United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
CHRISTEN H. WHITE Plaintiff,
DIGGER SPECIALTIES, INC., Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
L. Miller, Jr. Judge.
February 12, 2015, Digger Specialties, Inc. terminated
Christen White's employment as an inventory clerk. Ms.
White sues Digger Specialties for violations of Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (42 U.S.C. §
2000e-5) for alleged employment discrimination because of Ms.
White's sex and religion. Ms. White further claims that
she was subject to a hostile work environment and
retaliation. Digger Specialties moves for summary judgment on
all claims. The court heard argument on September 13, and now
grants the motion.
White started working for Digger Specialties in the spring of
2007 as an inventory control clerk. In May 2014, Ms. White
took a medical leave of absence to undergo a hysterectomy.
She was absent from work at Digger Specialties for about two
weeks after her surgery. Shortly before her hysterectomy, Ms.
White and her supervisor, Norm Hochstetler, talked about her
surgery. Mr. Hochstetler had originally hired Ms. White and
had been her supervisor throughout her entire employment at
White contends that Mr. Hochstetler told her during this
conversation that she would be emotional after her surgery.
Ms. White also alleges that once she took her medical leave
of absence, Digger Specialties employee Dora Miller told Ms.
Miller's sister and co-employee about Ms. White's
hysterectomy. Upon her return to work, certain accommodations
were made for Ms. White including moving her work station to
the ground level and having another Digger Specialties
employee gather work orders for her.
White had gotten good work reviews up until her termination,
but she had difficulties with getting along with other Digger
Specialties employees, including Dora Miller. In the summer
of 2014 Ms. White received a written warning for an incident
with a heat shrink gun. The incident didn't involve Ms.
White, and she didn't see it. It was found through an
internal investigation that Ms. White had engaged in improper
communication with the employee who had been operating the
heat shrink gun. The written warning stated that if she
didn't refrain from involving herself in the matters of
other employees, her employment could be terminated.
White involved herself in a number of work related pranks in
the winter of 2015. She wasn't the instigator, the
target, nor a witness to these pranks. No one directly
involved with the pranks reported them. On February 12, 2015
Ms. White was terminated during a meeting with a number of
Digger Specialties management team members. The reason given
for her termination was that her continued participation in
gossip and involvement in work place matters that didn't
concern her, which had a disruptive effect on Digger
Specialties. Ms. White believes she was fired because of
retaliation and for her not being Amish.
Digger Specialties fired her, Ms. White filed an Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission charge for sexual
discrimination on August 6, 2015. On May 10, 2016 Ms. White
filed suit against Digger Specialties alleging violations of
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (42
U.S.C. § 2000e-5). These allegations include claims of
sex discrimination, religious discrimination, a hostile work
environment, and retaliation. The court views all alleged
facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable
to Ms. White and will address each of her claims in turn.
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, discovery
materials, disclosures, and affidavits demonstrate no genuine
issue of material fact.” Protective Life Ins. Co.
v. Hansen, 632 F.3d 388, 391-92 (7th Cir. 2011). When no
genuine issue of material fact exists, “the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Dunkin v.
Appriss, Inc., 266 F.Supp.3d 1103, 1106 (N.D. Ind. July
18, 2017). The movant has the burden of demonstrating to the
court the basis for its motion that there exists no genuine
issue of material fact. Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In demonstrating this burden, the
evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the
non- moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). When the movant has met its burden,
the opposing party can't rely solely on the allegations
in their pleadings, but must “point to evidence that
can be put in admissible form at trial, and that, if believed
by the fact-finder, could support judgment in his
favor.” Marr v. Bank of America, N.A., 662
F.3d 963, 966 (7th Cir. 2011); see also Steen v.
Myers, 486 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, 407 F.3d 852,
859 (7th Cir. 2005) (summary 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 the events.”)). The non-moving party
can't rely on conclusory allegations. Smith v.
Shawnee Library System, 60 F.3d 317, 320 (7th Cir.
1995). Failure to prove an essential element of the alleged
activity will render other facts immaterial. Celotex v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. at 323; Filippo v. Lee
Publications, Inc., 485 F.Supp.2d 969, 972 (N.D. Ind.
