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Reffett v. Deere & Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 29, 2019

LISA REFFETT, Plaintiff,
v.
DEERE & COMPANY, and JOHN DEERE COMPANY, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES T. MOODY JUDGE

         Plaintiff Lisa Reffett (“Reffett”) is a former employee of defendants Deere and Company and John Deere Company (collectively, “Deere” or “defendants”). (DE # 1 ¶ 9.) The matter is now before the court on Deere's motion for summary judgment. (DE # 71.) Additionally, plaintiff has filed a motion for leave to file a sur-reply and to take additional discovery. (DE # 81.) For the following reasons, the court will grant the motion for summary judgment in part, grant the motion for leave, and defer ruling on the remainder of the motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff is a woman and a resident of the state of Indiana. (DE # 17 at 2.) In November of 2008, she was hired by Deere as a “Grade 11 [M]anager of John Deere Merchandise.” (DE # 75-10 ¶ 2.) She originally reported to Jeff Gredvig. (Id.) In 2011, Tommy Morgan (“Morgan”) replaced Jeff Gredvig as plaintiff's manager. (Id. ¶ 6.) In 2011, Plaintiff's position with Deere was changed from “Grade 11 Manager” to “Supply Manager IV.” (Id. ¶ 6-7.)

         Plaintiff asserts that over the remainder of her time working at Deere, Morgan made various sexist comments and took actions which negatively impacted her. Among those actions are the following. Plaintiff says that Morgan told her she was not supporting her son's needs by being a working mother and that she should be at home with her son. (DE # 75-10 ¶¶ 8, 16.) She says Morgan excluded her from a business trip to Australia because she is a woman. (Id. ¶ 10.) She says Morgan refused to approve a raise for her productive female secretary. (Id. ¶ 12.) After that secretary left the position, plaintiff says Morgan did not allow her to hire a replacement secretary. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 23.) She says that Morgan told her that her current position required too much travel for a woman (id. ¶ 18), but that a transfer into the Construction and Forestry Division was also a waste of time as it was also not a place for a woman (id. ¶ 19). Plaintiff says Morgan showed her Bible passages regarding a woman's role in the home. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff also argues that Morgan gave her scores on her performance reviews that were below what she deserved. (See e.g., id. ¶ 45.)

         Plaintiff talked to human resources officers about some of these concerns, but she says they were not helpful. (See DE # 75-10 ¶¶ 17, 37-39, 42.) On October 1, 2012, plaintiff says she told human resources that she wanted another position in the company due to Morgan's conduct. (Id. ¶ 42.) Deere says plaintiff told human resources about her desire for a new position even earlier, on May 23, 2012. (DE # 72-1 at 8.) It is undisputed that Deere began to search for a new opportunity for plaintiff in 2012. (See DE ## 73-5 at 3; 75-10 ¶ 13.)

         On October 16, 2012, while driving, plaintiff received an email regarding a recent performance evaluation. (DE # 75-20 ¶ 45.) She says this caused her to have a severe ocular migraine headache and to black out, which caused her to hit a barrier in the road with her truck. (Id. ¶ 46.) She was placed in the hospital due to vision issues. (Id.) She then requested and obtained FMLA leave beginning October 16, 2012, for what she says was “post-traumatic stress caused by the continuing harassment of Morgan.” (Id. ¶ 47.) Once plaintiff exhausted her FMLA leave, she took personal leave and vacation time. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 56, 59.) She never returned to work at Deere prior to leaving the company on February 14, 2014. (See id. at 58-63.)

         At some point after she began taking FMLA leave, Deere chose to stop looking for other prospective jobs for plaintiff. (DE # 75-6 at 19.) Jeffrey Bell (“Bell”), a member of Deere's human resources department, says this was because Deere did not know when plaintiff would be returning to work. (Id.) In January 2013, Deere backfilled plaintiff's old Supply Manager IV position, with a male employee. (DE # 75-10 ¶ 50.) In March 2013, plaintiff says Bell told her that there were no available positions for her at Deere. (Id. ¶ 54.) She also says Bell told her something similar (that “there was not a position”) in November of 2013. (DE # 75-3 at 80-81.) Plaintiff was not medically cleared to return to work until November 2013. (DE # 75-10 ¶ 58.) However in that same month, she interviewed for a job at another company. (Id. ¶ 60.) Plaintiff accepted that job in January 2014, and she started working on February 17, 2014. (Id.)

         Based on these events, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court on November 27, 2013. (DE # 1.) On July 28, 2014, she filed an amended complaint asserting four claims against Deere: (1) Discrimination Based on Race and Gender under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) Retaliation under Title VII; (3) Hostile Work Environment; and (4) Retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). (See DE # 17 at 6-8.)

         Discovery for this case ended on September 27, 2015. (DE # 30.) On March 19, 2018, Deere moved for summary judgment on all claims. (DE # 71.) Plaintiff filed a response to the motion on April 18, 2018 (DE # 74), and Deere filed its reply on May 9, 2018 (DE # 78). Seven days after the reply, plaintiff filed a motion seeking additional discovery pertaining to “new facts” it says were introduced in a supplement to Deere's reply brief. (DE # 81 at 2.) Plaintiff also requests leave to file a sur-reply in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. (Id. at 1.) Deere opposed plaintiff's motion (DE # 87), and plaintiff filed a reply brief in support of her motion (DE # 92). These pending motions are now fully briefed-aside from the possibility of an additional sur-reply- and ripe for ruling.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         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). “[S]ummary judgment is appropriate-in fact, is mandated-where there are no disputed issues of material fact and the movant must prevail as a matter of law. In other words, the record must reveal that no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party.” Dempsey v. Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 16 F.3d 832, 836 (7th Cir. 1994) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that these requirements have been met. Carmichael v. Village of Palatine, Ill., 605 F.3d 451, 460 (7th Cir. 2010). “[T]he burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Once the moving party has met his burden, 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) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). 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). In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Chmiel v. JC Penney Life Ins. Co., 158 F.3d 966 (7th Cir. 1998).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The court will now address the pending motions. The court will first address the motion for leave (DE # 81) as it requests, in part, that the court ...


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