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Eppes v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company of Tennessee

April 18, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas W. Phillips United States District Judge



Defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [Doc. 78] with respect to plaintiff's remaining claims based on unlawful retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq. ("Title VII"), the Tennessee Human Rights Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101, et seq. ("THRA"), the Tennessee Public Protection Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304 ("TPPA"), and Tennessee common law. The individual defendants also request summary judgment as to plaintiff's claims based on retaliation for aiding and abetting unlawful activity under the THRA, Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-301. The plaintiff has responded in opposition, and the defendants have replied. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. 78] is DENIED in its entirety.

With respect to the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff filed a motion to strike part of defendants' reply to plaintiff's response to defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. 109] and a motion for clarification of the Court's scheduling order regarding summary judgment and, if deemed appropriate, for ancillary relief [Doc. 110]. These motions [Docs. 109 and 110] are DENIED as moot.

I. Summary of the Facts

As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are resolved most favorably for the plaintiff. The Court merely provides an abridged summary of facts for the purposes of this opinion.

Plaintiff Kimberly S. Eppes ("Eppes") began employment for defendant Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company of Tennessee d/b/a Enterprise Rent-A-Car ("Enterprise") on July 2, 2003 as a management trainee. In general, plaintiff asserts that during the time of her employment she received numerous awards, accolades, a promotion, and promises of future promotion. However, after complaining up the chain of command regarding instances of sexual harassment, she believes that Enterprise deemed her a pariah and decided to terminate her employment with the company.

Defendants assert that several instances of "bad conduct" warranted plaintiff's dismissal. The first incident occurred on the premises of Grayson Pontiac. After plaintiff asked to use Grayson's telephone, plaintiff engaged in a heated telephone conversation with her landlord regarding the lease. Grayson reported the incident to plaintiff's manager and stated that they did not want plaintiff on their premises. Another incident involved a verbal telephone argument between plaintiff and the assistant branch manager Brittany Harris ("Harris"), who was also her then roommate, regarding a scheduling conflict. In her defense, plaintiff states that she had difficulty in separating her personal relationship with Harris from their professional relationship and that the telephone conversation was "off-the-clock." Regardless, Crystine Galvan ("Galvon"), the East Tennessee Human Resource manager for Enterprise, looked into the situation and spoke with plaintiff about improving her anger management skills. Galvan gave plaintiff information regarding the Enterprise Employee Assistance Program ("EAP").

Defendants also describe an incident that took place at an Enterprise Christmas party. A guest at the party claimed that she was assaulted and subsequently filed a criminal compliant against an "unknown suspect." Galvan conducted an investigation, and although Galvan feels that plaintiff was involved in the assault, no disciplinary action was issued. Galvan's handwritten notes indicate that plaintiff was pushed from behind into the guest in the elevator, who physically attacked plaintiff in response. Plaintiff was kicked in the face, receiving a black eye and a bloody nose. In fact, Galvan indicated in her notes that plaintiff herself should go to the police.

Another incident, pin-pointed by the defendant, involved an angry customer who was five hours late to pick up a rental car. Apparently, his reserved car was rented to another customer when he failed to timely pick up the vehicle. The customer yelled and slammed his fist on the counter. Plaintiff states that she was afraid of the customer. Plaintiff asked the customer to step away from the counter. Although defendants assert that the plaintiff is to blame for the situation escalating out of control, the plaintiff states that she asked for assistance from a manager, who said that she was busy doing the schedule and did not want to be bothered to assist the plaintiff. After the situation escalated, the plaintiff did receive help.

As culmination of the above instances, plaintiff was issued a written warning on March 3, 2004. Plaintiff was warned that "any future incidents of insubordination, failing to put our customers first or displaying further anger management issues with customers, employees or referral sources may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination." Around the same time, plaintiff was involved in an altercation with fellow employee and roommate Harris, in which Harris sought a restraining order against the plaintiff. However, Enterprise did not take any action against plaintiff. Defendants asserts that the matter between the employees was a personal matter.

Thereafter, plaintiff was promoted to the position of assistant branch manager and transferred to the Greenville, Tennessee office on June 7, 2004. The promotion and increase in wage occurred approximately sixty (60) days after the written warning was issued to plaintiff. In that respect, plaintiff had received four raises during her fifteen (15) months of employment. Cliff Frana ("Frana") became her branch manager around August 24, 2004. At Greenville, a management trainee Sirrena Wiggins ("Wiggins") complained to area manager Marty Stapleton ("Stapleton") of plaintiff's behavior. Stapleton was Frana's supervisor. Plaintiff dismisses Wiggins complaints asserting that Wiggins was threatened by her promotion to Greenville and, as a result, was hostile and resentful toward her.

Around early September 2004, plaintiff complained to Stapleton that she was being subjected to sexual harassment and hostile work environment caused by defendant Daren Lowe ("Lowe"). According to plaintiff, Stapleton and the regional rental manager Tony Halas ("Halas"), who is Stapleton's supervisor, told Frana to start documenting all instances of misconduct by plaintiff. Plaintiff states that Lowe was merely advised that he needed to do a better job in working with the plaintiff. Lowe followed up in communication to Stapleton thereafter to report that plaintiff was still "not happy" with him.

Dissatisfied with Stapleton's inaction to remedy the situation, on September 20, 2004, plaintiff sent an e-mail to Halas stating that Lowe was retaliating against her after she declined his request for a date.*fn1 On September 22, 2004, when plaintiff was at Enterprise's administrative offices in Knoxville, Halas asked to speak with her privately. During their conversation on September 22, 2004, plaintiff told Halas that Lowe had been trying to date her and that he had been treating her in a hostile manner since she refused. The plaintiff detailed examples of what she felt was inappropriate behavior by Lowe, such as taking cars belonging to the Greenville branch, making derogatory comments about her to Frana, starting rumors of a sexual nature about her (such as having sex with a customer in exchange for a cell phone), and generally "making her life hell." Plaintiff also complained about other matters, including Frana's behavior. During the conversation, plaintiff stated that she "want[ed] it to be resolved, [that she] just want[ed] it to go away. [She wanted her] career back on track." Plaintiff requested a meeting to remedy the situation and wanted Lowe to be present.

Halas then contacted his supervisor, vice president Neil Hafer ("Hafer"). Halas and Hafer decided to handle the situation without the help of Human Resources. However, defendants assert that Human Resources was contacted. The meeting was scheduled for September 29, 2004.

When plaintiff was away from the office attending training on September 22, 2004, an audit occurred in the Greenville office. Defendants prepared disciplinary documentation against the plaintiff for errors that were found during the audit. In comparison, Frana, the plaintiff's branch manager, never received any written documentation of discipline for ...

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