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Dunn v. Pratt Industries U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

April 20, 2017

CALVIN DUNN, Plaintiff,
v.
PRATT INDUSTRIES U.S.A., INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         The Plaintiff, Calvin Dunn, has sued Defendant Pratt Industries (U.S.A.), Inc., for race discrimination[1] and retaliation, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000, Title VII, and to 42 U.S.C. § 1981. On December 5, 2016, the Court issued an Opinion and Order [ECF No. 88] (the Summary Judgment Order) denying the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 67]. Specifically, the Court found that, when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, sufficient evidence exists upon which a reasonable jury could find that the Defendant was a joint employer of the Plaintiff, that the Plaintiff engaged in statutorily protected activity by emailing an initial complaint to the Defendant, and that the Defendant effectively took materially adverse employment action against the Plaintiff by requesting his reassignment.

         This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration [ECF No. 90] and accompanying Brief in Support [ECF No. 91], requesting that the Court reconsider the Summary Judgment Order. The Defendant maintains that the Court should enter summary judgment in its favor on all claims because there are no genuine issues of material fact as to whether it qualifies an indirect or joint employer of the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff filed a Response [ECF No. 93] on February 10, 2017, and the Defendant filed a Reply [ECF No. 94] on February 27, 2017. This matter is now fully briefed and ripe for ruling.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court is “entitled to reconsider its initial denial of summary judgment, because the denial of summary judgment [i]s simply an interlocutory order, which the district court ha[s] broad authority to reconsider.” Peirick v. Ind. Univ.-Purdue Univ. Athletics Dep't, 510 F.3d 681, 694 n.5 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) (stating that orders adjudicating fewer than all claims do not end an action and “may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities”).

The Seventh Circuit has discussed the role of a motion to reconsider as follows: A motion for reconsideration performs a valuable function where the Court has patently misunderstood a party, or has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension. A further basis for a motion to reconsider would be a controlling or significant change in the law or facts since the submission of the issue to the Court.

Bank of Waunakee v. Rochester Cheese Sales, Inc., 906 F.2d 1185, 1191 (7th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted); see also LB Credit Corp. v. Resolution Tr. Corp., 49 F.3d 1263, 1267 (7th Cir. 1995) (“[A] Rule 59(e) motion must clearly establish either a manifest error of law or fact or must present newly discovered evidence.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, a Rule 59(e) motion may not be used simply to re-litigate issues that have already been decided. Sigsworth v. City of Aurora, Ill., 487 F.3d 506, 512 (7th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         As the Court explained in its Summary Judgment Order, to prevail on a retaliation claim the plaintiff must show that he (1) engaged in a statutorily protected activity, (2) suffered a materially adverse employment action, and that (3) a causal connection exists between the statutorily protected activity and the action taken. Tomanovich v. City of Indianapolis, 457 F.3d 656, 662 (7th Cir. 2006). The dispute in this matter centers around whether the Defendant qualified as an indirect or joint employer of the Plaintiff, and thus may properly be sued under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” on the basis of the individual's race, sex, or engaging in a protected activity. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). A worker has two separate entities as employers, for purposes of Title VII, “if they share or codetermine matters governing the essential terms and conditions of the worker's employment.” See Moldenhauer v. Tazwell-Pekin Consol Commc'ns Ctr., 536 F.3d 640, 643 (7th Cir. 2009). “When a worker is formally employed by one organization, but important aspects of his work are subject to control by another organization, both organizations are employers of the worker. An independent entity with sufficient control over the terms and conditions of the employment of a worker formally employed by another is a joint employer within the scope of Title VII. See id.; G. Heilman Brewing Co., Inc. v. NLRB, 879 F.2d 1526, 1530-31 (7th Cir. 1989). Existence of an employment relationship is a question of law for the court. See Press Ganey Assocs., Inc. v. Dye, No. 3:12-CV-437, 2014 WL 1116890, at *9-10 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 19, 2014).

         At summary judgment, the Defendant argued that the Plaintiff could not sue it under the statute because he was not seeking employment with or employed by the Defendant at the time of the incidents in question. The Plaintiff countered by arguing that the Defendant was a joint employer with Perez Trucking, but neither party focused much in their briefings on that question: the Plaintiff's Brief [ECF No. 80] devoted two pages to the argument that the Defendant “had an employment relationship with [the Plaintiff] when he worked for Perez on [the Defendant's] property” (Pl.'s Opp'n 15-17, ECF No. 80), while the Defendant's Reply [ECF No. 87] allocated its last two paragraphs to rebut the Plaintiff's joint-employer theory (Def.'s Reply 10-11, ECF No. 87). Based on the briefing and cases submitted, the Court found material issues of fact existed as to whether the Defendant was an indirect or joint employer of the Plaintiff:

One of the Defendant's employees stated that it “contracted with a third-party carrier” in order to effectively carry out its business. (Columbus Dep. 33:10-11.) Further, “almost all of the work Perez Trucking handle[d wa]s for” the Defendant. (Interrog. No. 5.) When the Defendant discovered that the Plaintiff was working on its premises through Perez Trucking, the Defendant instructed Perez Trucking that the Plaintiff would be barred from its property. (Id. No. 4.) This evidence suggests a general contractor/subcontractor business relationship, with the Defendant exercising sufficient control over Perez Trucking's employees. The Court finds this evidence demonstrates the existence of a joint employer relationship.

(Opinion & Order 13, ECF No. 88.)

         Now, in a Motion for Reconsideration, the Defendant presents a more developed argument that Seventh Circuit precedent forecloses this Court's finding that an issue of material fact exists in this case on the indirect or joint employer relationship question. The Defendant argues that this Court should have applied a five-factor balancing test, rather than ask whether the Defendant had “sufficient control over the terms and conditions of the employment” of the Plaintiff based on the economic realities of the relationship. (Opinion & Order 12.) And the Defendant presents additional cases, not included in its summary judgment briefings, that it argues support the position that it was not an indirect or joint employer.

         The Seventh Circuit articulated five factors that a district court can balance to determine whether an ...


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