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Garcia v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County

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

December 20, 2019




         Plaintiff Dr. Vanessa Garcia brings this case against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee (“Metro”) asserting claims arising out of her employment with the public-school system, Metro Nashville Public Schools (“MNPS”). Pending before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 47) and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 59).[1] Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is accompanied by a memorandum and exhibits. (Doc. No. 49). Plaintiff filed a response with exhibits (Doc. Nos. 64, 65) and a supplemental response (Doc. No. 69), and Defendant filed a reply (Doc. No. 79). With permission of the Court, Plaintiff also filed a sur-reply. (Doc. No. 84). Defendant moved to strike certain evidence submitted by plaintiff in response to the motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 74). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion to strike (Doc. No. 80), and Defendant filed a reply (Doc. No. 88). Defendant filed a statement of facts (Doc. No. 48), to which Plaintiff responded (Doc. No. 66), and Plaintiff filed a supplemental statement of facts (Doc. No. 67), to which Defendant responded (Doc. No. 73).

         Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 59) is accompanied by a memorandum (Doc. No. 60), statement of facts (Doc. No. 58), and exhibits (Doc. No. 57). Defendant filed a response to Plaintiff's motion (Doc. No. 70) and statement of facts (Doc. No. 71). Plaintiff filed a reply. (Doc. No. 76).

         For the reasons stated, Defendant's Motion to Strike or Exclude Portions of the Declaration of Scott Lindsey and Hearsay Statements from Plaintiff's Response (Doc. No. 74) is GRANTED in part, DENIED in part. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 47) is GRANTED in part, DENIED in part. Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 59) is GRANTED as to liability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         MNPS employed Plaintiff from July 2013 to May 2018. (Compl., Doc. No. 20, ¶ 6). MNPS is operated by Defendant Metro, a governmental entity. (Id., ¶ 3). During the operative time of the Complaint, Plaintiff served as Executive Officer of Elementary Schools (July 2016 - July 2017), and as Executive Director of Leadership Development[2] (July 2017 - May 2018). (Doc. No. 66, ¶¶ 1, 2). Plaintiff has held a professional teaching license in Tennessee since July 1, 2002, and a professional administrator license since July 28, 2014. (Doc. No. 71, ¶¶ 2, 6). She is not a tenured teacher. (Doc. No. 66, ¶ 3). Her position as Executive Director of Leadership Development required a master's degree and an administrator's license. (Doc. No. 71, ¶ 18).

         In July 2016, MNPS hired Moreno Carrasco to an executive position. (Compl., Doc. No. 20, ¶ 9). Plaintiff alleges that Carrasco was “good friends” with Dr. Shawn Joseph, then Director of Schools. (Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶ 14). Carrasco told Plaintiff that he and Dr. Joseph vacationed together and Plaintiff assisted Carrasco in planning a surprise party for Dr. Joseph at Carrasco's apartment. (Id.).

         During the 2016-2017 academic year, Carrasco and Plaintiff held positions “on the same level, ” and reported to the same direct supervisor. (Id.; Doc. No. 66, ¶ 4). That year, Plaintiff saw Carrasco once or twice a week at work. (Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶ 15). When Plaintiff transferred to the Office of Organizational Development for the 2017-2018 academic year, Carrasco became her immediate supervisor. (Doc. No. 66, ¶ 6).

         Plaintiff claims that “from almost the time Carrasco arrived at MNPS” he engaged in sexually harassing behavior toward her and others. (Doc. No. 73, ¶¶ 1-25; Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶¶ 16-20, 29, 34, 36-43, 56). Plaintiff alleges the following harassing behavior by Carrasco toward her personally:

1. Carrasco would “eye” Plaintiff's body. (Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶ 16).
2. He would call her “baby, ” honey, ” and “darling” and often hug Plaintiff while calling her theses names. (Id., ¶ 16).
3. On December 15, 2016, while at a going away party for a colleague, Carrasco “put his arm around me and he laid his hand on my breast and cupped my breast with his hand covering my breast and whispered in my ear, ‘You are so hot. If you weren't married, I would so date you.'” (Id.)
4. Carrasco told Plaintiff she was the only one he wanted to work for him at a new department. (Id., ¶ 25).
5. When offices were moved because of remodeling, Carrasco denied plaintiffs request switch offices with a colleague because he wanted her in the office next to him. (Id., ¶ 29).
6. Carrasco regularly invited Plaintiff to lunch with wine or for drinks after work. (Id., ¶¶ 32, 42, 43).
7. Carrasco asked Plaintiff to a work meeting alone at his apartment. While at his apartment, he grabbed Plaintiff and tried to salsa dance with her. She took her things and left. (Id., ¶ 34).
8. He said he had a dream about Plaintiff “getting out of my shower.” (Id., ¶ 36).
9. He told Plaintiff she “looked really great, but she needed to stop losing weight or she would ‘lose that ass of yours.'” (Id., ¶ 37).
10. He told Plaintiff he thought they were going to kiss. (Id.).
11. He asked Plaintiff if she wanted to read “crazy hot” text messages between him and an assistant principal. (Id., ¶ 38).
12. He showed Plaintiff pictures of his house in the Dominican Republic and told her to let him know whenever she wanted to go there with him. (Id., ¶ 39).
13. He told her the details about his sex life with other employees and was constantly talking about hooking up with women. (Id., ¶ 40).
14. In October 2017, he called Plaintiff at home and started discussing problems with his girlfriend. Using explicit language, he said Plaintiff would “understand” if only she knew how good his girlfriend was in bed. (Id., ¶ 56).

