Choochagi v. Barracuda Networks, Inc., 60 Cal. App. 5th 444 (2021)

George Choochagi worked as a technical support manager for Barracuda Networks where he reported to Hossein Ghazizadeh.  Choochagi complained to HR that Ghazizadeh had made inappropriate sexual comments to him about having sex with women at the office and about Choochagi’s not being “man enough” for his position.  Approximately 18 months after Choochagi transferred to another supervisor, he began experiencing severe migraine headaches and eye irritation, which required him to seek medical treatment.  When Choochagi requested additional leave time, Barracuda allegedly moved to terminate his employment or force him to quit.  Choochagi sued for interference and retaliation under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), disability discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation, gender discrimination and related claims.  The trial court granted summary adjudication in favor of Barracuda on the CFRA and the gender discrimination claims, and the remaining two claims (disability discrimination and wrongful termination) went to trial where the jury returned a verdict against Choochagi and in favor of Barracuda.

The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the trial court had properly dismissed the CFRA claim because Choochagi did not submit evidence that he requested additional time off due to his medical condition or was denied such leave or that he was the victim of illegal retaliation under the statute.  The Court also affirmed dismissal of the FEHA retaliation claim on the ground that there was no evidence that the decision makers regarding the termination were aware of Choochagi’s HR complaint concerning Ghazizadeh or that, under the “cat’s paw” theory, the decision makers were “mere instrumentalities” of Ghazizadeh.