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Cole v. Tennessee Watercraft

July 15, 2008


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



Plaintiff Angela Cole ("Plaintiff") filed the present civil action against Tennessee Watercraft, Inc. ("Defendant") alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Tennessee Human Rights Act ("THRA"). Plaintiff also makes a claim for common law retaliatory discharge. Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment [Doc. 22], which is ripe for determination. Defendant has also filed "Motion to Strike the April 30, 2008 Affidavit of Angela D. Cole and Portions of Plaintiff's Supplemental Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant Tennessee Watercraft, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment" [Doc. 47], which Plaintiff has responded to in opposition. [Doc. 50.] Defendant has also filed a "Motion for Leave to Present Oral Argument in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment." [Doc. 48.]

The Court has carefully considered the parties' briefs and supporting materials [Docs. 23, 38, 39, 45, 46, 50, 52] in light of the entire record and controlling law and finds that oral argument regarding the summary judgment motion is unnecessary. Accordingly, Defendant's Motion for Leave to Present Oral Argument in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 48] is hereby DENIED. For the reasons set forth herein, the Defendant's motion to strike [Doc. 47] will be granted in part and denied in part. Defendant's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 22] will be denied.


On September 28, 2005, Plaintiff was terminated from her position as a warehouse supervisor by Defendant. [Doc. 35-2 at ¶ 2.] Prior to May of 2003, Plaintiff engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with plant manager, Jeff Dryja ("Dryja"). [Doc. 1 at ¶ 7.] In May of 2003, Plaintiff allegedly ended her consensual sexual relationship with Dryja. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 7.]

After Plaintiff ended her relationship with Dryja in May of 2003 through September of 2005, she alleges that he sexually harassed her "in an attempt to revive and restore the relationship." [Doc. 1 at ¶ 8.] Plaintiff alleges that Dryja harassed her by calling her "a lot" and asking her to come to his office. [Doc. 46-2 at 5, 17-18.] According to Plaintiff, Dryja "would just ask me to see him, and sometimes he would try to hug on me and kiss on me . . . several different times." [Id. at 19.] Though some of their conversations were business-related, Plaintiff alleges that the meetings would end with Dryja "[a]lways asking me to meet him or asking me to see him or shutting the door and locking the door behind him as I go in the door and pulling his pants down and doing stuff like that." [Id. at 20.] Plaintiff claims that she asked Dryja to stop. [Id. at 21.] After one incident of Dryja allegedly calling Plaintiff to his office, grabbing her, hugging her, and kissing her, Dryja allegedly sent Plaintiff a letter that stated:

I know this may sound selfish, but what took place last Friday afternoon was something I really needed to happen. I needed to hold you. I needed to kiss you. It was the fix that I had been longing for. It satisfied the effects of withdrawals I was experiencing. I enjoyed it very much. It was a bittersweet experience. [Id. at 4.] After this incident, Plaintiff claims that "[h]e asked me not to tell anybody, I guess." [Id. at 7.] Plaintiff did not report this incident or others to Human Resources at the time of occurrence or during the years of 2003 or 2004. [Id. at 21.] Plaintiff claims that she was scared to go to Human Resources because "he was the plant manager" and was "their boss." [Id. at 7, 10.]

In February of 2005, Plaintiff was interviewed after a co-worker, Mary Denomie, filed a charge of discrimination regarding a promotion of Plaintiff by Defendant. [Doc. 22-4 at 7.] In that interview, Plaintiff denied that she had been or currently was in a relationship with Dryja. [Id. at 8.] According to Plaintiff, she denied the relationship because she was "scared" of losing her job. [Id. at 89.]

On April 1, 2005, Plaintiff attended "Sexual Harassment/Hostile Work Environment" training. [Doc. 22-3 at 31.] Defendant's sexual harassment policy provides:

Any employee who believes he/she has been the victim of sexual harassment should immediately notify his/her supervisor. If an employee prefers to discuss the circumstances with someone other than his/her supervisor, he/she is invited to contact the Human Resources Manager, the plant Manager, or any other member of management with whom the employee would feel comfortable. [Id. at 29.]

In July of 2005, Dryja allegedly scheduled Plaintiff to go on a business trip to Noonan, Georgia, with him, which included spending the night at a hotel in rooms with adjoining doors. [Doc. 22-3 at 22; 46-2 at 28.] Plaintiff allegedly told Steve Ball ("Ball"), her direct supervisor, that she did not want to spend the night in Georgia with Dryja because she did not want to be alone with him and that Dryja made her feel uncomfortable. [Doc. 46-2 at 28-29.] Ball allegedly responded, "It's not my ball field, Angie, it's Dryja's" and "I don't know what to tell you." [Id. at 28.] According to Dryja, he obliged Plaintiff's request to come in the morning with other co-workers. [Doc. 46-7 at 21.] Plaintiff did not report her concerns regarding the Noonan, Georgia, trip to Human Resources. [Doc. 22-3 at 22.]

According to Plaintiff, she first spoke to Human Resources about Dryja's alleged sexual harassment in 2005, though she cannot recall when she first did so. [Id. at 19.] In August of 2005, Plaintiff allegedly went to Dryja to express her concerns about Morris Ducote ("Ducote"), one of Dryja's direct managers. [Doc. 46-7 at 5-6.] As a result of a proposed restructuring, Plaintiff's position would be under Ducote's umbrella of responsibility, rather than that of Dryja. [Id. at 8.] Allegedly, Ducote made advances toward Plaintiff "a couple years back," and she did not want to work for him. [Id. at 10.] The decision was made for Plaintiff's department to be under Ducote's supervision, but Plaintiff was allegedly taken out of Ducote's chain of command due to her concerns regarding Ducote. [Id. at 18.] Instead, her direct superior would be Ball, and the chain of command then went to Human Resources rather than Ducote. [Id. at 18.] On September 1, 2005, Dryja allegedly spoke to Plaintiff about the restructuring while both were on the warehouse floor and a heated conversation ensued between Plaintiff and Dryja. [Id. at 19.]

