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Cain v. City of Muncie

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 4, 2015

DOROTHY CAIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MUNCIE, MUNCIE PARKS DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SARAH EVANS BARKER, District Judge.

This cause is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Docket No. 54], filed on September 12, 2014 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.

Factual Background[1]

Plaintiff Dorothy Cain worked as a part-time laborer with the Defendant Muncie Parks Department, a division of the City of Muncie, from 2004 to October 22, 2012. Her primary place of employment was Prairie Creek Reservoir ("PCR"), a municipal park that offers camping, swimming, playground, beach, and food amenities. Plaintiff's job, which in some years was seasonal during the summer and other years continued year-round, involved unskilled grounds keeping and maintenance work, including cleaning restrooms, mowing, and seasonally inserting and removing piers on the shore of the reservoir. Defs.' Ex. C at ¶¶ 3-4; Cain Dep. 57:8-14.

The 2011 elections produced a political party change in Muncie's administration, when a new Democratic mayor, Dennis Tyler, took office on January 1, 2012. Shortly after assuming office, Tyler hired Ivan Gregory as the new parks superintendent; according to both Plaintiff and Gregory himself, Gregory employed a more hands-on style of management that intruded on the independence that many of the PCR employees had previously enjoyed in completing their dayto-day tasks. See Cain Dep. 79:24-81:6; Gregory Dep. 55:10-12. Although there is no evidence of Plaintiff having any disciplinary issues before 2012, Cain Dep. 62-74, Gregory recounts that he began to have difficulties with her soon after assuming his position in January of that year. Gregory Dep. 54:24-56:8.

In February 2012, a position as a full-time maintenance worker at PCR became available, and Plaintiff submitted an application for the position on February 28, 2012. See Defs.' Ex. A-4. The parks department ultimately chose James Upchurch, a white male who had a commercial driver's license ("CDL"), for the position; although the possession of a CDL was not a written requirement for the position, the department has stated that applicants with CDLs were preferred. Gregory Aff. ¶ 9. According to Plaintiff and her co-worker Eldon Cook, [2] Gregory told Plaintiff that Upchurch was not necessarily a stronger candidate for the position than her, but had been hired by the city for political reasons. Cain Dep. 179; Cook Aff., Ex. A. When she inquired of Mayor Tyler why she had not been given the job, Plaintiff recalls that Tyler told her that Upchurch would soon be transferred to the Street Department and she might get the full-time PCR maintenance position in time, if she were patient. Cain Dep. 188.[3] In July 2012, Upchurch was in fact transferred to the Street Department, and the city began accepting applications again for the full-time PCR position; this time, the job description did explicitly list the possession of a valid CDL as a job requirement. Plaintiff asserts that she applied for this renewed vacancy, although the city denies that there is any record of her having done so. On October 1, 2012, the city hired Cody McCord, a male who possessed a valid CDL, to fill the position. Defs.' Ex. A at ¶¶ 15-20.

In the meantime, Plaintiff continued to work part-time at PCR. In the spring of 2012, she asserts that co-workers-primarily Kevin Rabenstein and Nathan Burgess[4]-engaged in inappropriate conduct which supervisors failed to remedy. Around April 2012, Rabenstein handed her a sheet of paper containing two low-quality black-and-white photographs that showed Rabenstein and Burgess "mooning" the camera with partially exposed buttocks. Pl.'s Ex. B. Plaintiff also asserts that, around the same time, Burgess asked her if she wanted to see his "pierced penis." Cain Dep. 208; Cook Dep. 16-17.[5] On a third occasion, Plaintiff alleges that Rabenstein was standing in his underwear near the front door of the garage in the employees' work area. She recounts that when she reproached him for appearing in the open in his underwear, "[h]e said, []You want to tuck a buck?['] I said, []No thanks, ['] and I walked out." Cain Dep. 245.[6] According to affidavits filed by both Plaintiff and co-worker Eldon Cook, unspecified male employees made a practice of urinating in the parking lot near where Cook and Plaintiff worked; it is not clear from the designated evidence whether any of these male employees actually exposed themselves to Plaintiff or were aware that she could see them when they were relieving themselves in this fashion. Cain Aff. at ¶ 13; Cook Aff. at ¶ 7.[7]

Plaintiff alleges that her supervisor, Ivan Gregory, was in the room when Rabenstein handed her the "mooning" photo. Cain Dep. 41.[8] She also brought the photo to the attention of Gregory's secretary, Janet Bonham, in April 2012, but received the impression that the parks department would not be taking any disciplinary action. Id. at 43.[9] Plaintiff also maintains that she complained to the city's human resources director, Sara Beach, about the photo. Beach Dep. 44. There is no record of Plaintiff registering any complaint with her supervisors, or other city officials, about any of the other alleged inappropriate behavior by her co-workers.

Plaintiff also had her own disciplinary problems in the summer of 2012. On July 5, two PCR employees-one of whom was the aforementioned Kevin Rabenstein-complained to Gregory that Plaintiff had yelled and cursed at them and had been disrespectful to other employees. Gregory Aff., Exs. 2-3. Gregory gave Plaintiff a written disciplinary warning that same day, and he presented her with a "disciplinary action form" at a meeting four days later attended by him, Plaintiff, and HR director Beach. Id. at ¶¶ 12-13. Beach recounts that she told Plaintiff at this July 9 meeting that Plaintiff should not instruct other employees on how to perform their jobs, and that further complaints of abusive language or behavior could result in her termination. Beach Aff. at ¶ 22. On July 13, Plaintiff had another run-in with a co-worker: Steven Chrisp, who had been working on building walk-boards for a pier, complained that Plaintiff approached him and instructed him on how she felt the walk-boards should be constructed. Beach Aff. at ¶¶ 23-24; Gregory Aff. ¶¶ 14-15. In response, Gregory gave Plaintiff a second written warning and conducted a disciplinary meeting with her on August 1. Gregory Aff., Ex. 6.

