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Riley v. City of Kokomo

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

March 7, 2017

ANGELA RILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF KOKOMO, INDIANA HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          ENTRY ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court

         Before the Court is the Defendant's fully briefed Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 59). The Court, being duly advised, now GRANTS the Defendant's motion for the reasons set forth below.

         I. STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that 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.” In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the admissible evidence presented by the non-moving party must be believed, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant's favor. Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (“We view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.”). However, a party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must show what evidence it has that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); see also Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., Inc., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003) (“[S]ummary judgment is the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events”) (internal quotation omitted). Finally, the non-moving party bears the burden of specifically identifying the relevant evidence of record, and “the court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001); see also Herman v. City of Chicago, 870 F.2d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 1989) (“A district court need not scour the record to make the case of a party who does nothing.”).

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiffs' Factual Allegations

         The Court notes at the outset that, in ruling on the Defendant's summary judgment motion, it has been hindered by the Plaintiff's muddled presentation in this case. It has had to expend entirely too much of the Court's limited resources sorting through both facts and argument. For example, many of the facts contained in the Plaintiff's Factual Background and Statement of Material Facts in Dispute section are not supported by the evidence of record to which the Plaintiff cites. The facts that follow are those that are supported by the record and viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. Additional facts are included in the Discussion section below.

         1.Riley's Employment with KHA

         In November 2008, Riley began working for Kokomo Housing Authority (“KHA”) as a front desk clerk in KHA's Housing Choice Voucher Program (“HCVP”), which provides vouchers to low income individuals and families to subsidize rent in privately owned rental properties throughout Kokomo, Indiana. She answered phones, greeted visitors to the office, sent out letters for appointments, and did filing. Dkt. No.79-1 at 10. When Riley began her employment with KHA, Shirley Young was the CEO, and Mariella Kelly was KHA's Director of Human Resources. Cheryl Morrow became the Director of Human Resources on October 15, 2011, and Debra Cook became CEO on April 30, 2012.

         KHA also maintains a separate public housing program, renting units it owns to low income tenants. During Riley's employment, the offices for this program were located in a different building from the HCVP offices. Id.

         2.Medical Conditions and Leave

         Between 2000 and 2003, Riley was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and frontal lobe seizures. She also experienced photosensitivity that could trigger seizures. She first sought leave for seizures and severe anxiety in mid-March 2010. Dkt. No. 65 at 13-16. Her treating physician assistant certified that she would require periodic leave of one to eight hours of leave per day for up to two days per week. Id. at 15.

         From mid-March 2010 on, Riley continued to use intermittent leave. She recertified her leave on five occasions. See Id. at 17-44. In each instance, her treating physician assistant explained that her condition was “lifelong” and that “during excerbation [sic], ” she was unable to “perform any work” or “function.” Id. at 14; 18; 22; 26; 31; and 42. In addition, Riley took a block medical leave from September 18, 2013, through October 31, 2013, for frequent panic attacks. See Id. at 35-38. In that leave certification, Riley's nurse explained that Riley was unable to perform essential job functions due to her condition, stating that she was “unable to interact well with others [at] this time.” Id. at 36.

         3.Outside Incident with Public Housing Recipient

         On March 30, 2010, Riley and Nichole Tarrant, a public housing recipient, got into a physical altercation. Tarrant was dating Riley's daughter's father, and Riley's daughter was at Tarrant's home that day. Riley went to Tarrant's home to pick up her daughter. Her daughter came outside and told Riley that she did not want to leave. Her daughter then went back inside Tarrant's house. Tarrant closed and locked the screen door. Riley punched through the screen and unlocked the door. Tarrant then went outside, and the two women engaged in a physical altercation. Riley was charged with battery and criminal mischief and pled guilty to criminal mischief. She informed KHA of the incident.