2007) (the non-moving party “must do more than raise
some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts; he must
come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for
White argues that Digger Specialties violated Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (42 U.S.C. §
2000e-5). She argues that while she worked at Digger
Specialties, she was subject to sex and religious
discrimination, and a hostile work environment. Ms. White
also claims that her termination was retaliatory and
pretextual because of her religion and the religion on her
bringing a claim under Title VII, Ms. White must have first
filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. While the
statute of limitations for filing an EEOC charge is 180 days,
Indiana has increased the time limit to file to 300 days. 42
USCS § 2000e-5(e) (identifying Indiana as a
“deferral state”). The time to file the EEOC
charge ordinarily begins to run at the time of the alleged
discrimination. If the alleged discrimination or its effects
aren't readily apparent, a plaintiff can delay filing an
EEOC charge “until a series of wrongful acts blossoms
into an injury on which suit can be brought.”
Limestone Dev. Corp. v. Vill. of Lemont, Ill., 520
F.3d 797, 801 (7th Cir. 2008). These “cumulative
violations” arise when it isn't clear at first that
the law is being violated. Limestone Dev. Corp. v.
Lemont, 520 F.3d at 801. Often times, what begins as
offensive behavior builds until there is a tangible negative
impact on the plaintiff's employment conditions. Bass
v. Joliet Public School. Dist. No 86, 746 F.3d 835, 839
(7th Cir. 2014); Dasgupta v. University of Wisconsin Bd.
of Regents, 121 F.3d 1138, 1139 (7th Cir. 1997). Ms.
White filed her EEOC charge on August 6, 2015. Unless she can
adequately allege a cumulative violation, the statute of
limitations bars any claim of discrimination arising before
October 10, 2014.
conduct relating to the alleged sex discrimination occurred
in May 2014. Garrison v. Burke, 165 F.3d 565, 507
(7th Cir. 1999) (remarking that individual, isolated, and
non-related acts of discrimination can't be the basis for
the use of the cumulative violation doctrine). Ms. White
doesn't allege other conduct on or after October 10, 2014
- or any other conduct for that matter - relating to sex
discrimination during her employment at Digger Specialties.
Ms. White can't use alleged religious discrimination to
retroactively legitimize her sex discrimination claim. Ms.
White hasn't sufficiently alleged that her sex
discrimination claim isn't time-bared by the EEOC's
statute of limitations. Ms. White hasn't adequately
alleged that Mr. Hoschetetler's comment about
post-surgical emotion is “closely related enough”
to the creation of a hostile work environment: a statement
about Ms. White's hysterectomy isn't closely related
to alleged harassment based on her not being Amish.
White says she has properly linked her sex discrimination
claim to her hostile work environment clam and retaliation
claim, and so has adequately alleged a cumulative violation.
Ms. White's retaliation claim is based solely on her
religious discrimination claim. Her retaliation claim
can't serve as an adequate basis for linking cumulative
violations because it doesn't relate closely enough to
her sex discrimination claim. Koelsch v. Beltone Elecs.
Corp., 46 F.3d 705, 707 (7th Cir. 1995) (“the
facts alleged to have occurred within the three-hundred-day
period must be related closely enough to the previous acts
such that they are to be considered one ongoing
violation”) (internal quotations omitted). Ms. White
hasn't shown that the offensive comment made by her boss
Mr. Hochstetler in May 2014 is “related closely
enough” to her employment termination.
Ms. White could overcome the timeliness hurdle, she
hasn't pointed to evidence or facts sufficient to
establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination
under Title VII. Ms. White can try to establish a prima
facie case under the direct method or indirect method.
Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835, 845 (7th Cir.
2012). While Ms. White contends that she has provided
sufficient evidence under either method; the court
disagrees. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). Under the direct
method, Ms. White must “must marshal sufficient
evidence, either direct or circumstantial, that an adverse
employment action was motivated by discriminatory
animus.” Porter v. City of Chicago, 700 F.3d
944, 954 (7th Cir. 2012); Coleman v. Donahoe, 667
F.3d 835, 845 (7th Cir. 2012) (“[u]nder the direct
method, the plaintiff may avoid summary judgment by
presenting sufficient evidence, either direct or
circumstantial, that the employer's discriminatory animus
motivated an adverse employment action”) (internal
quotations omitted). Under the indirect, or burden-shifting
method, the plaintiff carries "the initial burden under
the statute of establishing a prima facie case of .
. . discrimination." McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). This method requires
the plaintiff to “demonstrate that (1) he belongs to a
protected class; (2) he performed his job satisfactorily; (3)
he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) his
employer treated ...