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Kinsey v. W.S. Badcock Corp.

May 12, 2008

DIANE B. KINSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
W.S. BADCOCK CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harry S. Mattice, Jr. United States District Judge

Judge Mattice

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Diane B. Kinsey brings this action against Defendant W.S. Badcock Corporation claiming that, during her employment with Defendant, she was sexually harassed due to her gender and that she was retaliated against, both in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq.

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Court Doc. 14]. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. STANDARD

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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts contained in the record and all inferences that can be drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Nat'l Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). The Court cannot weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of any matter in dispute. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To refute such a showing, the nonmoving party must present some significant, probative evidence indicating the necessity of a trial for resolving a material factual dispute. Id. at 322. A mere scintilla of evidence is not enough. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; McLean v. Ontario, Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). The Court's role is limited to determining whether the case contains sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49; Nat'l Satellite Sports, 253 F.3d at 907. 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. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the Court concludes that 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. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52; Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).

II. FACTS

The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, are as follows.*fn1 Plaintiff Diane B. Kinsey is a fifty year old female who was employed by the Defendant from May 2006 until November 2006. (Affidavit of Diane Kinsey ("Pl.'s Aff."), Court Doc. 20-2, ¶ 1.) Defendant is a corporation which owns a number of retail furniture stores throughout the country, including stores in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Declaration of Ray Blevins ("Blevins Dec."), Court Doc. 17-2, ¶ 2-3.)

Plaintiff was hired to work in a sales position by the manager of the Fort Oglethorpe store, Michael Laing. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 5.) When she was hired, she was promised a transfer to Defendant's Chattanooga store whenever a sales position became available. (Id. at ¶ 3.) Her first day of work in the Fort Oglethorpe store was May 25, 2006. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Immediately after she began work, Plaintiff noticed strong sexual content in the behavior of her manager, Laing. (Id. at ¶ 8.) This sexual behavior was directed mainly at Plaintiff's co-worker, Jennifer McConathay. (Id.) Plaintiff was offended by Laing's behavior, including the following actions: complaining about his lack of a sex life with his wife, touching her shoulder, massaging her hand, commenting about his body, calling her husband her boyfriend, wrapping his arms around her to reach the computer, telling sexually oriented jokes, commenting about Plaintiff's appearance, commenting about a co-workers homosexuality, commenting about co-workers' relationships, commenting about female customers and applicants for employment, massaging his groin and buttocks, making generally derogatory comments about women, and making sexual innuendoes. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-29.)

Plaintiff began experiencing sleeplessness, headaches, and the beginning of panic attacks, which she attributes to Laing's harassing behavior. (Id. at ¶ 30.) On August 4, 2006, Plaintiff confronted Laing about his behavior and eventually reported it to Defendant's human resources department. (Id. at ¶ 30-31.) Laing reported his meeting with Plaintiff to Defendant via email, admitting that he had been a jerk and indicating that he had apologized to Plaintiff for his behavior. (Blevins Dec. ¶ 22.) Ray Blevins, Laing's supervisor, spoke with Plaintiff on August 6 and August 7 about her complaints. (Id. at ¶ 23-24.) Blevins asked Plaintiff to submit her complaints about Laing in writing and she faxed him a six page letter detailing his offensive behavior. (Id. at ¶ 24; Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 31-35.)

Blevins reviewed Plaintiff's statement and consulted with Defendant's Director of Employee Relations, James Vernon. (Blevins Dec. ¶ 37; Declaration of James Vernon ("Vernon Dec."), Court Doc. 17-3, ¶ 6). They decided that Laing should receive a written disciplinary statement for his conduct. (Blevins Dec. ¶ 38.) Laing was given the disciplinary notice on August 16, 2006, which instructed him that further such actions would result in additional discipline and possible termination. (Id. ex. 2.) Pursuant to Defendant's policy of not announcing disciplinary action, Plaintiff was not informed of Laing's reprimand. (Id. at ¶ 40.) Laing was instructed to give Plaintiff a written memorandum stating that the matter had been resolved. (Id.)

After she made the harassment report, Plaintiff claims that Laing became angry with her. (Pl.'s Aff. at ¶ 37.) She claims that he reassigned a portion of her inventory which resulted in her losing sales. (Id.) Laing and other employees also began ignoring and avoiding Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 38.) Plaintiff reported Laing's behavior to Blevins. (Blevins Dec. ¶ 41.) Blevins spoke with Laing and instructed him that Plaintiff was to be treated uin the same manner as all other employees of the store. (Id. at ¶ 42.)

Pursuant to his instructions from Blevins, on August 26, 2006 Laing gave Plaintiff a written statement indicating that her harassment report had been handled to Defendant's satisfaction and instructing Plaintiff not to discuss her complaint with her co-workers. (Pl.'s Aff. at ¶ 40.) Plaintiff "went into a crying fit and hid in the bathroom" and called Blevins who told her to go home from work. (Id. at ¶ 41.)

