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Brooks v. Invista

February 28, 2007

ERICA T. BROOKS PLAINTIFF,
v.
INVISTA (KOCH INDUSTRIES) DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Defendant Invista's ("Defendant") second motion for summary judgment, requesting summary judgment be granted as to Plaintiff Erica Brooks' ("Plaintiff") Title VII retaliatory discharge claim (Court File No. 34).*fn1 Plaintiff filed a response and brief in opposition to Defendant's motion (Court File Nos. 37, 38), and Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff's response (Court File No. 39). For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment and will DISMISS Plaintiff's Title VII retaliatory discharge claim.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the burden is on the moving party to conclusively show no genuine issues of material fact exist, Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 897 (6th Cir. 2003), and the Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, (1986). However, the nonmoving party is not entitled to a trial merely on the basis of allegations, but must come forward with some significant probative evidence to support its claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Id. at 323.

The Court determines whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper jury question, but does not weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Weaver v. Shadoan, 340 F.3d 398, 405 (6th Cir. 2003). The standard for summary judgment mirrors the standard for directed verdict. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The Court must decide "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. There must be some probative evidence from which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. If the Court concludes a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party based on the evidence presented, it may enter a summary judgment. Id.; Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).

II. RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Court is familiar with this case since it ruled on Defendant's first motion for summary judgment just three weeks ago. The pertinent facts have not changed since the Court's ruling. Therefore, the Court will start by adopting its recitation of facts from the Memorandum issued in conjunction with its Order granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 28 at 3-7). Although the Court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the Court stated Plaintiff's Title VII retaliatory discharge claim would proceed to trial since Defendant did not move for summary judgment on that claim.

Five days after the Court issued its Order, Defendant filed a motion for reconsideration, or in the alternative, for leave to file additional summary judgment pleadings on the issue of Title VII retaliatory discharge. The Court denied Defendant's request for reconsideration but granted Defendant leave to file additional summary judgment pleadings on the issue of Title VII retaliatory discharge. As requested by Defendant, the Court construed the memorandum filed in support of the motion for reconsideration as a motion for summary judgment and due to the approaching trial date, granted Plaintiff seven calendar days to respond to the motion. Plaintiff timely filed a response, and the motion is now ready for the Court's review.

III. DISCUSSION

Defendant argues summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII retaliatory discharge claim should be granted because (1) no retaliatory discharge claim was made in Plaintiff's Tennessee Human Rights Commission ("THRC") Charge; (2) no Title VII retaliation allegations were made in Plaintiff's complaint; (3) Plaintiff's deposition testimony establishes no Title VII retaliatory discharge claim; (4) Defendant's motion for summary judgment moved to dismiss all claims, which would include Plaintiff's Title VII retaliatory discharge claim; and (5) retaliatory discharge under Title VII is unsubstantiated. Since argument number five can dispose of the claim, and to a certain degree encompasses Defendant's other arguments, argument number five is the only one the Court will discuss in detail. The Court will also address whether Defendant should be awarded attorneys' fees for defending this action since the Court reserved ruling on this issue when it granted Defendant's first motion for summary judgment.

A. Title VII Retaliatory Discharge Claim

Because Plaintiff has not presented any direct evidence of retaliation, she must rely on circumstantial evidence to prove her retaliation claim. To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, Plaintiff must show (1) she engaged in protected activity under Title VII; (2) Defendant knew she engaged in the protected activity; (3) Defendant subsequently took an adverse, retaliatory action against Plaintiff; and (4) the protected activity and the adverse action were casually connected. Smith v. City of Salem, 378 F.3d 566, 570 (6th Cir. 2004). Protected activity includes retaliation against an employee who has participated in any manner in an investigation under Title VII or who has opposed any practice by an employer made unlawful under Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). These are known as the participation clause and opposition clause, respectively. Johnson v. Univ. of Cincinnati, 215 F.3d 561, 578 (6th Cir. 2000).

"The burden of establishing a prima facie case in a retaliation action is not onerous, but one easily met." Nguyen v. City of Cleveland, 229 F.3d 559, 563 (6th Cir. 2000). "Once a prima facie case is established, the burden of producing some non-discriminatory reason falls upon the defendant." Williams v. Nashville Network, 132 F.3d 1123, 1131 (6th Cir. 1997). "If the defendant demonstrates such, the plaintiff then assumes the burden of showing that the reasons given by the defendant were a pretext for retaliation." Id.

In her response to Defendant's motion, Plaintiff alleges Defendant "took retaliatory and adverse action against her for her claiming and discussing discrimination against her and answering the requests for information regarding other employees . . . ." (Court File No. 38, Plaintiff's Brief in Response to Retaliation Issues ("Pl.'s Brief") at 3). From this allegation, it appears Plaintiff is making a claim under the opposition clause. Although Plaintiff alleges she was terminated in retaliation for discussing discrimination against her, the record does not reflect such a discussion took place. Indeed, the only discussions the record reveals are the discussions management had with Plaintiff regarding her comment about Gass' disability and Plaintiff's reporting of Gass' alleged time-card violations, an ...


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