Villanueva v. City of Colton, 160 Cal. App. 4th 1188 (2008)

After Daniel Villanueva was demoted from Lead Operator to Operator II, he sued the city for discrimination based on race, national origin, ethnicity or skin color and for retaliation for his having complained about the alleged discrimination. The trial court granted summary judgment to the city after concluding Villanueva had made “unsupported charges of race discrimination against a number of people” based on hearsay and after finding no evidence of racial animus or other impermissible employment activity — and, in particular, noting that in two prior grievances he had lodged he failed to allege any discrimination or harassment based on his race. The trial court also ordered Villanueva to pay the city’s attorney’s fees in the amount of $39,472.30. The Court of Appeal affirmed dismissal of the lawsuit and the award of attorney’s fees under Cal. Gov’t Code § 12965(b) because the action was “unreasonable, frivolous and meritless” and because Villanueva offered no evidence of his alleged inability to pay the city’s fees. Compare Chavez v. City of Los Angeles, 160 Cal. App. 4th 410 (2008) (trial court erred in denying employee’s motion for $871,000 in attorney’s fees after recovering $11,500 from a jury after five years of litigation); Harrington v. Payroll Entm’t Services, Inc., 160 Cal. App. 4th 589 (2008) (employee entitled to $500 in attorney’s fees after settling claim involving $44.63 in unpaid overtime for $10,500); Lussier v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 518 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir. 2008) (putative class representatives were not entitled to recover their attorney’s fees following their successful motion to remand wage and hour class action that employer removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005).