Plaintiffs Nathaniel Stanley and Darla Flannery claim that they were fired in retaliation for opposing inappropriate relationships between management and staff at their place of employment. However, because the plaintiffs' actions in opposition to those relationships did not constitute protected activities, their claims must be dismissed.
The court presents the following statement of relevant facts, which are either undisputed or viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Stanley and Flannery were employed by defendant Insights Training Group ("Insights") to work as staff members at the Whitney M. Young Job Corps Center (the "Center"). The Center was a residential facility that provided job training skills to its students. At any given time, there were 400 to 500 students living at the campus and attending school there. The managers of the Center were employed by defendant Horizon Youth Services, LLC ("Horizon").
In the fall of 2006, Valerie Blakemore, a manager at the Center, saw William Houston, the Assistant Director of the Center, inside a classroom in a "comprising situation" with staff member Victoria Mott.*fn1 Blakemore also became aware that Mott was supposedly having an affair with a different manager, Eric Lee, whose wife, Terrie Lee, worked at the Center.*fn2 In addition, Leondra Scott, another staff member at the Center, told Blakemore that she had an "inappropriate relationship" with her supervisor, Anthony Bolden. According to Blakemore, it was clear to her that staff members that had relationships with managers had job security and were permitted to take unexcused absences and to avoid work, while other employees did not enjoy those perks.
Blakemore told Ian Crump, the Director of the Center, about the staff-management relationships of which she was aware. Crump responded by telling Blakemore that she either had to resign her position or be fired. Blakemore requested a leave of absence due to stress, and was fired within a week of her return.Cora Brown, who had recently began working as the Human Resources Manager at the Center when Blakemore was fired, recalled that Blakemore was terminated due to allegations that she was not doing her job. However, Blakemore denied those allegations to Brown and told her that she was being fired because she knew of untoward sexual relationships between managers and staff employees.
In early January 2007, Darla Flannery complained to Brown about Victoria Mott. Flannery stated that Mott was supposed to instruct an afternoon class, but "found a way to get out of it constantly" and "had certain individuals in her office visiting for two to three hours at a time." In February of 2007, Flannery again spoke to Brown. In a confidential report of the conversation, Brown wrote that Flannery believed she was "being targeted by Ms. Mott and was in jeopardy overtime [sic] of losing her job."
Subsequently, Flannery provided Brown a written statement. Flannery stated that Mott could get her "manager buddies" to do what she wants and she "uses those relationships to hurt others." Mott was given "free reign" to do scheduling and make the curriculum, as well as to change jobs or offices. Additionally, Mott had been "rotten" to Flannery. Flannery alleged that Mott had helped get Marlene Wright, Ron Robinson, and Blakemore fired, and had tried to get Bren Young and Flannery fired as well. In the written statement, Flannery also made allegations concerning relationships between various persons that worked at the Center. Flannery related that Scott told her about a bar outing that was attended by, among others, Scott, Bolden, Eric Lee, Terrie Lee, Mott, and Rose Lee.*fn3 At the bar, various members of the group had "got nasty on the dance floor" and Bolden had said sexually suggestive things to Scott. Flannery also stated that numerous students had made remarks about Mott's relationship to Eric Lee. Flannery further alleged that Rose Lee and Houston were "together in some capacity," and Houston "protect[ed]" Rose Lee so that she could do "whatever she wants." Rose Lee had been rude to Flannery, other staff, and even students. A few days after Flannery provided the written statement to Brown, she told Brown that she did not want there to be "unfairness in the work place," because it made people "upset in every way."
Brown shared Flannery's concerns with Crump. Brown also requested more information from Flannery. In a March 6, 2007 email, Flannery stated:
Unfairness is when Ms[.] Mott is given control of scheduling, curriculum, change job positions or offices and we have no say so. . . . She makes sure that it works to her advantage, such as taking the afternoon curriculum and less to do. She uses Mr. Houston and Mr. Lee to get whatever she wants.
