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Azbell v. Wilkie

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

October 3, 2019

KAREN AZBELL, Plaintiff,
ROBERT WILKIE, Acting Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant.




         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 87); Plaintiff's Response (Doc. No. 94); and Defendant's Reply (Doc. No. 96). The Court held oral argument on the Motion on September 11, 2019. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Motion (Doc. No. 87) is DENIED.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed the Complaint (Doc. No. 1) in this case, which was originally assigned to Judge Aleta A. Trauger, on September 11, 2015, and filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 17) on February 9, 2016. Through the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleged the Secretary of the United State Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), in his official capacity, violated her rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 41 U.S.C. §§ 2000, et seq.; and the Tennessee Public Protection Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint, which was granted in part and denied in part by Judge Trauger. (Doc. Nos. 31, 32). Judge Trauger granted the motion with regard to Plaintiff's Tennessee Public Protection Act claim, and with regard to Plaintiff's Title VII claim based on national origin discrimination. Judge Trauger denied the motion to dismiss Plaintiff's ADEA claim on exhaustion grounds. Judge Trauger also granted permission for Plaintiff to file an amended complaint, and on June 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed the Second Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 36). The Second Amended Complaint mirrors the Amended Complaint, except that it deletes the allegations about the Tennessee Public Protection Act, the reference to national origin discrimination in connection with the Title VII claim, and the request for prejudgment interest, and it adds a Title VII retaliation claim.

         The case was subsequently transferred to the undersigned Judge. (Doc. No. 51). After the case was transferred, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 65) seeking to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint. The Court granted dismissal of Plaintiff's retaliation claim based on whistleblowing activity, and denied the Motion in all other respects (Doc. Nos. 85, 86).

         Through the pending motion, Defendant seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claim and her age discrimination claim. As noted above, the Court heard oral argument on the pending summary judgment motion on September 11, 2019. For the reasons stated on the record at the hearing, the Court deemed timely Plaintiff's responses to Defendant's requests for admission.

         III. Analysis

         A. The Standards Governing Motions for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment should be granted "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). The Supreme Court has construed Rule 56 to “mandate[] the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See, e.g., Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Shreve v. Franklin County, Ohio, 743 F.3d 126, 132 (6th Cir. 2014). The court does not, however, make credibility determinations, weigh the evidence, or determine the truth of the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

         B. Retaliation

         Title VII prohibits retaliation by an employer against an employee who has either: (1) “opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, ” or (2) “made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). These two provisions are referred to as the “opposition” clause and the “participation” clause, respectively. A plaintiff can establish a Title VII retaliation claim “‘either by introducing direct evidence of retaliation or by proffering circumstantial evidence that support an inference of retaliation.'” Mulvey v. Hugler, 2018 WL 2771346, at *3 (6th Cir. Apr. 3, 2018) (quoting Imwalle v. Reliance Med. Prods., Inc.,515 F.3d ...

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