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Lingle v. Safety and Ecology Corp.

August 23, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas A. Varlan United States District Judge



This is an action brought by plaintiff Marilyn Lingle against her former employer Safety and Ecology Corporation (SEC), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634; the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA), T.C.A. §§ 42-21-301, et seq.; and the Tennessee Public Protection Act (TPPA), T.C.A. § 50-1-304. Plaintiff alleges that defendant discriminated against her by (1) giving two promotions to lesser qualified male individuals that were under 40 years of age; (2) subjecting her to a hostile work environment based on her gender and/or her age; and (3) wrongfully terminating her in retaliation for her complaints about this alleged discrimination. Currently pending is the defendant's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 17]. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted and this action dismissed.

I. Factual Background

The following factual allegations are taken from the depositions, exhibits, and interrogatories submitted by the parties and are considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Defendant SEC provides services in the areas of environmental clean-up, remediation, decontamination, and decommissioning of various Department of Energy (DOE) and commercial sites. Plaintiff was hired by SEC as a Senior Radiological Control Technician (RCT) at its Paducah, Kentucky site in May of 2004. She was 42 years old at the time. [Doc. 20-2, p. 151].

For health reasons, plaintiff asked to be transferred from Paducah to SEC's work site at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and was transferred in August 2004, where she continued her work as a Senior RCT on the Transuranium (TRU) Project. [Doc. 20-2, p. 149].

In October 2004, plaintiff applied for the position of Lead Technician on the TRU project. That position was awarded to Jim Olexa, age 50. Mr. Olexa had more DOE experience than the plaintiff and also had obtained certification by the National Registry for Radiation Protection Technologists. [Doc. 18-2, p 33].

In November 2004, plaintiff reported to SEC's Human Resources Manager, Michelle Britt, that Mr. Olexa had made some inappropriate comments to plaintiff, including a statement suggesting that the plaintiff was suffering from PMS/Menopause symptoms. In addition, plaintiff reported that Mr. Olexa had stated that plaintiff was going to get colon cancer if she allowed a fellow employee to "blow smoke up [her] ass." [Doc. 20-2, p. 166].

Plaintiff's complaint was investigated by Ms. Britt and also by plaintiff's supervisor, Stephen Vrooman. Mr. Vrooman discussed plaintiff's complaint with Mr. Olexa and, in addition, SEC circulated a required reading regarding its sexual harassment policy. Plaintiff felt like her complaint regarding Mr. Olexa's comments was taken seriously and handled appropriately by the defendant. The statements complained of by plaintiff stopped following her complaint. [Doc. 20-2, p. 173].

On January 7, 2005, the defendant had an opening for someone to serve as Lead Technician of the TRU Project on a temporary basis. Plaintiff applied but Leroy Hicks, a male under 40 years of age, was chosen for the position. The choice of Mr. Hicks for the position was made by Dave Hyder of Bechtel Jacobs (SEC's client on the TRU Project), along with Mr. Vrooman and Brad Ross of SEC. The defendant contends that Mr. Hicks was chosen based upon his job performance and the confidence that SEC's client, Bechtel Jacobs, had in Mr. Hicks. Hicks remained in that position for approximately three months. Plaintiff admitted in her deposition that Mr. Hicks was qualified for the temporary Lead RCT position. [Doc. 18-4, p. 12; Doc. 20-2, p. 177].

Upon learning that Mr. Hicks had been appointed to the temporary Lead RCT position, plaintiff wrote a letter to the DOE's Human Resources Office in Oak Ridge, dated January 9, 2005, complaining that she had suffered retaliation, as well as sex and age discrimination, by SEC. [Doc. 20-2, p. 177].

On May 2, 2005, plaintiff sent an e-mail to Mr. Vrooman and Ms. Britt, complaining that "in the last six month period of time on the TRU Project, I have had two pair of gloves, a belt, and a book stolen, my lunch mutilated, and had someone actually spit in my hard hat. I know that it is literally impossible to pinpoint who, what, when, and why and at this point I do not care." [Doc. 20-2, p. 186]. In response to Michelle Britt's questioning of plaintiff regarding her complaints, plaintiff reiterated that she did not have any idea who had done any of these acts. [Doc. 18-2, p. 46]. Upon questioning by Mr. Vrooman, plaintiff's fellow RCTs on the TRU Project denied committing, seeing, or having any knowledge about plaintiff's complaints of missing items or damaged lunch. [Doc. 18-4, p. 8]. Plaintiff later informed Michelle Britt that plaintiff thought that the problems she complained of in her e-mail were coming from individuals who did not work for SEC. SEC did not have exclusive control over the work site or the employees from other companies that had access to the work site. Accordingly, the plaintiff's complaints were reported to other companies with employees on the work site. [Doc. 18-2, pp. 42-43].

In May of 2005, plaintiff also reported to Michelle Britt that inserts on two signs on the work site had been "flipped around." Plaintiff did not know who "flipped" the inserts, nor does she allege that this incident had any ...

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