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Beauvais v. City of Inkster

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

November 9, 2017

Susan Beauvais, Plaintiff,
City of Inkster and Booker Snow, Defendants.



          GERSHWIN A. DRAIN United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         On August 1, 2016, Plaintiff Susan Beauvais (“Plaintiff” or “Beauvais”) filed a Complaint against the City of Inkster, Michigan (“Defendant” or “Inkster”) and former Inkster Police Officer Booker Snow. See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff amended her Complaint on February 3, 2017. See Dkt. No. 18. There, she alleges violations of the following state and federal laws: violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) (Count I); violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) (Count II); violations of Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on sexual harassment, (Count III); and violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on retaliation (Count IV). See id.

         Presently before the Court is Defendant Inkster's Motion for Summary Judgment [31]. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [31]. The Court GRANTS the Defendant's Motion as to Counts I, II and III, and DENIES Defendant's Motion as to Count IV.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff Susan Beauvais worked as a police officer for the City of Inkster, Michigan during various periods from November 2007 until May 2017. Dkt. No. 18, p. 2 (Pg. ID 130); Dkt. 32, p. 22 (Pg. ID 1223).

         A. Sexual Harassment Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that her former co-worker, Defendant Booker Snow, sexually harassed her on several occasions. Dkt. No. 32, p. 14-15 (Pg. ID 1215-16). On April 12, 2014 Officer Snow approached her and whispered in her ear “[y]ou're feeling frisky aren't you?” Dkt. No. 32-25, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1396). He continued “I can take care of that, yes I can.” Id. Four days later, on April 16, 2014, Snow approached her as she “was sitting with [her] hands behind [her] head, ” and began “taking pictures of her chest” with his cell phone. Id.; see also Dkt. No. 32-24, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1394). Uncomfortable with Snow's actions, Beauvais crossed her arms to block her chest. Dkt. No. 18, p. 12 (Pg. ID 140). Snow, however, told Beauvais to lift up her arms. Id.

         On another occasion, Snow showed Beauvais a picture of his girlfriend and said “[m]y girl loves black cock and white pussy, you know we really both could take care of you. Yeah, we could make you feel good and totally relax.” Id. Beauvais also frequently overheard Snow refer to women with whom he lived as “ho's” and heard him telling these women “to get naked before he got home because he wanted to ‘be sucked.” Id.

         B. Report to Supervisors and Inkster's Response

         Beauvais orally notified her supervisors of Snow's actions on April 16, 2014, and on April 24, 2014, she gave them a written complaint detailing Snow's actions.[1]Dkt. No. 32-45, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1456); Dkt. No. 18, p. 2-3 (Pg. ID 130-31).

         Immediately after Beauvais reported Snow's actions, Inkster pledged to separate Beauvais and Snow. Dkt. No. 32, p. 16-17 (Pg. IDs 1217-18). The day following Beauvais's complaint, however, Snow remained on the same shift as Beauvais. Id. This shift was the last one Beauvais and Snow would work together. See Dkt. No. 32-2, p. 12 (Pg. ID 1249); see also Dkt. No. 31, p. 16 (Pg. ID 234).

         Inkster held an internal disciplinary hearing regarding Beauvais's complaints. Dkt. No. 31, p. 36-37 (Pg. ID 254-55); Dkt. No. 32-47, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1476). The then Chief of the Inkster Police Department, Vicki Yost, conducted the hearing and concluded that Snow violated Inkster's sexual harassment policies. Dkt. No. 32-47, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1476). Because of this finding, Yost imposed on Snow a three-day suspension: he was to pay back one day in salary, serve one day immediately, and then serve another day if accused or found culpable of similar conduct. Dkt. No. 31-5, p. 2 (Pg. ID 371).

         Additionally, Inkster hired an independent law firm to investigate Beauvais's allegations regarding Snow and whether gender or sexual harassment issues permeated the Inkster Police Department. Dkt. No. 31-4, p. 2 (Pg. ID 348). The law firm interviewed Beauvais, Snow and other officers relevant to Beauvais's allegations, and also reviewed videotape of interactions between Beauvais and Snow. Id. It concluded that Snow's comments to Beauvais “were inappropriate, and could be considered sexual harassment, warranting disciplinary action.” Id. at p. 3 (Pg. ID 349).

         Human Resources Director LaZonja Smith ordered sexual harassment training for the Police Department and also other Inkster City Departments. Dkt. No. 32, p. 28-29 (Pg. ID 1229-30). Smith testified that the training was motivated by two considerations: (1) the City, including the police department, had not had sexual harassment training in several years; and (2) complaints of sexual harassment, including Plaintiff's complaint. Dkt. No. 31-7, p. 37 (Pg. ID 424).

         C. Request for Personal Leave

         On September 10, 2014, writing to Chief Yost, Beauvais requested “an extended personal leave from work to handle some personal issues.” Dkt. No. 32-9, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1319). Beauvais requested leave from September 24, 2014 through November 9, 2014. Id. She wrote that she would be willing to take this leave as unpaid and that her “request is solely based for the purpose to handle pertinent personal issues/matters.” Id.

         Beauvais supported her request for leave with letters from two of her doctors, Dr. Robert Klotz and Dr. George Nicoloff. Dkt. No. 31-13. Dr. Klotz's letter is dated September 8, 2014, and addressed to Chief Yost. Id. at p. 2 (Pg. ID 587). Klotz wrote that he examined Beauvais “for signs and symptoms of acute work related stress, ” and that “[a]s a result of this stress, she is suffering from a number of physical and emotional signs and symptoms that are typical reactions consistent with issues of personal safety, work-related problems.” Id. Klotz explained that her “issues are not related to being a patrol officer on the streets”; rather, “[s]he is stressed about Departmental issues affecting duty performance.” Id. Likewise, Dr. Nicoloff also addressed his letter to Chief Yost and explained that Beauvais was “suffering from work related stress with symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, and other stress related symptoms.” Id. at p. 3 (Pg. ID 588).

