United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE, UNITED
Jackson, proceeding without a lawyer, sued Unidine
Corporation for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, alleging she was
subject to a hostile work environment, was discriminated
against based on her protected status, and retaliated against
for engaging in protected activity. Unidine moved for summary
judgment on Ms. Jackson's claims. [Doc. No. 75]. For the
following reasons, the court grants Unidine's motion.
evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Ms. Jackson,
shows that Unidine managed the dining services at St.
Paul's Retirement Community and employed the management
staff there. Ms. Jackson worked in dining services for St.
Paul's. In 2016, Unidine hired her to work at St.
Paul's as a dining room supervisor. In that role, Ms.
Jackson was to supervise, train, and discipline dining room
staff employed by St. Paul's. A performance evaluation
shows that she was meeting Unidine's expectations.
Paul's employees she supervised were sometimes rude,
disrespectful, and insubordinate. For example, when Ms.
Jackson was addressing performance issues with her
subordinates at St. Paul's in the presence of her
supervisor, Brian Black, one of her subordinates, Courtnee
Brown, got out of her chair, walked up to Ms. Jackson,
pointed her finger in her face, and accused Ms. Jackson of
being a liar and a bad manager. Ms. Jackson interpreted this
as a threat and told Mr. Black that she couldn't work in
a hostile environment. Mr. Black met with Ms. Brown and Ms.
Jackson, but nothing in the record suggests that he
disciplined Ms. Brown.
April 15, 2017, Samuel “Keith” Johnson, a St.
Paul's employee and Ms. Jackson's co-worker, made a
sexually explicit gesture and comment to Ms. Jackson. Ms.
Jackson threw a piece of paper at Mr. Johnson in jest after
he made a joke. As Ms. Jackson bent over in front of Mr.
Johnson to pick up the paper, Mr. Johnson pointed to his
genitals and asked Ms. Jackson “isn't there
something else you could be doing while you're down
there?” This was the first time Ms. Jackson ever saw
Mr. Johnson acting inappropriately and it disturbed her. A
St. Paul's employee reported to Unidine that Mr. Johnson
made inappropriate sexual jokes and comments at work and that
she felt uncomfortable when he rubbed her back.
Jackson reported this incident to her supervisor on April 17
and Mr. Johnson was sent home from work. Mr. Johnson returned
to work the next day, but Ms. Jackson didn't feel
comfortable returning to work and was granted permission to
stay home with pay until the investigation was complete.
Unidine and St. Paul's jointly investigated the incident.
April 24, Unidine told Ms. Jackson that the investigation was
complete and she reported to St. Paul's to meet with her
supervisor and human resources representatives. They told her
that the investigation found that both Mr. Johnson and Ms.
Jackson behaved inappropriately. According to Unidine, Mr.
Johnson admitted he made an inappropriate, sexually explicit
joke and the investigation determined that Ms. Jackson
responded to Mr. Johnson's comment with an off-color
joke, saying “that's how I got eight kids.”
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Ms.
Jackson, Unidine was wrong: Ms. Jackson she didn't
respond with a joke, and just chuckled a bit out of
embarrassment. Based on its version of events, Unidine
counseled Mr. Johnson, but didn't otherwise discipline
him, and also counseled Ms. Jackson and asked her to return
to work. Unsatisfied with the investigation and its
conclusion, Ms. Jackson didn't feel safe at returning to
work. Unidine allowed her to continue on paid leave.
days later, Ms. Jackson's supervisor asked her when she
planned to return to work and asked her to report to St.
Paul's on May 1 to meet with the human resources staff.
Unidine told Ms. Jackson that St. Paul's had decided it
wouldn't allow her to return to work at its facility or
any other facility run by its parent company, Trinity.
Unidine asked her to return to work at another Unidine
location. Ms. Jackson declined to work at another location.
Unidine fired her on May 3 because she failed to report back
judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, discovery
materials, disclosures, and affidavits demonstrate no genuine
issue of material fact, such that the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Protective Life Ins. Co. v.
Hansen, 632 F.3d 388, 391-392 (7th Cir. 2011). The court
construes the evidence and all inferences that reasonably can
be drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The moving party bears the burden
of informing the court of the basis for its motion, together
with evidence demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue
of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden,
the opposing party can't rest upon the allegations in the
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). A court must enter summary judgment
“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 at 322). See also Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese
Factory, 407 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2005) (summary
judgment is “not a dress rehearsal or practice run; it
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 events”).
Ms. Jackson's complaint liberally, as the court must do,
Parker v. Four Seasons Hotels, Ltd., 845 F.3d 807,
811 (7th Cir. 2017), she appears to raise three claims: that
she was subject to a hostile work environment, the she was
discriminated against based on her protected status, and that
Unidine retaliated against her for reporting a sexually
explicit gesture and comment. Unidine moves for summary
judgment on all three claims.
Jackson's hostile work environment claim is based on the
atmosphere created by her subordinates at St. Paul's and
a sexually explicit gesture and comment by a St. Paul's
employee. “When the workplace is permeated with
discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is
sufficiently severe or [pervasive] to alter the conditions of
the victim's employment and create an abusive working
environment, Title VII is violated.” Abrego v.
Wilkie, 907 F.3d 1004, 1015 (7th Cir. 2018) (quoting
Alexander v. Casino Queen, Inc., 739 F.3d 972, 982
(7th Cir. 2014)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
survive summary judgment on a hostile work environment claim,
a plaintiff must prove four elements: ‘(1) the
plaintiff's workplace was both subjectively and
objectively offensive; (2) the plaintiff's [membership in
a protected class] was the cause of the harassment; (3) the
harassment was severe or pervasive; and (4) there is a basis
for employer liability.' ” Milligan-Grimstad v.
Stanley, 877 F.3d 705, 713-714 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting
Lord v. High Voltage Software, Inc., 839 F.3d 556,
561 (7th Cir. 2016)). Ms. Jackson's hostile work
environment claim can't succeed because she can't
show that her membership in a protected class was the cause
of the harassment by her subordinates and can't show that
one sexually explicit gesture and comment rises to the level
that the law considers “severe or pervasive.”
Jackson contends that the St. Paul's employees she
supervised created a hostile work environment for her because
they were rude, disrespectful, and insubordinate. As an
example, she points to the actions of Courtnee Brown, who got
up during a meeting Ms. Jackson was leading, put her hand in
Ms. Jackson's face, and said she was horrible manager and
Jackson makes a compelling case that her subordinates'
actions created a very difficult atmosphere for her as a
supervisor, which she described to her supervisor as a
hostile work environment. But that phrase has a narrower
definition in federal employment discrimination law. To
succeed on a Title VII hostile work environment
discrimination claim, a plaintiff must “present
sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to find that
the alleged harassment was based on [her] race or sex.”
Abrego v. Wilkie, 907 F.3d 1004, 1016 (7th Cir.
2018). Ms. Jackson doesn't point the court to evidence
that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to decide that
actions of her subordinates, ...