On August 28, 2006, Blevins held a meeting for all of the employees at the Fort Oglethorpe store. (Id. at ¶ 42.) Blevins told the employees that they needed to start acting like adults. (Id.) He also instructed them to report any problems that they had with the company to him and told all of the employees that they could speak to him privately about any issues. (Blevins Dec. ¶ 44-45.) A few employees complained about the operation of the store, such as scheduling and issues regarding the delivery of furniture. (Id. at ¶ 45.) Sexual harassment was not discussed at the meeting and no employee, including Plaintiff, complained about Laing's behavior. (Id.) When Plaintiff spoke individually with Blevins following the meeting, she did not mention her report of harassment. Instead, she discussed managerial and operations issues with him. (Id.; Deposition of Diane Kinsey ("Pl.'s Dep."), Court Doc. 17-4, p. 283.) Plaintiff left the meeting with the impression that she would receive no further help from Blevins regarding her report of Laing's harassment. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 42.)

Following the meeting, Blevins asked all the employees to complete a questionnaire about the store. Both male and female employees complained about Laing's managerial style, claiming that he was rude, treated them like children, and was not helpful. (Blevins Dec. ¶ 49.) It was reported that Laing was very "touchy-feely" and would place his hand on the arm or shoulder of both male and female employees. (Id. at ¶ 50.)

Plaintiff went to see her doctor on August 31, 2006. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 44.) He put her on a new medication and advised her not to drive until she knew how she would respond to it. (Id.) Plaintiff called Defendant and gave notice that she would be unable to work due to the new medication. (Id.)

On September 1, 2006, Plaintiff received a phone call from a nurse employed by Defendant in an attempt to determine the extent of her health problems. (Id.) Plaintiff was asked to send a note from her physician, which she did on September 6, 2006. (Id.) Plaintiff informed Defendant that she would not return to work at the Fort Oglethorpe store because she did not want to work with Laing. (Pl.'s Dep. at 242-43.) Plaintiff also said that she would still be interested in a transfer to the Chattanooga store. (Id. at 243-44.) Although, under any of Defendant's policies, Plaintiff was not entitled to leave, it did not terminate her for refusing to return to work at the Fort Oglethorpe store. (Blevins Dec. ¶ 55.)

On October 23, 2006, Plaintiff received a letter from Defendant informing her of an opening at the Chattanooga store and offering her the position. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 46.) The letter gave her five days to respond to the transfer offer. (Id.) Plaintiff faxed a response to Defendant on November 1, 2006, stating that, due to her reaction to her medication, she was medically unable to work. (Id. at ¶ 47.) Defendant sent Plaintiff a second letter confirming that Plaintiff was declining the position at the Chattanooga store and Plaintiff did not respond. (Vernon Dec. ¶ 12.) Defendant therefore concluded that Plaintiff had resigned her position. (Id.)

III. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff claims that, during her employment, in violation of Title VII, she was sexually harassed because of her gender and then retaliated against once she reported the harassment. (Court Doc. 1.)

An employee may prove claims of discrimination and retaliation under Title VII by either direct evidence or circumstantial evidence. Abbott v. Crown Motor Co., 348 F.3d 537, 542 (6th Cir.2003). When a plaintiff presents direct evidence of discrimination or retaliation, "the burden of both production and persuasion shifts to the employer to prove that it would have terminated the employee even if it had not been motivated by impermissible discrimination." Nguyen v. City of Cleveland, 229 F.3d 559, 563 (6th Cir. 2000). "[D]irect evidence is that evidence which, if believed, requires the conclusion that unlawful discrimination was at least a motivating factor in the employer's actions." Jacklyn v. Schering-Plough Healthcare Prods. Sales Corp., 176 F.3d 921, 926 (6th Cir. 1999). "Consistent with this definition, direct evidence of discrimination does not require a fact finder to draw any inferences in order to conclude that the challenged employment action was motivated at least in part by prejudice against members of the protected group." Johnson v. Kroger Co., 319 F.3d 858, 865 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal citations omitted).

When, on the other hand, a plaintiff's claims of discrimination are based on circumstantial evidence, the Court applies the burden-shifting analysis initially described by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). McClain v. NorthWest Community Corr. Ctr Judicial Corr. Bd., 440 F.3d 320, 332 (6th Cir. 2006). That analysis may be summarized as follows:

First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. Second, if the plaintiff succeeds in proving the prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant "to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection." Third, should the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination.

Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981) (quoting McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802). "Although intermediate evidentiary burdens shift back and forth under this framework, '[t]he ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff.' " Reeves v. Sanderson ...


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