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Rollins v. Bon-Ton Department Stores

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

September 4, 2018




         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff Lavonya Rollins was an employee at the Carson Pirie Scott store in Merrillville, Indiana, in November and December of 2015. During her employment, she was pregnant. One day, Rollins wore a shirt that made her pregnancy visible. The Assistant Store Manager, Angel Scott, said to Rollins: “Wow, you're ready to go. When are you due.” (Pl. Dep. 69:1-18.) Later that same day, Scott refused to allow Rollins to take a break. She also changed Rollins' schedule from mornings to nights. On another occasion, Scott approached a register where Rollins was working and asked who was working the other register; when Rollins said she did not know, Scott moved her to the cosmetics department. Rollins felt uncomfortable after these events occurred.

         Rollins claims that on November 14, 2015, she purchased a hat and scarf set from the store. (Pl. Dep. 83:20-23.) Defendant claims that it observed on security footage that another associate named Richelle Bellman rang up the sale for Rollins, giving her discounts, and that Rollins used a debit card to make the purchase, in violation of company policies. (DE # 23 at 9.) Defendant also claims that, on November 16, 2015, it observed Rollins and Bellman scanning items and inputting changes into the register so that Bellman could take certain items without paying. (Id.)

         On November 24, 2015, Rollins was told to go into a room with Scott and another man, whom defendant identifies in its briefing as Regional Investigations and Support Coordinator Armando Martinez. (DE # 23 at 9.) Rollins claims she was questioned about the hat and scarf purchase. Rollins asked Scott to use the washroom several times, and was denied each time. Rollins claims she was convinced to write an inaccurate statement about her purchase. Scott informed Rollins that she was being suspended pending a final determination. At some point, Rollins was granted permission to use the washroom, and when she stood up, she urinated on herself. (Pl. Dep. 106:22-25; DE # 1 ¶ 11.) Rollins was allowed to leave and proceeded to the emergency room, where it was determined she had gone into labor.

         Scott forwarded her notes from the meeting to Human Resources Director Steve Shimp. Shimp determined that termination of both Bellman and Rollins was appropriate, in light of company policy violations, and terminated plaintiff on December 3, 2015. Plaintiff claims that, after the incident, Shimp offered (presumably on the company's behalf) to pay Rollins' hospital bills and some additional money. (Pl. Dep. 185:10-16.)

         Rollins filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging discrimination on the basis of pregnancy in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and one of its amendments, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (DE # 1 ¶ 3.) The EEOC issued a right to sue letter on June 30, 2016. Rollins filed the present lawsuit on September 26, 2016, alleging that her termination amounted to discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. (DE # 1.)

         Defendant moved for summary judgment on Rollins' complaint. (DE # 23.) Rollins responded (DE # 24), defendant replied (DE # 25), and the motion is ripe for ruling.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 requires the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery, against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must identify specific facts establishing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Palmer v. Marion County, 327 F.3d 588, 595 (7th Cir. 2003). In doing so, the non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings alone, but must present fresh proof in support of its position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Donovan v. City of Milwaukee, 17 F.3d 944, 947 (7th Cir. 1994). A dispute about a material fact is genuine only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, then there is no “genuine” dispute. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         The court's role in deciding a summary judgment motion is not to evaluate the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50; Doe v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 42 F.3d 439, 443 (7th Cir. 1994). In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all legitimate inferences and resolve all doubts in favor of that party. NLFC, Inc. v. Devcom Mid-Am., Inc., 45 F.3d 231, 234 (7th Cir. 1995).


         In this case, plaintiff claims that defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her pregnancy in violation of Title VII and the PDA. The PDA “made clear that, for all Title VII purposes, discrimination based on a woman's pregnancy is, on its face, discrimination because of her sex.” Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U.S. 669, 684 (1983). Thus, plaintiff's claim for pregnancy discrimination is a claim for gender discrimination, warranting the same analysis as any gender discrimination claim. Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 547 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Both parties rely on the well-known burden-shifting method of proof outlined in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green,411 U.S. 792 (1973), so the court does the same in this opinion. This method involves a three-phase analysis, beginning with the prima facie case. During this phase, the burden is on plaintiff to demonstrate that: (1) she was pregnant and her employer knew she was pregnant; (2) she was performing her duties satisfactorily; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated non-pregnant employees were treated more favorably. Silverman v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi., 637 F.3d 729, 736 (7th Cir. 2011). Next, defendant must ...

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