FRESNO, Calif. (KGET) — An appellate court has cleared the way for a professor to proceed with a lawsuit against Cal State Bakersfield after finding the trial court improperly dismissed the case by failing to ensure the plaintiff — who represented himself — understood the deadline on which a necessary court filing was due.
In its ruling issued earlier this week, the Fifth District Court of Appeal said Judge Stephen D. Schuett should have made sure the professor knew that the postponement of a hearing in the case did not mean the deadline for him to file an amended complaint had also been extended.
“As a result, plaintiff was misled into believing he had until the next case management conference to seek counsel and file an amended complaint and, relying on this belief, he left the country to attend an educational conference,” the ruling says.
While the professor was out of the country, the deadline for the complaint passed and Schuett dismissed the case.
Now the case will return to Kern County at an undetermined date.
A summary of events provided in the ruling says Anthony Nuno, hired as an assistant professor at the university in 2002, applied for a promotion to full professor in 2015. His request was denied.
Nuno claimed he was passed over because he’s Mexican-American and gay, the appellate document says. He filed charges of retaliation, harassment and discrimination with the Fresno office
of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Six months later, the EEOC closed its file on Nuno’s case, saying it “adopted the findings of the state or local fair employment practices agency that investigated this charge,” and notifying him he had 90 days in which to file suit.
In October 2017, Nuno sued CSUB, arguing it violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act by denying him a promotion to full professor over what he said was discrimination based on his race and sexual orientation.
Schuett in a March 2018 hearing granted a demurrer filed by the defense because Nuno’s suit failed to state facts sufficient for a cause of action and for being “uncertain, vague, ambiguous and unintelligible,” the document says. The court gave Nuno an opportunity to file an amended complaint, and later granted a 20-day extension.
During a case management conference the following month, Nuno said he still had not prepared an amended complaint and was in the process of seeking legal counsel. He did not provide a definitive date on which that complaint would be filed.
Following further discussion, Schuett postponed the conference to June. He did not, however, tell Nuno that the postponement of the conference didn’t change the mid-May due date for the amended complaint, according to the document.
When that date — May 18, 2018 — passed without the complaint being filed, Schuett dismissed the case.
The appellate court ruled Schuett had a responsibility to make sure the actions taken at the case management conference were clearly understood by Nuno.
“The failure to clearly address the timing issue misled plaintiff and was a substantial factor in causing the dismissal of his action,” the appelate court said.
It added, “A layperson could reasonably interpret (Schuett’s) response to mean the court had rejected the alternative of a motion to dismiss and, instead, intended the deadline for filing an amended complaint to be the date set for the next conference …”
Nuno eventually retained legal counsel. They prepared his appeal.