Ex. S.

On October 17, 2010, five months after his termination, Law submitted a letter pursuant to Kinross' whistleblower policy alleging various irregularities and/or fraud, control issues, and retaliation, many of which had been previously raised and investigated. Doc. #30, Ex. N; Ex. B, ¶¶16-17. In response thereto, Kinross retained counsel to conduct an independent assessment of Law's allegations. Doc. #30, Ex. B, ¶18. Ultimately, it was determined that Law's allegations lacked merit, lacked credible support, and were not made in good faith. Doc. #30, Ex. B, ¶19; Doc. #30, Ex. U, p. 3. Specifically, the investigation revealed that "the evidence not only refuted [Law's] allegations, but in many instances suggested that [Law] deliberately misrepresented the facts or should have known that his allegations were false."[4] Id.; Doc. #30, Ex. U, p. 3.

On May 14, 2012, Law commenced this action against Kinross, alleging: (1) violation of the FMLA, 42 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.; (2) breach of contract; (3) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (4) tortious retaliation and discharge in violation of public policy-illegal conduct; (5) tortious retaliation and discharge in violation of public policy-worker's compensation; (6) tortious retaliation and discharge in violation of public policy-free speech; and (7) tortious retaliation and discharge in violation of public policy-access to courts. See Doc. #1. On August 30, 2013, Kinross filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment before the Court. Doc. #30.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, and other materials in the record show that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In assessing a motion for summary judgment, the evidence, together with all inferences that can reasonably be drawn therefrom, must be read in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Cnty. of Tuolumne v. Sonora Cmty. Hosp., 236 F.3d 1148, 1154 (9th Cir. 2001).

The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, along with evidence showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). On those issues for which it bears the burden of proof, the moving party must make a showing that is "sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party." Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986); see also Idema v. Dreamworks, Inc., 162 F.Supp.2d 1129, 1141 (C.D. Cal. 2001). On an issue as to which the non-moving party has the burden of proof, however, the moving party can prevail merely by demonstrating that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

To successfully rebut a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must point to facts supported by the record which demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact. Reese v. Jefferson Sch. Dist. No. 14J, 208 F.3d 736 (9th Cir. 2000). A "material fact" is a fact "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Where reasonable minds could differ on the material facts at issue, summary judgment is not appropriate. See v. Durang, 711 F.2d 141, 143 (9th Cir. 1983). A dispute regarding a material fact is considered genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. The mere existence of a ...


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