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Harris v. Carrier Corp.

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

September 13, 2017

PAMELA D. HARRIS, Plaintiff,


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge United States District Court Southern District of Indiana

         This matter involves Plaintiff Pamela D. Harris's allegations that Defendant Carrier Corporation (“Carrier”) retaliated against her for filing charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Pending before the Court is Carrier's Motion for Summary Judgment, [Filing No. 83], in which Carrier contends that Ms. Harris's claims fail as a matter of law. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Carrier's Motion.


         Legal Standard

         A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B).

         Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court need only consider disputed facts that are material to the decision. A disputed fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009). In other words, while there may be facts that are in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate if those facts are not outcome determinative. Harper v. Vigilant Ins. Co., 433 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir. 2005). Fact disputes that are irrelevant to the legal question will not suffice to defeat summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable factfinder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, ” Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).



         As this case comes before the Court, there are limited facts that are relevant to Carrier's Motion. This is because while Ms. Harris's Amended Complaint alleged five counts of employment discrimination, [Filing No. 49], she has cast aside four of her five counts in subsequent filings. First, Ms. Harris's Statement of Claims, [Filing No. 73], confirmed that she is no longer pursuing her claims for race and age discrimination. [See also Filing No. 74 at 1 (order in which the Court noted forfeited claims).] Second, in her response to Carrier's Motion for Summary Judgment, Ms. Harris further confirmed that she is longer pursuing her claims for sex and disability discrimination. [Filing No. 91 at 1.]

         The lone claim remaining is Ms. Harris's retaliation claim. The scope of this claim, however, is not entirely clear. Ms. Harris's response to Carrier's Motion for Summary Judgment suggests three possible adverse actions that she claims were taken in retaliation for her EEOC charges:

. Failing to provide Ms. Harris with her Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship after Ms. Harris completed her apprenticeship program,
. Denying Ms. Harris's worker's compensation claim for not being work-related, and
. After Ms. Harris took medical leave due to her injuries, denying Ms. Harris a job that would accommodate her limitations.

         In its reply brief, Carrier contends that none of these theories of retaliation may proceed for various reasons, including that that claims contradict Ms. Harris's sworn deposition testimony as to the basis for her claims, were not included in Ms. Harris's Amended Complaint, and/or were omitted from Ms. Harris's Statement of Claims. Carrier argues that Ms. Harris's response to its Motion for Summary Judgment is merely an attempt to set a “moving target” on summary judgment.

         The approved Case Management Plan in this case, entered as an Order of the Court, required Ms. Harris to “file a statement of the claims . . . [she] intends to prove at trial, stating specifically the legal theories upon which the claims . . . are based.” [Filing No. 73 at 3 (emphasis added).] The Statement of Claims requirement in the Uniform Case Management Plan represents the Court's effort to prevent parties from presenting “moving targets” to unfairly avoid summary judgment. See, e.g., Moultrie v. Penn Aluminum Int'l, LLC, 766 F.3d 747, 753 (7th Cir. 2014) (criticizing a plaintiff for presenting claims that were “something of a moving target”); Kough v. Teamsters' Local 301 Pension Plan, 437 F. App'x 483, 485 (7th Cir. 2011) (“The case was a moving target for the district court, but it has stopped long enough for us to take aim here.”); Tauber v. City of Chi., 33 F.Supp.2d 699, 700 (N.D. Ill. 1999) (requiring parties to submit issue statement “in an effort to eliminate the ships-passing-in-the-night phenomenon”). The Statement of Claims is to be filed following the close of and as informed by liability discovery, but before summary judgment motions are filed. The Statement of Claims should provide each party with a clear idea of the other's legal theories, enabling the parties to directly address one another's positions. As the Court made clear in its Order on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, a party may not pursue a claim that it neglects to include in its Statement of Claims. See [Filing No. 74 at 1 (noting claims forfeited for failure to include in statement of claims)]; see also, e.g., Dzik v. Bayer Corp., 846 F.3d 211, 212 (7th Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (affirming dismissal with prejudice where, among other things, plaintiff “flouted the requirements of a case-management order”).

         Ms. Harris's Statement of Claims states that “Carrier retaliated by denying Harris's worker's compensation claim for her original injury, and by denying her a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities.” [Filing No. 73 at 4.] Nowhere, however, does it mention the certificate withholding theory, which appeared for the first time in Ms. Harris's response brief. At each turn in this litigation, whenever Ms. Harris has been faced with arguments demonstrating that a claim may lack merit, Ms. Harris has abandoned the claim and substituted a new one in its stead. The Court will ...

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