In late August and early September of 2005, Plaintiff met with Human Resource representatives. On August 22, 2005, Plaintiff allegedly spoke to Steve Wolfe ("Wolfe"), Manager of Human Resources, concerning Dryja and Ducote. [Docs. 46-3 at 5; 46-8 at 1.] According to Plaintiff, she does not recall discussing Dryja's alleged sexual harassment at that time. [Doc. 46-3 at 8.] On August 25, 2005, Plaintiff allegedly met with Wolfe and Mike Johnson ("Johnson"). [Id. at 9-10.] Plaintiff does not recall what she discussed at that meeting. [Id. at 10.] After the incident on the warehouse floor between Plaintiff and Dryja, Plaintiff allegedly met with Johnson, Collene Calfee ("Calfee"), and Wolfe about the incident with Dryja, but she does not recall if they spoke about Dryja's alleged sexual harassment. [Docs. 46-3 at 10-12; 46-7 at 3.] At that meeting, Plaintiff discussed how she did not want to work for Ducote and allegedly revealed that she was sexually harassed by Ducote. [Doc. 46-5 at 9.] On September 2, 2005, Plaintiff received a call from Wolfe at home and spoke to him about Dryja, though she does not recall if she spoke to Wolfe about Dryja's alleged sexual harassment. [Doc. 46-3 at 12-13.] On September 5, 2005, Plaintiff met with Calfee to discuss that she would not answer or report to Ducote. [Id. at 14.] Plaintiff does not recall if they discussed any other topics at the meeting. [Id. at 14.]

According to Plaintiff, she later told Johnson and Calfee about incidents involving Dryja and alleged sexual harassment. [Doc. 46-2 at 23-24.] Plaintiff specifically recalls talking to Calfee about Dryja the night before her termination. [Id. at 24.] Allegedly, she told Calfee about Dryja calling her into his office, showing her "his parts," and trying to kiss and hug her, which she told him not to do. [Id. at 26.] According to Plaintiff, Calfee did not say anything in response. [Id. at 27.] According to Calfee, they did not discuss Dryja's alleged sexual harassment during their conversation. [Doc. 22-8 at 3.]

On September 27, 2005, Plaintiff allegedly called Defendant's facility and paged one of her subordinates, Mike Evans ("Evans"), at 5:35 a.m. [Doc. 22-4 at 21.] According to Plaintiff, she was on her way to work at the time of the call and called to "check[] to see how things were going." [Id. at 22.] According to the September 27, 2005, time report, Plaintiff was clocked in at 5:40 a.m. [Docs. 22-4 at 26; 22-5 at 8.] According to Wolfe, security guard, Norma Miller ("Miller"), informed him that Plaintiff had called and paged Evans around 5:40 a.m. [Doc. 22-5 at 1.] Shortly thereafter, another employee, Mary Denomie, allegedly told Miller that she had observed Evans clock in Plaintiff after answering the page. [Id. at 2.] Miller also allegedly told Wolfe that she observed Plaintiff drive by the guard shack at 6:11 a.m. [Id. at 2.]

On September 28, 2005, Wolfe, Johnson, and Calfee allegedly interviewed Evans who initially denied clocking in Plaintiff but then admitted that Plaintiff had asked him to clock her in because she was running late. [Id. at 3.] While on his way to the Human Resources meeting, Evans allegedly stated that Plaintiff had told him to say the page was letting him know that she had gone to the end of the road near the facility and that her meeting at the end of the road was taking longer than expected. [Id. at 3.] Johnson and a corporate Human Resources representative, Phil Wendel, allegedly made the decision to terminate Plaintiff.

[Doc. 22-6 at 2.] According to Dryja, the decision was made after investigating the incident and talking to Evans and Miller. [Doc. 46-7 at 25.] According to Defendant, Dryja was allegedly not included in the decision-making process because he was on a business trip in Washington, D.C. [Doc. 22-7 at 9.] According to Johnson, the progressive discipline program was not followed in Plaintiff's case due to the "severity of the policy infraction. She was in a supervisory position and basically ordered or told a subordinate to clock her in against company policy." [Id. at 7.]

Human Resources then allegedly met with Plaintiff and informed her that she could resign or be terminated for falsifying time records. [Doc. 22-5 at 3.] Plaintiff then allegedly informed Human Resources that she was filing formal sexual harassment charges against Dryja and Ducote. [Id. at 5.] On September 29, 2005, Defendant sent Plaintiff a letter that stated:

During the meeting on September 28, 2005, you stated that you wanted to file charges of sexual harassment against the General Manager, Jeff Dryja, and the Division Manager, Morris Ducote. We take such allegations seriously, and want to conduct a thorough investigation. Please contact [Human Resources] at your earliest convenience so that we can arrange a time and place to meet with you to learn the specifics at your allegations. We can meet in our offices at the [Defendant's] plant, or at another mutually agreeable off site location. Obviously, we can not force you to meet with us. On the other hand, if you choose not to meet with us and share the details of your allegations, our ability to conduct a proper investigation will be severely restricted. I very much hope that you will call and arrange to meet with us. [Doc. 22-6 at 9.] According to Johnson, Plaintiff did not agree to be interviewed. [Id. at 6.]


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