         Plaintiff became aware that Carrasco engaged in similar behavior toward other female employees. (See e.g. Doc. No. 73 at ¶¶ 5, 6, 17, 18, 19) (recounting various incidents). Plaintiff claims that Carrasco's behavior caused her a great deal of stress, caused her to lose sleep, and to dread going to work in the morning. (Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶ 44). She said, “the thought of having to work with him made her feel sick to her stomach.” (Id.). Plaintiff claims she feared retaliation if she complained about Carrasco because of how close he was to the Director of Schools. (Id.) She altered her comings and goings and attempted to leave the office with a co-worker so she would not have to be alone in the office. (Id., ¶ 57). She would ask a co-worker to accompany her if she had to meet with Carrasco in his office. (Id.).

         Plaintiff told her co-worker, Dr. Terry Shrader, about the harassment. (Doc. No. 73, ¶¶ 8, 22). In July 2017, she told MNPS School Board member Amy Frogge about Mr. Moreno's behavior, but asked Ms. Frogge to keep her identity confidential because she feared retaliation. (Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶ 46). Ms. Frogge told Dr. Joseph, the Director of Schools, about Carrasco's behavior without identifying Plaintiff. Dr. Joseph did not report Carrasco's conduct to human resources. (Joseph Dep., Doc. No. 79-5 at PageID# 2212). Instead, Dr. Joseph spoke with Carrasco directly and told him, “If you have done something, I encourage you to go to Human Resources and communicate what happened, but just know if someone reports you must go on leave immediately.” (Id.)

         On November 15, 2017, Plaintiff and Carrasco had a meeting to go over goal setting for the year. (Pl. Dep., Doc. No. 49-2 at PageID# 388). Carrasco allegedly made a comment about Plaintiff's personal life getting in the way of her work and stated that Plaintiff was making comments that she “didn't care about anything.” (Id. at PageID# 424). Immediately following the meeting, Plaintiff called human resources and made a formal complaint of sexual harassment against Carrasco. (Doc. No. 66, ¶ 14). Scott Lindsey, Director of Human Resources, immediately began an investigation and Carrasco was put on leave the next day. (Carrasco Leave Ltr., Doc. No. 49-12). Lindsey testified that Sharon Pertiller, Executive Officer of Human Resources and Talent Strategy, told him that if he did not get his investigation right, “Dr. Joseph is going to fire you, he's going to fire Deborah [Story] and he may even fire me.” (Doc. No. 73, ¶ 41 (citing Lindsey Dep., Doc. No. 62-25 at PageID# 1239)).

         November 16, 2017, Carrasco sent Deborah Story, Chief Human Resources Officer, a letter regarding the meeting with Plaintiff the previous day. (Doc. No. 65-33). Defendant characterizes the letter as a “summary” of the meeting. (See Story Dep., Doc. No. 49-5 at PageID# 510). Plaintiff characterizes the letter as a “bad evaluation.” (See Pl. Resp., Doc. No. 64 at 20). Story did not place the letter in Plaintiff's employment file. (Story Dep., Doc. No. 49-5 at PageID# 510).

         Shortly after Carrasco was placed on leave, he sent Plaintiff the following text message, which Plaintiff has characterized as “threatening”: “Happy Thanksgiving, Vanessa. I hope your home is filled with peace and kindness. God looks out for those who are righteous and forgives those who are not. Be blessed.” (Pl. Dep., Doc. No. 79-1 at PageID # 2181).

         Carrasco resigned on December 8, 2017. (Carrasco Resignation Ltr., Doc. No. 54-13). MNPS continued the investigation into Plaintiff's complaints of sexual harassment, eventually enlisting the assistance of Michael Taylor, Human Resources Assistant Director for Metro Nashville. (Story Dep., Doc. No. 49-5 at PageID# 532). On January 9, 2018, Mr. Taylor sent a letter giving an overview of the investigation and concluding that it “appears Mr. Carrasco violated MNPS' harassment policy” and that disciplinary action would have been taken had Carrasco not resigned. (Doc. No. 49-5 at PageID# 542-43).

         Plaintiff claims that after Carrasco's resignation, Deborah Story became her immediate supervisor and was always “very short and curt.” (Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶ 74). In addition, Plaintiff claims she was not invited to meetings and she found it difficult to do her job because MNPS “kept putting up barricades to the interviews” Plaintiff was supposed to conduct with principals. (Id., ¶ 75). Plaintiff “did not feel like a part of the team for the rest of the school year.” (Id.)

