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Neff v. City of East Lansing

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

April 20, 2017

TRESHA K. NEFF, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF EAST LANSING, Defendant.

          OPINION GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          GORDON J. QUIST UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff alleges that a number of actions taken by Defendant amounts to disparate treatment and disparate impact violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and a violation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 37.2101 et seqq. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment as to all counts. (ECF No. 19.) The matter is fully briefed and ready for decision.[1]

         FACTS

         Plaintiff Tresha Neff has been employed as a police sergeant by Defendant City of East Lansing since 1994, serving mainly as a road patrol officer. Police Chief Julie Liebler has promoted male officers, rather than Plaintiff, to the rank of lieutenant at least twice in the last several years. These promotional decisions are made based upon both “measureable” qualities, such as education and experience, as well as “immeasurable” qualities, such as leadership ability. Plaintiff was also turned down for internal and external training opportunities, and was told that funds for tuition reimbursement were unavailable on two occasions.

         DISCUSSION Time-Barred Claims

         The complaint references many employment actions that both parties agree are time-barred. Plaintiff concedes that all Title VII claims occurring prior to January 8, 2015, and all ELCRA claims occurring prior to January 25, 2013, are barred. This leaves only claims for denial of promotions in 2013 and 2014, and denial of training and tuition reimbursement in 2014.

         Disparate Treatment

         Counts I and III of the complaint allege that Defendant's promotional process and practices amount to impermissible disparate treatment under Title VII and the ELCRA.[2]

         “Intentional discrimination claims under Title VII can be proven by direct or circumstantial evidence.” Ondricko v. MGM Grand Detroit, LLC, 689 F.3d 642, 648-49 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing DiCarlo v. Potter, 358 F.3d 408, 414 (6th Cir.2004)). Plaintiff and Defendant appear to agree that there is no direct evidence of discrimination. (ECF No. 19 at PageID.87; ECF No. 21 at PageID.340.) “In the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, Title VII claims are subject to the familiar burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817 (1973).” Risch v. Royal Oak Police Dep't, 581 F.3d 383, 390 (6th Cir. 2009). This involves three steps.

[T]he plaintiff must first submit evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that he or she established a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff does so, the defendant must then offer admissible evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action. Finally, if the defendant succeeds in this task, the plaintiff must identify evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the proffered reason is actually a pretext for unlawful discrimination.

Id. at 391 (internal quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted).

To establish a prima facie case of gender discrimination through circumstantial evidence, [a plaintiff] must show that: (1) she is a member of a protected group; (2) she was subjected to an adverse employment decision; (3) she was qualified for the position; and (4) she was replaced by a person outside the protected class, or similarly situated non-protected employees were treated more favorably.

Regan v. Faurecia Auto. Seating, Inc., 679 F.3d 475, 481 (6th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations marks omitted).

         Plaintiff's claims predicated upon the denial of training and tuition reimbursement and unfavorable scheduling all fail because Plaintiff has not established that similarly-situated male employees were treated more favorably. As to the first three alleged adverse actions, Plaintiff simply claims that “[t]hese actions, when taken in context with the other actions of the Defendant establish a pattern of discrimination against the Plaintiff on the basis of her gender.” (ECF No. 21 at PageID.341.) this does not suffice for Plaintiff to meet her evidentiary burden. As to the issue of tuition reimbursement, Plaintiff asserts that “[i]n distributing these funds, Defendant repeatedly favored male officers in regard to approving reimbursement over the allotted five-thousand dollars approved by the ...


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