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Howington v. Quality Restaurant Concepts

January 3, 2008

CHRISTINA HOWINGTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
QUALITY RESTAURANT CONCEPTS, LLC, AND TYLER KIRK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This civil action is before the court for consideration of defendants' motion for summary judgment [doc. 15]. Plaintiff has submitted a response [doc. 17], to which defendants have submitted a reply [doc. 18]. For the reasons provided herein, defendants' motion will be granted and this civil action will be dismissed.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate when "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 judgment as a matter of law." Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 594 (1987) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). The movant may discharge its burden by demonstrating that the non-moving party has failed to establish an essential element of that party's case for which it bears the ultimate burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

After the moving party has carried its initial burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). In order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must present significantly probative evidence in support of its complaint. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). The non-movant's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in that party's favor. Id. at 255. The court determines whether the evidence requires submission to a jury or whether one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52.

A party responding to a summary judgment motion "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e) (emphasis added). "It is well settled that the non-moving party must cite specific portions of the record in opposition to a motion for summary judgment, and that the court is not required to search the record for some piece of evidence which might stave off summary judgment." U.S. Structures, Inc. v. J.P. Structures, Inc., 130 F.3d 1185, 1191 (6th Cir. 1997).

II. Background

Plaintiff claims sexual harassment and retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") and the Tennessee Human Rights Act, TENN. C NN et seq. ("THRA").*fn1 ODE A . § 4-21-101 Plaintiff worked for six or seven weeks in early 2006 as a part-time, dayshift bartender at an Applebee's restaurant owned by defendant Quality Restaurant Concepts, LLC ("QRC"). She alleges that a supervisor, defendant Tyler Kirk, sexually harassed her and then subjected her to a hostile work environment because she refused his advances. Plaintiff further contends that she was also fired by Kirk soon after she complained about the purported harassment.

On March 6, 2006, Kirk sent plaintiff and a co-worker home following an argument regarding the use of her cell phone. On March 9, 2006, plaintiff submitted a letter to the restaurant's general manager complaining of sexual harassment by Kirk. On March 11, 2006, Kirk told plaintiff to "leave and not come back" purportedly due to her refusal to move her car from a customer parking space.

III. Analysis

Title VII makes it illegal for an employer to "fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Additionally, Title VII further provides that "[i]t shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Title VII also has been construed as prohibiting sexual harassment so "severe or pervasive" as to "alter the conditions of [the victim's] employment and create an abusive working environment." Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986)(citation omitted).

In McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), the Supreme Court established "the order and allocation of proof in a private, non-class action challenging employment discrimination" under Title VII. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 800-03. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, a Title VII plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. The elements necessary to make a prima facie showing will vary depending on the facts of each case and the type of discrimination alleged. See Furnco Constr. Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 575-76 (1978).

The plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion throughout the entire process. Morris v. Oldham County Fiscal Court, 201 F.3d 784, 793 (6th Cir. 2000). If the plaintiff is able to establish her prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the employer to "articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for the adverse employment action. Id. at 792-93. If the employer successfully provides such a reason, McDonnell Douglas's regime then places the final burden on the plaintiff to "demonstrate by competent ...


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