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Comer v. School City of Hammond Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 11, 2017

KATRINA B. COMER, Plaintiff,
v.
SCHOOL CITY OF HAMMOND INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          RUDY LOZANO, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by School City of Hammond, Inc., on November 2, 2016. For the reasons set forth below, this motion is GRANTED and this case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         BACKGROUND

         Katrina B. Comer (“Comer”) was employed by the School City of Hammond, Inc. (“Hammond School”) as a painter from May 2010 until July 1, 2014. During her time with Hammond School, Comer filed several charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Relevant here are two charges filed in 2014.

         On March 29, 2014, Comer filed Charge No. 470-2014-01277 against the Hammond School. In this charge, Comer alleged that she was retaliated against for filing two previous charges with the EEOC and discriminated against due to her race and sex. A few months later, on July 10, 2014, Comer filed Charge No. 470-2014-02282 against the Hammond School. Under this charge, Comer alleged Hammond School terminated her position in retaliation for filing the three previous charges. The EEOC issued its Dismissal and Notice of Rights for Charge Nos. 470-2014-02282 and 470-2014-01277 on September 30, 2014.

         On December 29, 2014, Comer filed a pro se employment discrimination complaint against Hammond School and Diane Schweitzer. Comer retained counsel and the complaint was amended and to allege multiple claims, as follows: 1) unlawful discrimination and job elimination based on race and sex in violation of Title VII; 2) retaliation in violation of Title VII; 3) a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983 for a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; and 4) a violation of 42 U.S.C. section 1981. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. This Court dismissed all claims except the Title VII claims against Hammond School arising under EEOC Charge Nos. 470-2014-01277 and 470-2014-02282.

         Following the close of discovery, the instant motion for summary judgment was filed. The motion is now fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment must be granted when “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). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Not every dispute between the parties makes summary judgment inappropriate; “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. To determine whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Ogden v. Atterholt, 606 F.3d 355, 358 (7th Cir. 2010).

         A party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion may not rely on allegations in her own pleading but rather must “marshal and present the court with the evidence she contends will prove her case.” Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). “[I]nferences relying on mere speculation or conjecture will not suffice.” Stephens v. Erickson, 569 F.3d 779, 786 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of an essential element on which she bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. See Massey v. Johnson, 457 F.3d 711, 716 (7th Cir. 2006).

         Facts

         In support of the instant summary judgment motion, Hammond School has set forth a detailed summary of the evidence before this Court, supported by citations to the evidence. (DE #40-1). In response, Comer explicitly indicates that she admits the truth of the Hammond School's undisputed facts, although she denies that those facts entitle Hammond School to summary judgment. (DE #43-1 at 2). Comer also tendered nine numbered paragraphs designated as disputed material facts. These paragraphs consist of short conclusory statements or questions without citations to the record. They will therefore be disregarded by this Court.[1] Because the facts in this case are undisputed, the Court has relied heavily on the facts as presented in the Hammond School's statement of undisputed material facts, supplementing and editing where necessary.

         Hammond School is a political subdivision of the State of Indiana. The Superintendent is Dr. Walter J. Watkins. (“Dr. Watkins”). Hammond School is governed by a seven-person elected Board of School Trustees. Dr. Diane Schweitzer (“Dr. Schweitzer”) is Hammond School's Director of Buildings and Grounds, and has served in this position since September 2011. Dr. Schweitzer's duties involve managing the Maintenance Department, which includes a number of departments, such as HVAC, plumbing and the painting department. These departments are also referred to as “crafts.” Comer is an African-American woman who began working at Hammond School as a painter in May 2010. Ed Cassady (“Cassady”) was Comer's supervisor until his death in March 2014. Cassady was Caucasian. Until Cassady's death, Comer and Cassady were the only two employees in Hammond School's painting department. Comer and Cassady were good friends. Both Comer and Cassady were members of Local 460, the painter's union. Each of the departments within Hammond School's maintenance department, or “crafts”, employ people that are members of each craft's respective union. All of the employees in the Maintenance Department are based in the Hammond School's warehouse.

         Prior to Dr. Schweitzer assuming these responsibilities, Comer's supervisor was Joe Hickman (“Hickman”). In 2010, while Hickman was Comer's supervisor, there was an incident involving another employee in the maintenance department, Kevin Kolcznski (“Kolcznski”), who is Caucasian. Cassady and Comer were sitting in a room watching something on a computer when Kolcznski walked past the room. Kolcznski asked them if they were watching “porn.” Cassady said “no” and, together with Comer, complained to Hickman. Comer was not disciplined in any way as a result of the incident or her complaint to Hickman.

         Kerry Kuc (“Kuc”), another maintenance department employee, is Caucasian and worked in Buildings and Grounds. Comer alleged that he gave the “Hitler salute” to herself and Cassady on several occasions. Cassady advised Comer that “he does it all the time” and the gesture was not limited to Comer. Comer reported this to Cassady, and Cassady told Hickman. Comer was not disciplined or reprimanded in any way because of this incident or the report to Hickman.

         The next incident occurred at a Christmas party for employees of the maintenance department in December 2010. The Christmas party was not held on School property. The Plaintiff was sitting at a table at the party with several people, including Kolcznski, Kuc, and Keith Kleinfeldt (“Kleinfeldt”). Someone made a comment about having three “K's” sitting there. At that point, Kolcznski put his hood on over his head and started laughing, and then said “KKK.” No one else at the party was inappropriate, and all others were nice to Comer. Comer made a report regarding this incident to Cassady and she believes he then told Hickman. Comer was not disciplined for making this report.

         Comer also took issue regarding a comment made by Kolcznski to Cassady to the effect that Comer did not do any work while Cassady was on vacation. Comer believes this occurred in 2011. Cassady spoke to Hickman regarding this statement. Comer was not disciplined, reprimanded or demoted in any way due to Kolcznski's alleged remark.

         Comer also was disturbed regarding a remark that she believes was placed in Cassady's 2011 evaluation that suggested that Cassady should provide Comer with additional training so that she could expand her knowledge within the Maintenance Department. The remarks were directed to Cassady, not Comer. They did not state that Comer was failing to perform any of her ...


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