On August 30, 2012, Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge alleging sex and age discrimination based on the parks department's failure to hire her for the full-time job for which he had applied earlier in the year. The charge document, signed by Plaintiff, stated her grievance against the city as follows:

I have been a good a long term employee [sic] during my many years with the City and the Parks Dept.
On or about Feb 2012 I had applied for a utility person/groundskeeper/building maintenance position. I was very qualified for the position. I later asked my supervisor, I. Gregory, about the job and he told me that I would get the job. On or about Mar 12, 2012, I along with the union steward E. Cook ask[ed] Mr. Gregory about me getting the job. Mr. Gregory stated that I didn't' get the job and he took me to ask the Mayor why I didn't get the job. I then went to speak with Mayor Dennis Tyler about the job. Mayor Tyler told me that he had to put someone else in the job as a political favor to a supporter. I told him that I thought this was discrimination due to my age and my sex. I have also complained to human resources about not getting the job. But nothing was done to help me. Also since I have complained, my supervisor has been retaliating against by me [sic] being written up without just cause. I believe the City/Parks Dept is now trying to terminate my employment.

Defs.' Ex. B-6. Although the EEOC charge does not mention any of her co-workers' alleged misbehaviors, Plaintiff stated on her initial EEOC "intake questionnaire" that her co-worker Eldon Cook, whom she listed as a witness in her favor, could testify as to "sexual harassment." Pl.'s Ex. H.

On October 22, 2012, the city terminated Plaintiff as a part-time employee. She was one of several employees terminated between September and November 2012 either for cause or because they were seasonal employees. According to Gregory, all of the employees who were terminated or voluntarily quit before November 2012 would have been laid off at the end of the season anyway; only a small number of employees were retained over the winter. Although Plaintiff was not terminated for cause, Gregory determined at the end of the 2012 season that he would not re-hire her for the 2013 season as he had in the past. Gregory Aff. ¶ 18. Two days after her termination, Plaintiff filed a second EEOC charge against the parks department. In it, she alleged that she had been laid off in retaliation for filing her August 2012 EEOC charge. Defs.' Ex. B-8. After learning in March 2013 that she would not be re-hired for the 2013 season, Plaintiff filed a third EEOC charge. Again asserting that she was the victim of sex discrimination and retaliation, she alleged that the department had hired several new, less-qualified employees and that its decision not to re-hire her was in retaliation for her two prior EEOC complaints. Defs.' Ex. B-9.

Plaintiff filed an initial complaint in this Court on July 15, 2013, superseded by an amended complaint on August 14, 2013. See Docket No. 11. Some nine months later, on April 18, 2014, she filed a fourth EEOC charge alleging sexual harassment.

Legal Analysis

Discussion

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment should be granted when the record evidence 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. Pro. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986). The purpose of summary judgment is to "pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Disputes concerning material facts are genuine where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding whether genuine issues of material fact exist, the court construes all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See id. at 255. However, neither the "mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties, " id., 477 U.S. at 247, nor the existence of "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, will defeat a motion for summary judgment. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000).

Plaintiff points to Courtney v. Biosound, Inc., 42 F.3d 414 (7th Cir. 1994), in support of her argument that, "[w]ith respect to summary judgment motions in employment discrimination cases, the burden on the moving party is increased." Pl.'s Resp. 5. The Courtney court stated that "the summary judgment standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent and credibility are crucial issues. Because evidence directly supporting a claim of intentional discrimination is rare, affidavits and depositions must be carefully scrutinized for circumstantial proof which, if believed, would show discrimination." 42 F.3d at 418 (internal citations omitted). While the Seventh Circuit has thus recognized that courts should be cognizant of the importance of circumstantial proof in meeting a plaintiff's evidentiary burden in discrimination cases, Plaintiff mischaracterizes both Courtney and the summary judgment standard in contending that we impose a heightened burden on moving parties in such cases. Rather, the standard governing summary judgment applies with the same force to Title VII cases as it does to other civil actions:

Language in some of our cases implies that because intent is a critical issue in employment discrimination cases, summary judgment is unlikely to be appropriate in such cases. Wolf v. Buss (America) Inc., 77 F.3d 914, 918 (7th Cir. 1996); Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038, 1042 (7th Cir. 1993); Holland v. Jefferson Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 1307, 1312-1313 (7th Cir. 1989). But as there is not a separate rule of civil procedure governing summary judgment in employment discrimination cases, what the language we have referred to really means is just that courts should be careful in a discrimination case as in any case not to grant summary judgment if there is an issue of material fact that is genuinely contestable, which an issue of intent often though not always will be.

Wallace v. SMC Pneumatics, Inc., 103 F.3d 1394, 1396 (7th Cir. 1997). Our attentiveness to circumstantial modes of proof notwithstanding, Defendants face no higher burden in prevailing on their motion for ...


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