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Richert v. Global Personnel Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

April 26, 2018



         In November 2016, Savannah Kay Richert filed this sexual harassment action in state court against Global Personnel Solutions, Inc. (“GPS”), bringing claims for a hostile work environment and constructive discharge under the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA).[1] On January 5, 2017, the suit was timely removed to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. Richert filed an amended complaint approximately one month later [D. 19].

         On February 26, 2018, GPS filed a motion for summary judgment [D. 38], which is now before the Court. Richert responded [D. 41], and GPS replied [D. 33]. For the following reasons, GPS's motion for summary judgment will be granted, and this action will be dismissed.

         I. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id.

         The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact on any element of the other party's claim or defense. Stiles ex rel. D.S. v. Grainger Cty., 819 F.3d 834, 847 (6th Cir. 2016). In determining whether this burden is satisfied, the Court must consider “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ” in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing all justifiable inferences in that party's favor. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Adams v. Metiva, 31 F.3d 375, 378-79 (6th Cir. 1994). But, as the Supreme Court has noted, “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Murray v. Harriman City, 2010 WL 546590, at *3 (E.D. Tenn. Feb. 10, 2010) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)).

         Once the movant has satisfied its initial burden, the other party must show that a genuine issue of material fact still exists. Stiles, 819 F.3d at 847. In doing so, the non-moving party may not rely on the pleadings alone, but must instead point to “specific facts” in the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Metiva, 31 F.3d at 378-79.

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court's function is limited to determining “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52. The Court need not scour the record “to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (6th Cir. 1989). But the Court does not weigh evidence, judge witnesses' credibility, or decide the truth of the matter, and any genuine disputes of fact that do exist must be resolved in favor of the nonmovant. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014).

         II. Relevant Facts

         GPS submitted a statement of material facts in support of its motion for summary judgment [D. 40], to which Richert responded [D. 42]. Of the 39 factual statements, 31 were undisputed; four were undisputed, but subject to clarification; and four were disputed in part. For purposes of ruling on GPS's motion for summary judgment, any genuine disputes of fact will be construed in Richert's favor. With that in mind, the relevant facts are as follows.

         In November 2015, Richert was hired by GPS, a staffing company that provides temporary employees to two Duracell Manufacturing facilities in Cleveland, Tennessee: a battery manufacturing plant on Mouse Creek Road (“Mouse Creek”) and a packing plant on Old Tasso Road (“Tasso”). Richert was assigned to work at Tasso. Due to high noise levels at the facility, Richert asked to be moved to a different working area. Her request was granted, but it did not solve the problem; the Tasso plant was “loud all over.” Richert did not complain to anyone in management about the noise specifically, but after one month, she requested a transfer. Soon after, Richert was transferred to Mouse Creek [D. 41, at 2].

         At some point thereafter, Richert was subjected to what she believed to be sexually harassing behavior from Randy Butcher, a Duracell employee who worked on the second shift with her once every three weeks [D. 38-1, at 80]. The duration of the harassment is unclear, due in large part to Richert's own inconsistent statements. For instance, in her response to GPS's motion for summary judgment, Richert says that she worked at Duracell “without incident from December 2015 until March 2016, ” and that the harassing comments were made “on or about March 15, 2016.” [D. 41, at 2]. This timeline is also reflected in the complaint and incident investigation forms that Richert submitted to GPS on March 16, in which she stated that the harassment occurred between March 7 and 11, and on March 15 [see D. 38-1, at 80, 81]. However, in her deposition, Richert states that the harassment began in January, and that the dates that she wrote on the complaint forms are inaccurate [D. 38-1, at 43]. And in her amended complaint, Richert says that she was subject to sexually inappropriate advances “throughout her employment” [D. 19, at 4].

         In light of these conflicting statements, it is unclear how long the alleged harassment actually occurred. Although Richert herself has caused this confusion, it is not for the Court to decide the truth of the matter. Thus, for purposes of ruling on GPS's motion for summary judgment, the Court will construe the facts leniently and in Richert's favor, and will adopt the longest timeline of approximately three months.

         In any case, it is undisputed that Richert first reported the harassment on March 16, 2016. On that date, Richert submitted a complaint form to GPS management, detailing the harassment that she experienced:

Butcher told me that he loves my jeans several times. He told me that he loves to watch me bend over a palletizer. He will always watch me when I'm in zone 3, same zone as him. I have caught him several times looking at me while I was bent over. Amber Simpson has also heard Butcher say he thought I was on a dance pedestal so he was going to stand there and watch me.

[Id.]. Richert testified in her deposition that Butcher would make multiple comments to her in a day [Id. at 35]. He also stared at her when he walked by, although he never touched her [Id. at 3].

         GPS promptly opened an investigation into the allegations. During the course of the investigation, GPS personnel interviewed Richert on numerous occasions and spoke with Amber Simpson, the only witness that Richert had identified. After filing her complaint, Richert saw Butcher at work on only one occasion, and a Duracell supervisor sent him home.

         Following the investigation, GPS explained to Richert that because Butcher was a Duracell employee, GPS was powerless to fire him or transfer him to another facility. GPS then offered Richert three possible solutions: she could (1) speak to Duracell directly; (2) transfer to a different shift at Mouse Creek; or (3) transfer back to Tasso. Richert agrees that these are the only options that GPS could offer. But she also says that because Butcher was on a rotating shift at Mouse Creek, transferring to Tasso was the only way she could completely avoid working with him.

         Even so, Richert did not initially select this option. Instead, she texted Wren Walker, Director of Operations for GPS, to ask about other job openings at ...

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