         4.Job Transfers

         In April 2010, Riley was transferred out of her HCVP front desk position. She then split her time between the HCVP office and a new position in the public housing office. Dkt. No. 79-1 at 14. Her new position was titled community services clerk/low rent public housing clerk.[1]Dkt. No. 79-1 at 14. Carol Kindlesparker, another KHA employee, was transferred to the HCVP office to take over Riley's former duties. When working in the HCVP location, Riley worked out of a small filing room/closet because Kindlesparker sat at the front desk location.

         Effective December 1, 2010, Riley was promoted to the position of low rent application processing clerk in the public housing program. Id. She received a pay raise of nearly $4, 000.00. Id. Her duties included processing applications for low rent public housing, interviewing applicants, maintaining a wait list and applicant files, and communicating with applicants when units became available. Id. at 16; see also Dkt. No. 61 at 6. She no longer worked in the small filing room/closet or had access to HCVP recipients' files. She remained in this position until her termination on May 12, 2014.

         5.Riley's Complaints Regarding Co-Workers

         In May 2010, Riley complained to Young about a co-worker, Mary Sarra. Dkt. No. 79-1 at 36. She complained that Sarra made “belligerent comments, ” sent “sexual[-]in[-]nature forwards, ” smelled like alcohol and was sent home for a hangover, had her bills paid by another employee, and otherwise received “extreme preferential treatment.” Id. Riley also made several complaints about another co-worker, Joe Milam. Id. at 35. In 2012, she complained that Milam “wears jeans any day (not just Friday's [sic]) and wears them so low that the crack of his bottom has been exposed multiple times . . . all the staff finds offensive to the point of it being a sexual harassment issue.” Dkt. No. 65 at 107; see also Dkt. No. 79-1 at 63 (“wearing his pants the way he does on a daily basis, that's sexual harassment, when I can see his bottom every single day”). In both 2012 and 2013, she complained that Milam made derogatory comments about public housing recipients, implying that “[they] deserve less because [they are] low income, ” Dkt. No. 79-1 at 69; see also Dkt. No. 65 at 107 (“When he is talking to us in our office[, ] he uses very derogatory language, talks down about the clients and procedure of KHA.”). She also complained that “he believed that bedbugs were a behavioral issue, ” Dkt. No. 79-1 at 70, and that, in April 2014, he “made the comment that . . . mental illness and substance abuse goes [sic] hand in hand, ” Dkt. No. 79-1 at 69-70. In addition, she complained that Milam ate breakfast on the clock and “is constantly on his cell phone with his wife, mother, day care centers for his child . . . handling personal business at work since his first day.” Dkt. No. 65 at 107.

         Riley also complained more than once to Morrow that Tina Bellis, her direct supervisor, touched and kissed her. She “let [Morrow] know that . . . [Bellis will] put her arm around you, give you a kiss on the cheek. She'll set her breast -- like walk up so close to you and just kind of set her breasts on you.” Dkt. No. 79-1 at 71. Riley explained that “[s]he didn't just do it to me, she did it to other men in the office, the other ladies in the office, so it wasn't just me.” Id. at 72. After they had sexual harassment training, Riley told Morrow that Bellis's behavior “was getting to the point to where it was considered sexual harassment, as far as the handbook is concerned.” Id. at 71. After that complaint, the behavior stopped. Id. Morrow investigated Riley's complaints and issued a memorandum on December 31, 2012, explaining that she counseled Bellis regarding the behavior. See Dkt. No. 65 at 109. Riley made several other complaints about Bellis, including about how she had a “very offensive odor, ” “will scratch her private area, ” and “is not aware of how to do the most simple of things in the office.” Id. at 107.

         6.Complaints about Riley from Co-Workers

         During Riley's employment, KHA received various complaints about Riley from her co-workers. Kindlesparker sent Morrow a memorandum on March 13, 2013, complaining about Riley's tone, that she was “not friendly, very monotone and very hateful toward [her]” and Bellis. Dkt. No. 65 at 61. Milam also complained about Riley. Dkt. No. 79-1 at 35. Cook did not address these complaints with Riley.

