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Waide v. City of Oklahoma City

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 29, 2019

CATHERINE E. WAIDE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF OKLAHOMA CITY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant City of Oklahoma City's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 54], filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The City seeks a judgment in its favor on all claims asserted in the Complaint: gender and race discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; interference with rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; violation of a Fourteenth Amendment right of due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and a parallel discrimination claim under Oklahoma law.[1] Plaintiff Catherine Waide has filed a response brief [Doc. No. 75], and the City has replied [Doc. No. 78]. Thus, the Motion is fully briefed.[2]

         Standard of Decision

         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). A material fact is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. Id. at 255. All facts and reasonable inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. If a party who would bear the burden of proof at trial lacks sufficient evidence on an essential element of a claim, all other factual issues concerning the claim become immaterial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a dispute of material fact warranting summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the movant carries this burden, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and “set forth specific facts” that would be admissible in evidence and that show a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998). “To accomplish this, the facts must be identified by reference to affidavits, deposition transcripts, or specific exhibits incorporated therein.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). The Court's inquiry is whether the facts and evidence identified by the parties present “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.” See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         Statement of Undisputed Facts [3]

         Until June 22, 2015, Plaintiff worked for the City as the superintendent of the grounds division of the parks department. This is a high-level management position that reports directly to the assistant director of the department, who in turn reports directly to the director. In her position as a division head, Plaintiff (a white female) had five peers who were heads of other divisions - three white males, one black male, and another white female. Plaintiff directly supervised two unit operations supervisors (a black male and a white male), a management specialist (white female), and an office coordinator (black female). As discussed infra, Plaintiff complains as part of her Title VII claim that the black male under her supervision, John Brooks, received no discipline for engaging in some of the same conduct for which she was terminated.[4]

         During 2014, the director and assistant director of the parks department, as well as the business manager, all retired. In May 2014, Douglas Kupper was hired as the new director. In October 2014, Walt Bratton was hired as the assistant director and became Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. In November 2014, Mr. Bratton approved Plaintiff's request to take 40 hours of paid leave from December 15-19, 2014; the parties dispute whether Mr. Bratton knew this leave period was protected by FMLA.

         On November 14, 2014, Mr. Bratton presented Plaintiff with her annual performance evaluation for the period of June 2013 to June 2014. Plaintiff received an overall rating of “Proficient - Meets All Expectations.” During the meeting, Mr. Bratton set goals for Plaintiff. She later provided comments about the goals; Mr. Bratton responded and sent a copy to Mr. Kupper. On November 20, 2014, Plaintiff met with Mr. Kupper and delivered a document stating complaints about Mr. Bratton's supervision, particularly his evaluation and his responses to her comments. Plaintiff said she did not believe any further conversation between her and Mr. Bratton would be successful because “he appears to interpret a differing opinion as a personal attack.” See Def. Kupper's Mot., Ex. 4 [Doc. No. 48-4] at 1 (ECF page numbering). Plaintiff stated that Mr. Bratton had questioned her integrity and abilities as a manager, and she complained of his chastising tone and lack of professional courtesy. Plaintiff also suggested certain comments by Mr. Bratton were “harassing.” Id. at 3. Mr. Kupper sent Plaintiff's complaint to the human resources department (“HR”) and discussed it with Mr. Bratton.

         More conflict between Plaintiff and Mr. Bratton, and complaints to Mr. Kupper, ensued. On December 22, 2014, following her FMLA leave, Plaintiff complained that Mr. Bratton's had “harassed” her female subordinate during her absence about Plaintiff's FMLA leave. See Waide Aff. [Doc. No. 75-1] ¶ 9. Mr. Kupper viewed Mr. Bratton's questioning of Plaintiff's leave as inappropriate and discussed it with him.

