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Fox v. Yates Services, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

February 8, 2017

BETTY FOX, Plaintiff,

          Frensley Magistrate Judge.



         Before the Court is Defendant Yates Services, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 17.) For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual

         Betty Fox (“Fox”) was hired by Yates Services, LLC (“Yates”) on December 27, 2011 as an at-will contract employee. (Docket No. 21, ¶¶ 2, 3.) Yates is a Nissan contractor that, among other things, staffs contract employees for Nissan as needed. (Id. at ¶ 1.) The same day she was hired, Fox received Yates' Anti-Harassment Policy, Yates' Work Place Anti-Violence Policy, and Yates' employee handbook. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-6.) The Anti-Harassment Policy and Work Place Anti-Violence Policy “included procedures for employees to complain about harassment and/or potential violence or threats of violence, and provided that employees who violated the policies could be subject to discipline, and that employees who make false complaints of harassment or workplace violence could also be subject to discipline.” (Id. at ¶ 5.) The employee handbook contained a harassment-free environment policy and “stated that the first year of an associate's assignment at Nissan would be considered an introductory period and that, during months 7-12 of the first year, the next corrective step after receiving a written reminder was termination.” (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 8.) It also included “a corrective action policy that allowed Yates to determine that an employee's conduct is serious enough to skip certain steps in progressive discipline and impose discipline that Yates determined to be appropriate.” (Id. at ¶ 7.)

         Fox began working on January 17, 2012 in the paint department, where she was responsible for looking for and correcting defects on the cars' painted bodies. (Id. at ¶¶ 9, 10.) Fox alleges that early in her employment, a Nissan employee and co-worker, Troy Baker, began sexually harassing her, and others harassed her because she is a Jehovah's Witness. According to the Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Fox's allegations of harassment can be summarized as follows:

• “During her first week of working on the line, … she had a conversation with Little during which he asked Fox about being a Jehovah's Witness, which then led to a discussion about a house he had for sale.” (Id. at ¶ 28.)
• “[I]n February 2012, … Baker made comments about [Fox's] make-up, that Baker asked her when she was going to shave her mustache, and that he made comments about Fox having ‘drawn-on eyebrows.'” (Id. at ¶ 12.)
• “[E]arly in her employment, … Baker would look [Fox] up and down on occasion and sometimes, while not looking at her face, would say ‘I got what you need.'” (Id. at ¶ 13.)
• “On two different occasions early in her employment, … Baker positioned himself in front of Fox in close proximity to his groin area with his leg up, and on both of those occasions, Fox moved Baker's leg or told him to move his leg and walked away.” (Id. at 14.)
• “[E]arly during her employment, Fox claims she informed Baker that he had missed a defect on a car. After the third time Fox called him (the environment could be very loud), Baker responded by stopping the assembly line and coming over to Fox and yelling ‘what?'” (Id. at ¶ 15.)
• “[O]ne day Baker pushed a car door that hit her in the back, but [Fox] admits this was a one-time occurrence and after Fox confronted Baker about it, he apologized.” (Id. at ¶ 17.)
• “[Employees were staring at her and talking about her.” (Id. at ¶ 21; see ¶¶ 40, 42, 46, 50.) . “On one incident, before May 15, 2012, … Baker yelled at her about her religion as a Jehovah's Witness, and made comments about her having a fake Bible and that she needed a real one.” (Id. at ¶ 31.) . “Baker made comments about Fox's religion two or three times.” (Id. at ¶ 32.)
• “On a couple of occasions, … Palmer would say to Fox in front of other employees things like “Where you going to church? You going to the Kingdom Hall? You going to a church?” (Id. at ¶ 33.)

         At some point early in her employment (the parties do not specify exactly when), Fox went to her supervisor, Russell Rigsby, and told him about her incidents with Baker. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Rigsby then told his boss, Rodney Baggett, and then contacted Bill Little, Nissan's Human Resources Representative, asking him to investigate. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Whenever Fox brought an issue to Little's attention, “he performed an investigation by first discussing with Fox the details of her complaints, then contacted each employee Fox identified to get their side of the story, interviewed any other potential witnesses, and then went back and told Fox what he found.” (Id. at ¶ 22.) On an unspecified date early in her employment, Fox told Little about Baker sexually harassing her, saying that he had followed her home and had made remarks to her. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Little interviewed the entire workgroup but could not find any corroboration that sexual harassment had occurred. (Id. at ¶ 24.) Fox also complained to Little about Baker and Palmer's comments about her religion, but Little's investigation did not reveal any wrongdoing. (Id. at ¶ 34.)

         After conducting several investigations following Fox's complaints, Little asked her why she was the only one involved and was at the center of every investigation. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Little told her that “he could not find any evidence of what she was saying to be true” and on multiple occasions, he, as well as Rigsby, warned her that her continued complaints were disruptive and could result in discipline. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-36.)

         On May 15, 2012, approximately five months after starting work, Fox received a verbal warning “for comments that could have been reasonably understood as a threat, which grew out of an incident in which it was reported that Fox made a threat that she was going to shoot Baker with a gun.” (Id. at ¶ 25.) Fox admits that she was given a verbal warning but disputes that the threats could have reasonably been understood as a threat and states that she was speaking with someone else and that Baker overheard. (Id.) Baker was given a “Written Reminder” on the same day “for disrupting the workforce as a result of his interactions with Fox.” (Id. at ¶ 26.)

         On August 6 through 7, 2012, Little and Rigsby “pulled each employee in Fox's workgroup off the line and reminded them individually of Nissan's code of conduct and harassment policies, talked to the employees about these policies, and informed them that harassment was a serious offense and would not be tolerated.” (Id. at ¶ 37.) Three months later, on October 1, Fox was given a Written Reminder for approaching Baker in an inappropriate and confrontational manner that stated, in relevant part, that her actions “were unacceptable and counter-productive to the successful operation of this company” and that it was the company's responsibility to provide “a work environment free of harassment or intimidation of any kind.” (Id. at ΒΆΒΆ 38-39.) It also ...

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