         In February and March 2018, MNPS conducted interviews to fill Carrasco's vacant position of Executive Officer of Organizational Development. (Pl. Dep., Doc. No. 49-2 at PageID # 433-34). Plaintiff applied for the position and received an initial interview, but was not selected for a panel interview and, ultimately, was not hired for the position. (Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶¶ 76, 78). The position was given to Dr. Sonia Stewart, who “best articulated her vision for the department.” (Story Dep., Doc. No. 49-5 at PageID#528-29). Dr. Stewart had also made a statement about Carrasco during the internal investigation. (Stewart Interview Stmt., Doc. No. 49-13 at PageID# 628). Plaintiff claims Dr. Stewart was less qualified for the position and that she had no central office experience. (Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶ 79).

         On May 11, 2018, Plaintiff was informed that budget constraints required the elimination of positions, including hers, with the Human Resources Department. (Doc. No. 71, ¶ 25). Defendant described the decision to eliminate Plaintiff's position as Executive Director of Leadership Development as the consequence of an administrative error. (Spencer Dep., Doc. No. 70-4 at PageID# 1906). When Plaintiff was transferred to the human resources department in 2017, “[t]he people were moved to Human Resources, but no positions, no full-time corporate positions or dollars appear[ed] to have come with them.” (Id.) As a result, the department had more people than budgeted-for positions. (Id. at PageID# 1913). In sum, Defendant states that while Plaintiff had physically moved to human resources and was performing work there as Executive Director of Leadership Development, somehow MNPS had not administratively transferred the budget to pay her salary to human resources or accounted for her position on its list of full-time employees. Metro claims when it came time to cut positions for budget reasons, Dr. Story, the head of the human resources department, decided to eliminate Plaintiff's position because it never really existed in the first place. As Dr. Story confirmed in her deposition, Plaintiff's position was “kind of in the twilight zone somewhere.” (Story Dep., Doc. No. 72-3 at PageID# 2049).

         The Director of Schools approved the elimination of Plaintiff's position. (Joseph Dep., Doc. No. 70-2 at PageID# 1896). The elimination of Plaintiff's position was never submitted to the school board in the budget proposal or elsewhere. (Def. Resp., Doc. No. 70 at 7). Defendant explained, “Because [their] positions had never been moved to the Human Resources Department, their positions were not included in the ‘positions reduced' category for HR on the approved MNPS budget. While their headcount was eliminated, [human resources] did not reduce the number of [full-time employees], and, thus, did not include their terminations on the budget sheets.” (Id.)

         Days before Plaintiff was informed that her position was being eliminated, Dr. Joseph played a song called “Blow the Whistle” at a principals' meeting. (Pl. Aff., Doc. No. 65-1, ¶ 94; Doc. No. 73, ¶ 40).

         Plaintiff brings claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101 et seq., for sexual hostile work environment, retaliation, retaliatory hostile work environment, and for violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-5-511. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims. (Doc. No. 47). Plaintiff filed a Partial Motion for Summary Judgment on her claim for violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-5-511. (Doc. No. 59).


         Summary judgment is appropriate “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 party bringing the summary judgment motion has the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute over material facts. Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003). The moving party may satisfy this burden by presenting affirmative evidence that negates an element of the non-moving party's claim or by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims. Id.

         In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable for the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Bible Believers v. Wayne Cty., Mich., 805 F.3d 228, 242 (6th Cir. 2015); Wexler v. White's Fine Furniture, Inc., 317 F.3d 564, 570 (6th Cir. 2003). The Court does not weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Rather, the Court determines whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of material fact a proper jury question. Id. The mere scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position is insufficient to survive summary judgment; instead, there must be evidence from which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Rodgers 344 F.3d at 595.

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “[a] district court is not … obligated to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts that might support the nonmoving party's claim.” InterRoyal Corp. v. Sponseller, 889 F.2d 108, 111 (6th Cir. 1989). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists on a particular issue, the court is entitled to rely only upon those portions of the verified pleadings, depositions, and answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits submitted, specifically called to its attention by the parties. The Court must consider only evidence that can be presented in an admissible form at trial. Tranter v. Orick, 460 Fed.Appx. 513');">460 Fed.Appx. 513, 514 (6th Cir. 2012) (“The proffered evidence need not be in admissible form, but its content must be admissible.”)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Motion to Strike or Exclude

         Before addressing the parties' legal arguments, the Court first considers Defendant's argument that some of the evidence relied upon by Plaintiff is inadmissible and should not be considered on a motion for summary judgment. Specifically, Defendant moves to strike or exclude paragraphs 13, 14, 17, and 18 from the Declaration of Scott Lindsey (Doc. No. 62-4) on grounds that these are lay person opinion testimony not based on personal knowledge. The Court has not relied on any of these statements in deciding the pending motion. Accordingly, without deciding the admissibility of any of these statements at trial, the portion of the motion addressing the Declaration of Scott Lindsey (Doc. No. 62-4) is DENIED as MOOT.

         In addition, Defendant moves to strike 21 statements in Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Material Facts (Doc. No. 67) on grounds that they are inadmissible hearsay. The Court will address these statements by grouping them categorically. First, Plaintiff's testimony of Carrasco's statements to her are not offered for the truth of the matter asserted (e.g., that Carrasco actually dreamt of Plaintiff), but rather as evidence that Plaintiff was subjected ...

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