         On December 23, 2014, Mr. Bratton met with Plaintiff and discussed the status of five job assignments. Later that day, he followed up with an email summarizing their agreement regarding her projects and deadlines. He also advised her to “concentrate on focusing [her] energy on listening and following through with work assignments . . . rather than spending [her] valuable energy on how to get out of them.” See City's Mot., Ex. 8 [Doc. No. 54-8]. Plaintiff was offended by this comment, and complained to Mr. Kupper about it on December 29, 2014. She viewed it as an example of how Mr. Bratton “continue[d] to chastise, belittle and berate” her; she told Mr. Kupper that she found “the continual nature of this type of communication harassing.” See Id. After receiving this message, Mr. Kupper again contacted HR regarding Plaintiff's complaint.

         In January 2015, Plaintiff, Mr. Brooks, and Mr. Bratton interviewed candidates for a vacant position of field operations supervisor (“FOS”) in the grounds division. They selected two candidates and recommended them to the personnel department for hiring. The personnel operations manager, Rebecka Shaw, rejected the recommendation in favor of a different candidate, David Thiemann, whom they were instructed to hire. Plaintiff, Mr. Brooks, and Mr. Bratton met with Ms. Shaw on January 23, 2015, concerning her instructions. She directed them to meet with Mr. Thiemann, explain their expectations, delineate what tasks he would perform, and let him decide whether to accept the challenge. In Ms. Shaw's words, they should “have a come to Jesus meeting [with Mr. Thiemann] so he understands what he's getting into.” See Shaw Dep. [Doc. No. 75-16], 29:22-30:6.

         Plaintiff and Mr. Brooks subsequently met with Mr. Thiemann and offered him the job, which he accepted. Plaintiff's statements during the meeting later became the subject of a complaint by Mr. Thiemann in March 2015. He accused Plaintiff and Mr. Brooks of trying to discourage him from taking the job and setting him up to fail. According to Plaintiff, her statements were misconstrued and taken out of context. Within two months after assuming the position, Mr. Thiemann asked to be demoted to a lower position.

         Near the time of Mr. Thiemann's promotion, another vacant FOS position was filled by a candidate selected by Mr. Brooks and Plaintiff, without consulting Mr. Bratton. On January 29, 2015, Mr. Bratton sent email messages to Plaintiff and Mr. Brooks requesting an explanation. In communicating with Mr. Brooks, Mr. Bratton sent a copy to Plaintiff and included a message to her (“Catherine it is now 5:25 PM, and once again I sent you an email(s) requesting information and you didn't respond”) and referenced the personnel policy regarding insubordination. See City's Mot., Ex. 10 [Doc. No. 54-10]. On January 30, 2015, Plaintiff forwarded Mr. Bratton's message to Mr. Kupper with a complaint that she felt threatened and disrespected.[5] She also apologized for her mistake regarding the second FOS selection, stating she understood “the selection process was inappropriate and lacking communication.” Id. Ex. 11 [Doc. No. 54-11].

         On February 16, 2015, Mr. Bratton met with Plaintiff and presented her with a “Documentation Log” listing dates and items of concern regarding her performance. A personnel specialist, Carla Chatman, attended the meeting. Mr. Bratton discussed with Plaintiff the contents of the log, which consisted of a four-page, single-spaced document spanning a period from October 7, 2014, to February 13, 2015. The log included alleged instances in which Plaintiff failed to communicate with Mr. Bratton, did not comply with his directives or deadlines, and acted in an unprofessional manner, including making degrading comments regarding her employees. More than one witness has testified that Plaintiff used the word “retards” in reference to part-time or seasonal employees who worked in grounds maintenance. Plaintiff denies these reports and the accuracy of Mr. Bratton's log; she later provided a written response. Plaintiff cites the log as another example of Mr. Bratton's harassment and attempts to intimidate her.

         On February 20, 2015, Plaintiff met with Ms. Chatman and the personnel director, Dianna Berry, to discuss Mr. Bratton's treatment of her. Plaintiff took a copy of the log to the meeting. According to Plaintiff, she reported that she viewed Mr. Bratton's conduct as harassment and she believed he was treating her more harshly than male employees under his supervision. Neither Ms. Chatman nor Ms. Berry perceived Plaintiff's complaint as raising a personnel issue to be investigated. Plaintiff was instructed to discuss her concerns with Mr. Kupper. However, Mr. Kupper later met with Ms. Berry and others to discuss complaints that the personnel department had received about Mr. Bratton.

