California Northstate Univ. sued by terminated women employees for alleged violation of family leave, harassment, defamation



Two former women employees of Elk Grove-based California Northstate University (CNU) have filed lawsuits in Sacramento County Superior Court alleging they were improperly terminated. The lawsuits were filed by Cyndi Porter-Fraser on October 4, 2018, and Dr. Cheryl Herrera, Ph.D. on December 3, 2018.

CNU's in-house counsel Paul Wagstaffe declined to comment on the litigation noting it involved a personnel matter. 

Porter-Fraser

Ms. Porter-Fraser was last employed by the school as the Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs after her initial employment in February 2008 as assistant dean of student affairs. Her employment was terminated on December 22, 2017.

According to the complaint filed on October 4, 2018, starting on or about September 2011, another staff member, Dr. Lane Brunner, started making disparaging remarks about Porter-Fraser in front of other staff members. This pattern of harassment, according to the complaint, led to another staff member, Dean Hieu Tran, to initiate harassment.

The lawsuit says “Tran made several derogatory comments to Plaintiff regarding her age and gender, and unfairly criticized her in front of her colleagues. On one occasion, Tran told Plaintiff that he wanted a ‘younger, fresh-faced person’ in the position instead of her.’”

The plaintiff said as a result of the ongoing harassment, in December 2015 she was suffering from depression and anxiety and sought medical treatment. Upon her return to work in January 2016, Porter-Fraser said many of her responsibilities were stripped, and she was eventually demoted to part-time status. 

The complaint alleges that Tran again stated he desired a “young, fresh face to work with.” By November of 2016, Porter-Fraser started taking intermittent Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to help care for a terminally ill parent.

By March of 2017 a new assistant dean, Dr. Cheryl Herrera was promoted and reassigned some of Porter-Fraser’s duties. This  resulted in Porter-Fraser being assigned to four supervisors which the complaint says “was evident CNU was attempting to force Plaintiff to resign by forcing her to perform the duties of several different positions and having her report to multiple supervisors who constantly were pulling her in different directions, and many of which continued the harassment, retaliation that ultimately led to her termination.”  

Following several months, Porter-Fraser was terminated on December 22, 2017. According to the complaint, the termination was in retaliation for taking FMLA to care for her terminally ill parent. 

The lawsuit alleges seven causes of action; wrongful termination in violation of public policy with regards to FMLA and the California Family Rights Act; age and sex discrimination; three acts of retaliation; failure to prevent discrimination and harassment; and negligent supervision of Tran and Herrera.

Case number: 34-2018-00242063

Porter-Fraser is represented by attorneys Marcus Jackson (Bar no. 205792) and Melanie Porter (Bar no. 253500).  

Herrera

Ms. Porter-Fraser was under contract through October 1, 2018, by the school as the Assistant Profession of Public Administration, Director of Student Success and Career Services, and Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs after her initial employment in February 2015 as Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Director of Student Success and Career Services. Her employment was terminated on June 22, 2018.

According to the complaint, Herrera was consistently praised for her performance. Her performance, according to the lawsuit, resulted in a promotion, a pay increase and performance reviews that said “’Dr. Herrera holds high standards for herself and her team. Police and procedures developed by Dr. Herrera are of the highest standards and I can count on her to complete required projects in a timely manner with high accuracy.’”

By May of 2018, however, the plaintiff’s complaint stated she need to have neck surgery and took a “protected medical leave of absence” between May 10 through June 8. The lawsuit alleges that Hererra’s supervisor, Dr. Heather Brown, PhD., “wanted to discipline or terminate Plaintiff because of her absences for medical reasons.”

Furthermore, it is alleged, “Dr. Brown made no secret of the fact that she found any absence by Plaintiff unacceptable even when it was protected medical reason or sick leave required under California Law.”

Upon her return from medical leave, Herrera said she presented a medical certification from her physician stating she needed twice-weekly physical therapy for 12 weeks. Eleven days later on June 22, Herrera said she was terminated for what she was told were “’integrity issues’” and that she was defamed by the school when that explanation was supposedly conveyed to other employees.  

The action also asserts that CNU did not pay wages that Herrera was contractually owed, and that the school did reimburse her for business expenses that they required. 

The lawsuit has eight causes of action including violation of the CFRA; wrongful termination in violation of public policy; retaliation for taking protected sick leave; breach of employment contract; failure to reimburse reasonable business expenses; waiting time penalties; failure to provide payroll records upon request; and defamation.  

Case number: 34-2018-00245665 

Herrera is represented by attorneys Timothy B. Del Castillo (Bar no. 277295) and Kent L. Bradbury (Bar no. 279402). 

Trial dates have not been scheduled in either case.







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