         Cook received reports from others complaining of Riley's negative attitude toward co-workers. Dkt. No. 60-1 at 5. For example, she learned of the following interactions prior to Riley's termination. On March 13, 2014, Jay Byars, who had recently moved from maintenance into administration, sent Riley an email asking Riley to explain the process for filling empty rental units. Dkt. No. 65 at 62-63. Byars acknowledged that he was “still learning the whole process, ” but thought that prospective tenants had 24 hours to respond that they were interested in obtaining housing rather than 72 hours, as he believed Riley had told him when they had spoken the week before. Id. at 62. Riley responded by explaining the process to him and concluded her message saying, “if you don't believe someone is doing their job correctly then say something.” Id. Riley did not find her response to be disrespectful, but agreed that it was defensive “to a certain extent maybe.” Dkt. No. 79-1 at 38. She was offended because “[Byars] was acting as though [she] didn't know how to do [her] job, but [he acted like] he knew what he was doing. He had just started.” Id. at 39.

         Cook also learned that on April 16, 2014, Bellis sent an email to Riley explaining the process for handling online pre-applications. See Dkt. No. 60-1 at 5 (citing Dkt. No. 65 at 60). It was in response to a conversation that they had had earlier with Kindlesparker. The next day, Riley responded that she understood what her responsibilities were and added, “[a]lthough I don't understand where this random email came from and why you are speaking to me as if I am unaware of my job.” Dkt. No. 65 at 60. In response to Bellis's request that Riley note when she gets no response from a housing applicant or when she learns that a telephone number is disconnected, Riley stated “I am also competent enough to know to keep notes if a number is disconnected or an email is invalid when trying to contact somebody.” Id. In her deposition Riley explained that she took a defensive tone in response to Bellis's email, but denied that she was unprofessional. Instead, she believed Bellis's email was unprofessional for the following reason:

She's talking about a situation she didn't know anything about. She's talking about a conversation that she involved herself in. And when I asked her for her opinion, she said that she didn't know anything about it. Now all of a sudden she sends me an email all of an [sic] sudden knowing everything about it.

Dkt. No. 79-1 at 36.

         On April 22, 2014, Kindlesparker complained to Morrow and Cook that Riley argued with her and was upset about the pre-application process when Kindlesparker told her that people who come into the office were to complete the online pre-application rather than filling out paper applications. Dkt. No. 60-1 at 19.

         7.Discipline

         On March 7, 2014, Riley received a written warning for insubordination and a policy violation. See Dkt. No. 79-14. The warning explained that Riley “arranged a [t]ransfer” of a tenant from one public housing unit to another without an approval of the tenant's transfer request or a completed move-out inspection. Id. On March 6, 2014, Riley scheduled an appointment for a current tenant, who happened to be her friend, to visit a unit. Dkt. No. 79-1 at 41-42. The same day, Riley sent an email to Margaret King, a KHA leasing specialist, providing the tenant's name and explaining, “There is no app[lication]. She would be transfer.” Dkt. No. 65 at 67. King requested the tenant's file from Riley, and Riley stated that she would have the tenant's file sent to her. Id. From the information Riley provided to her, King assumed that the tenant was already approved for the transfer, id., so she leased the property to the tenant, Dkt. No. 60-4 at 25. Because the tenant had not been approved for the transfer, King received a verbal warning for leasing the property. See id.

         Riley does not dispute that she received a written warning for arranging the transfer. She signed the disciplinary warning. See Dkt. No. 79-14. However, she argues that she was falsely blamed for the unapproved transfer. Dkt. No. 80 at 7. She did not have the authority to authorize a transfer. Id. Riley contends that her only involvement in the transfer process is to schedule appointments for prospective tenants to see units. Dkt. No. 79-1 at 41-42. The tenant's name was on her transfer list, so she scheduled an appointment. Id. at 43. The Court summarizes the normal process for a tenant seeking to transfer as follows: The tenant submits a written request to transfer. That transfer request is then either approved or denied by Bellis or Kearnes. See Id. Approved tenants then have their names given to Riley so that she can call them to set up appointments for them to visit an available unit. Id. Riley stated that, “as far as [she] was aware, ” that process had occurred prior to her calling the tenant “[b]ecause she was on [Riley's] list.” Id.

