San Francisco Superior Court Grants Summary Adjudication in Favor of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for Racial Discrimination Claim, but Denies Summary Judgment for Commissioner and Former President

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By Michael J. Melton

On February 20, 2020, after hearing oral arguments in the matter of Clopton v. Cal. Pub. Util. Comm’n, No. CGC-17-563082 (Cal. Super. Ct. San Francisco), Judge Ethan P. Schulman granted the CPUC’s Motion for Summary Adjudication regarding former Administrative Law Judge Karen Clopton’s racial discrimination claim in her wrongful termination suit against the CPUC (her former employer) and supervisors. In granting the motion, the court found that Judge Clopton did not challenge a contradictory finding by the State Personnel Board that Judge Clopton’s conduct constituted grounds for discipline, and that the CPUC’s dismissal was just and proper.

The following day, on February 21, 2020, however, the court denied the individual defendants, Commissioner Liane Randolph’s and former CPUC President Michael Picker’s, respective motions for summary judgment on Judge Clopton’s retaliation claims, finding that because Judge Clopton claimed discrimination against a protected class under the Whistleblower Act, they can still be liable for retaliation as her supervisors. The court found with respect to both motions that there remain triable issues of material fact as to whether Judge Clopton’s supervisors retaliated against her after she made claims of racial discrimination. Specifically, neither President Picker nor Commissioner Randolph rebutted claims that they asked the CPUC General Counsel to initiate an investigation into Judge Clopton’s management style, and that President Picker and Commissioner Randolph took the lead in the appraisal of Judge Clopton’s employment that resulted in termination.

This employment dispute between the CPUC and Judge Clopton has been ongoing since 2017.  24:2 CRLR 219-220; 24:1 CRLR 170–171; 23:2 CRLR 185–186; 23:1 CRLR 213]

The court set a mandatory settlement conference for the parties to be held on April 24, 2020.  At this writing, all Superior Courts are closed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the original trial date of April 6, 2020 has been vacated. The court has not yet set a new trial date.

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