Flannery further stated that Mott "treated [her] rotten" and "bullied" her and others. Mott did not do her own job, but still complained about other people's work. Additionally, Flannery noted that Stanley had related to her that on at least one occasion Mott and Eric Lee had gone into Mott's office, shut the door, and stayed there for hours. According to Flannery, "Ms[.] Mott shouldn't be visiting for hours on end with a married man with the door shut. His wife works here; he obviously doesn't care that it looks bad." In Flannery's opinion, Mott's actions were "unethical." Flannery stated, "The behavior that needs stopped [sic] is Ms [sic] Mott not being allowed to judge us at all." Noting that many of Mott's other co-workers had issues with Mott, Flannery stated that it was "obvious where the trouble lies." Flannery believed that Mott should "get in trouble," "only be allowed to talk about herself," and be stopped from "flirting."
Flannery also complained about Scott in the e-mail, stating that Scott had no "integrity" and had "lied" about having an affair with Bolden so that he would not "lose his good paying job." Scott also openly talked about "immoral things." Flannery further stated that Rose Lee "got extremely cocky after becoming close with Mr. Houston," although Flannery was apparently unsure of the exact nature of Rose Lee's relationship with Houston. Flannery stated that she "wonder[ed] if these females use the managers just to get what they want sometimes."
On the same day that Flannery sent the email to Brown, she also met with Brown to discuss her expectations for resolution of the issues. Flannery told Brown that Mott should "stop worrying about how [Flannery] performs her job." Flannery and Brown brainstormed appropriate responses to negative comments made by Mott. Flannery agreed that in the case of future disagreements between her and Mott, Flannery would suggest to Mott that the two meet with their supervisor, Charles Hobbs. After the discussion, Flannery told Brown that she considered the matter closed.
Meanwhile, Stanley had noticed that Houston visited Rose Lee every morning and evening and he had seen them embracing once. Additionally, Stanley noticed that Eric Lee would go to Mott's office every morning and evening, and sometimes during class sessions. Lee and Mott would close the door and the blinds. One time, they spent a half day or more in Mott's office with the door closed.
Stanley and Bren Young scheduled a March 1, 2007 meeting with Brown. According to a written report of that meeting, Young and Stanley alleged the following: "[c]ertain managers seem to spend an inordinate amount of time with certain employees"; "[c]laims of retaliation and favoritism are real"; "[c]laims of unfair distribution of the workload are real, i.e., some staff with lots of slack time (Scott and Mott), others with little time to accomplish all that is expected"; "[i]nteractions of senior managers with certain staff members are inappropriate, disruptive to the work and learning environment (students have noticed and commented)"; "[s]tudent(s) reported seeing staff (Scott, Mott, Houston) at a club"; "[m]ale students interact with Ms. Mott in ways that are inappropriate, too familiar"; and "Ms Mott tries to control what's going on in the classroom and uses her relationship with Mr. Le[e] to get Mr. Houston to use his position to see that she gets her way." Stanley and Young specifically identified Mott and Eric Lee as having a sexual relationship, and may have reported that Bolden was having an affair with Scott and that Houston and Rose Lee were involved in a relationship.
Stanley also spoke to Charles Hobbs, who was his supervisor as well as Flannery's. Stanley told Hobbs that female staff members were receiving favorable treatment, and Hobbs responded that he knew "what's going on," but did not want to get involved. In fact, other persons had also approached Hobbs and talked to him about allegations of relationships between Houston and Rose Lee, Eric Lee and Mott, and Scott and Bolden. Hobbs had personally noticed that Houston spent an inordinate amount of time in Rose Lee's office during non-class hours and Eric Lee spent a lot of time socializing with Mott. Because the allegations concerning the relationships between managers and staff was becoming "poisonous" to Hobbs' department, he spoke to his supervisor, Dorothy Mauzy, about the allegations; she said she would look into them.*fn4
Beyond Flannery and Stanley's complaints, Brown had also heard other people complain and make "snide remarks" about the relationships between members of management and employees. For instance, Brown had been told that Eric Lee and Mott had been spotted together socially after regular work hours, as had Houston and Rose Lee and Scott and ...