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Richards v. Wayne County Airport Authority

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 29, 2015



ROBERT H. CLELAND, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kimberly Richards filed a complaint against her former employer, Defendant Wayne County Airport Authority, alleging discrimination based on her sex, sexual harassment, and retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Dkt. # 1.) Now before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. # 17.) Plaintiff filed a response to the motion in which she "concur[red] that her sexual harassment claim may not constitute a claim for hostile work environment based upon sexual harassment." (Dkt. # 20, Pg. ID 358.) The only remaining contested issue is whether Plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim should survive Defendant's motion for summary judgment. This matter is fully briefed, and no hearing is needed. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.


Defendant is an independent agency responsible for operating the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. (Dkt. # 17, Pg. ID 318.) Plaintiff worked for Defendant as a control center operator in the security department from September 16, 2013 until February 27, 2014. (Dkt. # 1, Pg. ID 2.) As a control center operator, Plaintiff worked at a console in a control room monitoring alarms, logging alarms and maintenance issues, and dispatching appropriate officers when necessary. (Dkt. # 16-1, Pg. ID 90-91, 94.)

Plaintiff alleges that, "[a]lmost from the beginning of her employment, [she] experienced mistreatment and unequal treatment from her Operations Assist[]ant, John Voll, which treatment was harsher and more derogatory than the treatment received from Voll by her male-coworkers." ( Id. at 2-3.) She alleges that Voll made negative comments concerning working with females, including the statements, "I gotta get out of this place, too many female hormones raging with all these women up in here" and, to a male coworker, "good luck in here with all these women." ( Id. at 3.) Plaintiff also reported that Voll referred to a female security supervisor as "acting like the woman from Diary of a Mad Black Woman. " (Dkt. # 16-10, Pg. ID 206.) Plaintiff complained about Voll's behavior to various supervisors as well as the Human Resources office. (Dkt. # 20, Pg. ID 356.) She alleges that Defendant did not address Voll's behavior. ( Id. )

On November 20, 2013, Plaintiff submitted a written complaint regarding Voll's conduct to Systems Manager Julia Hornshaw; pursuant to Hornshaw's directions, Plaintiff revised the complaint twice and submitted the final version of November 27, 2013. (Dkt. # 20, Pg. ID 357; Dkt. # 16-10, Pg. ID 206.) According to Plaintiff, on December 3, 2013, Director of Labor Lynd Racey met with Plaintiff and gave her a Discrimination and/or Harassment Complaint form to complete. (Dkt. # 20, Pg. ID 357; Dkt. # 16-1, Pg. ID 118-19.) Plaintiff testified at her deposition that she did not complete the form because she "was still on probation" at work and "didn't want to single anyone out at this time." (Dkt. # 16-1, Pg. ID 118.)

On December 27, 2013, Plaintiff sent another complaint about Voll to Hornshaw and Racey. According to Plaintiff, Racey met with Plaintiff and indicated that Voll would be required to "attend classes of some sort, " but that Racey "did not necessarily consider Voll's behavior to be sexual harassment." (Dkt. # 20, Pg. ID 357.) According to the complaint, "sometime after [Plaintiff's] termination, Voll was terminated for his harassing behavior of fellow employees, " but was subsequently reinstated. ( Id. 3.)

Plaintiff was terminated from her employment with Defendant on February 27, 2014, "with the stated reason for her termination being performance issues.'" (Dkt. # 1, Pg. ID 4.) The record contains ample discussion of Plaintiff's difficulties performing her work duties and her supervisors' attempts to address Plaintiff's difficulties. Plaintiff's work performance is discussed in more detail below.

Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on March 17, 2014, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination. She was issued a Dismissal and Notice of Suit Rights on May 14, 2014. ( Id. at 4.)


Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Sagan v. United States, 342 F.3d 493, 497 (6th Cir. 2003). The movant has the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute as to a material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "[T]hat burden may be discharged by showing... that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Bennett v. City of Eastpointe, 410 F.3d 810, 817 (6th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The burden then shifts to the nonmovant, who must put forth enough evidence to show that there exists "a genuine issue for trial." Horton v. Potter, 369 F.3d 906, 909 (6th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is not appropriate when "the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986).


The Supreme Court developed a burden-shifting framework for evaluating Title VII employment discrimination claims in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) and Texas Dept. of Comm. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981). In evaluating retaliation claims under this framework, the "plaintiff has the initial burden to establish a prima facie case of retaliation." Fuhr v. Hazel Park Sch. Dist., 710 F.3d 668, 574 (6th Cir. 2013). "The prima facie case consists of four elements: (1) the plaintiff engaged in activity protected under Title VII; (2) plaintiff's exercise of her protected rights was known to defendant; (3) an adverse employment action was subsequently taken against the employee or the employee was subjected to severe or pervasive retaliatory harassment by a supervisor; and (4) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action or harassment." Id. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant "to rebut the presumption [of unlawful retaliation] by articulat[ing] some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted.) If the defendant produces a legitimate reason for its action, "then the burden of production returns to the plaintiff to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the proffered reason was a mere pretext for discrimination. While the burden of production shifts throughout the McDonnell Douglas/Burdine framework, the burden of persuasion always remains with the plaintiff." Id. at 675 (citations omitted).

Plaintiff argues that her termination, as well as Defendant's decision to prematurely place her on a day shift in regular rotation "while refusing to train her or answer her questions" both constitute adverse employment actions. (Dkt. # 20, Pg. ID 362.) Defendant concedes that Plaintiff's alleged retaliatory termination constitutes an adverse employment action. (Dkt. # 17, Pg. ID 343.) Defendant contends that Plaintiff did not prove a prima facie case of retaliation, arguing that Plaintiff's placement on the day shift was not an adverse employment action, that Plaintiff did not engage in a protected activity by reporting Voll's conduct to Defendant, and that there was no causal connection between the alleged protected activity and the adverse employment action. (Dkt. # 17, Pg. ID 343; Dkt. # 21, Pg. ID 367.)

The court need not determine whether Plaintiff established a case of prima facie retaliation. Even assuming Plaintiff had established a prima facie case of retaliation, Defendant has produced a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for Plaintiff's termination, and Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate by a ...

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