         8.Incident Leading to Termination

         On May 7, 2014, Riley learned that people were moving into a housing unit without completing the standard steps in the process. She believed the move to be unauthorized, so she went to Kindlesparker's office and told both Kindlesparker and Bellis, who was in Kindlesparker's office at the time, about the situation. Bellis relayed the information to Cook, and Bellis then told Riley that Cook knew about the move and described it as a special circumstance. “Riley questioned Bellis' explanation because KHA did not have special circumstances.” Dkt. No. 80 at 8. “[S]he was upset that the procedures were not being followed and only the Kokomo Police Department . . . and Cook knew who was moving into the unit.” Id.; see also Dkt. No. 79-1 at 51.

         At that point, Riley called Cook to talk with her about the matter. Cook told Riley that she was busy. Riley, still upset, then called the Indianapolis HUD office. See Dkt. No. 79-1 at 53 (responding to the question, “Do you acknowledge that on May 7th you became upset?, ” Riley answered: “When my CEO didn't follow directions, and she expects everyone else to, yes, that's when I called and reported her.”). She spoke with Nathanial Johnson, a HUD intake analyst. “[She] told him that [she] wanted to report a fraudulent activity or something that [she] suspected was inappropriate.” Id. at 52. “He told [her] that he would send the information to Forrest Jones, which was his boss . . . and that [she] should also take it up with the Civil Rights Department.” Id.

         While discussing the situation with Cook, Bellis complained about Riley's behavior. She explained that Riley was at that moment confrontational and disrespectful. Dkt. No. 60-8 at 4. After Cook learned this information, she instructed Kindlesparker to go to Riley's office. Kindlesparker went to Riley's office and told her that Cook could see her. Instead of going to Cook's office, Riley called Cook and told her that she had already reported the incident to HUD's Indianapolis office and that she did not need to speak with Cook.[2] Cook did not tell Riley to come to her office during their conversation, but she told Riley that whenever she complained to the HUD office, “it cost them money.” Dkt. No. 79-1 at 52.

         That same day, Cook sent an email to Morrow telling her that “Riley is going to be suspended for insubordination.” Dkt. No. 79-19 at 1. After Cook sent the email to Morrow, she created a termination notice. Dkt. No. 80 at 9; see also Dkt. No. 60-1 at 21 (containing metadata indicating that the termination document was created thirty minutes after Cook's email to Morrow). The document was modified the following afternoon, and Cook signed it on Friday, May 9, 2014.

         Riley was absent from work on Thursday, May 8, 2014, and Friday, May 9, 2014. She took an FMLA day on Thursday and used a vacation day on Friday. See Dkt. No. 79-1 at 60 (Riley explaining that she understood she was allowed only two days of medical leave per week according to her leave certification and that she had already used one day earlier that week, so she knew she had to use a vacation day for Friday, May 9, 2014). Bellis and Morrow presented Riley with the termination notice on Monday, May 12, 2014, when she returned to work. The termination notice indicated that Riley was terminated for “Lack of Cooperation/Teamwork, ” “Violation of KHA Rules of Conduct, ” “Insubordination, ” and “Improper Conduct.” Dkt. No. 79-20 at 1.

         B. The Lawsuit

         On March 6, 2015, Riley, along with two additional plaintiffs, filed suit in this Court, seeking legal and injunctive relief for various federal law violations.[3] Riley asserts several claims, including:

■ Discrimination, retaliation, and failure to accommodate claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”);
■ Retaliation under Title VII of the Civil ...

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