         Chief Yost granted Beauvais's request for leave. See Dkt. No. 31-14, p. 33 (Pg. ID 621). Inkster classified Beauvais's temporary departure as worker's compensation leave because Beauvais “cited it as job-related.” Id.

         D. Medical Examinations

         On December 29 and December 30 of 2014, Beauvais's doctors cleared her to return to work without restrictions. See Dkt. No. 31-17, p. 2-3 (Pg. ID 749-50). Dr. Klotz observed that “[Beauvais's] signs and symptoms of Acute Work-Related Stress have evolved, and are no longer present.” Id. at 2 (Pg. ID 749). Similarly, Dr. Nicoloff determined that “[Beauvais] has recovered fully and is medically cleared to return to work full time.” Id. at 3 (Pg. ID 750).

         Beauvais did not immediately return to work, however, as Chief Yost required that Beauvais undergo an independent medical evaluation in advance of her return. Dkt. No. 31-14, p. 35, 42-43 (Pg. ID 623, 631-32). Yost testified that she required Plaintiff to undergo an independent medical exam based on a concern “as to whether [Beauvais] was capable of performing her duties.” Id. at p. 35 (Pg. ID 623). Specifically, Yost testified that she was concerned for two reasons: Beauvais's September 2014 doctors' notes and “Inkster's liability.” Id.

         Beauvais underwent an independent medical evaluation and, on April 21, 2015, obtained independent medical clearance to return to work without restrictions. Dkt. No. 31-18, p. 15-16 (Pg. ID 765-66). Yet she did not return to work until May 12, 2015. Dkt. No. 32, p. 9, 31 (Pg. ID 1210, 1232). Human Resources Director Smith testified that she did not know why Beauvais did not return to work before May 12, 2015. Dkt. No. 32-12, p. 13 (Pg. ID 1342). Smith said that although the doctor's letter clearing Beauvais is dated April 21, 2015, she does not recall when Inkster received the letter. Id. Smith said that Inkster may not have returned Beauvais to work earlier because Inkster was busy defending a lawsuit, may have encountered scheduling issues, or may have had difficulty contacting Beauvais. Id.

         E. FMLA Leave

         Plaintiff requested FMLA leave on December 10, 2015. Dkt. No. 31-35, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1181). Human Resources Director Smith initially denied Beauvais's request because Smith did not believe that Beauvais had worked the requisite number of hours for leave under the FMLA. Dkt. No. 32-37, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1435). On December 11, 2015, Beauvais gave Smith evidence that she had worked the necessary number of hours. Id. Beauvais received approval of her FMLA leave on December 16, 2015. Dkt. No. 31-35, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1181).

         F. Employment Actions

         On July 4, 2016, Beauvais was promoted to acting Sergeant. Dkt. No. 31, p. 22 (Pg. ID 240). Because of this promotion, she received an increase in pay. Dkt. No. 31-21, p. 72 (Pg. ID 849). This was only a temporary position, however. Dkt. No. 31-6, p. 14 (Pg. ID 386). Moreover, Beauvais's promotion was partly motivated by an injury to the then Sergeant, Linda Davidson. Id. Davidson was placed on leave, and therefore, could not fulfill her duties. Id.

         Beauvais was demoted back to police officer in December 2016 or January 2017, and she learned of this demotion in a wide-spread email distribution. Dkt. No. 32, p. 19-20 (Pg. ID 1220-21). At the time of Beauvais's demotion, Sergeant Davidson had not returned to full duty, but was back to work completing administrative tasks. Dkt. No. 31-6, p. 14 (Pg. ID 386).

         Inkster asserts that it demoted Beauvais because of budgetary constraints. Dkt. No. 31, p. 22 (Pg. ID 240). Inkster had exceeded its budget for overtime expenses, however, and had paid certain officers overtime for tutoring individuals in the police academy. See Dkt. No. 32-7, p. 6 (Pg. ID 1311); see also Dkt. No. 32-28, p. 5 (Pg. ID 1414).

         III. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) “directs that summary judgment shall be granted if ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Cehrs v. Ne. Ohio Alzheimer's Research Ctr., 155 F.3d 775, 779 (6th Cir. 1998). The court must view the facts, and draw reasonable inferences from those facts, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). No genuine dispute of material fact exists where the record “taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Matsushita Elec. Indus., Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The essential inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         IV. Discussion

         Defendant City of Inkster asserts it is entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. See Dkt. No. 31, p. 1-2 (Pg. ID 219-20). Inkster argues that the Plaintiff does not raise a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Defendant Inkster (1) “regarded” Plaintiff as disabled under the ADA (Count I); (2) engaged in conduct that satisfies a prima facie case of FMLA interference (Count II); (3) committed acts proving a prima facie case of sexual discrimination under Title VII or the ELCRA (Count III); and (4) retaliated against Plaintiff in violation of Title VII (Count IV). For Counts I, II and III, the Court finds that the Plaintiff fails to raise a genuine dispute regarding a material fact, and therefore, the Court will grant summary judgment as to those Counts. For Count IV, however, the Court finds that there is a genuine dispute of material fact that prevents summary judgment as to that Count.

         A. ADA Claims

         The Court will first consider Beauvais's claim that the City of Inkster regarded her as disabled because the City required her to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation and delayed her return to work. The ...

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