         On March 17, 2015, a probationary employee in the grounds division, referred to in Plaintiff's Motion only as D.B., allegedly made remarks that his co-workers considered threatening while holding a machete. D.B.'s supervisor did not send him home at the time of the incident, but reported it to Mr. Brooks. Plaintiff and Mr. Brooks reviewed witness statements and interviewed D.B., who denied picking up a machete. D.B. also complained that he had been denied training and had been retaliated against by his supervisor. Plaintiff and Mr. Brooks decided to transfer D.B. to another district until an investigation could be completed. However, on March 27, 2015, Mr. Bratton directed Plaintiff to terminate D.B.'s employment, which she did.

         Also in March 2015, Mr. Kupper directed Mr. Bratton to meet with Ms. Shaw and investigate a complaint that HR had received from Mr. Thiemann about his treatment by Mr. Brooks. Mr. Bratton launched an investigation in which he interviewed a number of employees regarding their treatment by Mr. Brooks and Plaintiff. On March 31, 2015, Mr. Bratton delivered a written report to Mr. Kupper that summarized witness interviews, stated his findings, and recommended that Plaintiff and Mr. Brooks “should be relieved of the responsibilities of their positions” due to “a pattern of behavior of management through fear and intimidation.” See City's Mot., Ex. 20 [Doc. No. 54-20] at 13.

         During a meeting with Mr. Kupper and Mr. Bratton on April 2, 2015, Plaintiff and Mr. Brooks were informed of the results of the investigation, and Plaintiff was informed she would be relieved of supervisory duties. Mr. Brooks received no discipline because, according to Mr. Kupper, “[t]he actions that Brooks was accused of happened under [Plaintiff's] management, not Mr. Bratton's management.” See Kupper Dep. 185:16-20. Mr. Kupper intended for Mr. Bratton to start “immediately working with Mr. Brooks . . . to change his attitude towards his employees, and take the necessary opportunities to counsel [him] on a better way of communicating.” Id. 186:2-7. Asked why Plaintiff did not receive the same opportunity, Mr. Kupper explained, “I felt that a woman and a manager of so many years of experience should intuitively know that these are the wrong activities, and again, if she wasn't aware that her management team was acting inappropriately, then there was issues with her ability to manage the organization.” Id. 186:8-15.

         Mr. Kupper provided Plaintiff a written list of her changed job responsibilities in a memorandum dated April 2, 2015. See City's Mot., Ex. 21 [Doc. No. 54-21]. Mr. Kupper intended the job changes to limit Plaintiff's contact with subordinate employees. Plaintiff believed some of the changes - such as a requirement to “[c]heck in with Walt Bratton each morning when arriving at the office, ” id., ¶ 3 - were intended to humiliate her. She also viewed the investigation as retaliation for her complaints about Mr. Bratton's conduct.

         At the April 2 meeting, Plaintiff delivered her written rebuttal to Mr. Bratton's log, and Mr. Kupper reviewed it. In the rebuttal, Plaintiff complained of Mr. Bratton's “oppressive micromanagement” that was meant to harass her and accused Mr. Bratton of engaging in “workplace bullying.” See City's Mot., Ex. 22 [Doc. No. 54-22] at 6, 10. Plaintiff also provided a copy of the rebuttal to HR, and met with Ms. Chatman on April 7, 2015, to discuss it and Mr. Kupper's April 2 memo. Plaintiff performed the responsibilities set out in the April 2 memo with agreed modifications, and certain duties that had been removed were subsequently restored.

         Later in April 2015, in response to complaints to HR about Mr. Bratton, Ms. Berry interviewed other division heads regarding Mr. Bratton's supervision. One interviewee, Melinda McMillan, also criticized Plaintiff's supervision of subordinate employees. Ms. Berry prepared a summary of reported complaints about Mr. Bratton. See Pl.'s Resp. City's Mot., Ex. 9 [Doc. No. 75-9]. In late April or early May, Mr. Kupper determined that Mr. Bratton was not correcting the issues that they had discussed, and ...


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