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Witham v. Intown Suites Louisville Northeast, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

June 10, 2015

AMY SUE WITHAM, Plaintiff,


DAVID J. HALE, District Judge.

Intown Suites Louisville[1] Northeast, LLC ("Intown") fired Amy Sue Witham from her job as a hotel general manager following her altercation with a disgruntled vending machine customer, citing her unprofessional behavior during the fracas as the reason for her termination. Witham suffered minor injuries during the confrontation and filed a request for workers' compensation the same day Intown fired her. Witham now claims that her firing was retaliation for that request. Intown believes that no jury could find in her favor. It requests summary judgment. The Court agrees that summary judgment is appropriate.

I. Factual Background

Witham was the General Manager of an extended-stay hotel property in Louisville, Kentucky. Intown owned that property and employed Witham. The parties agree that until her altercation with the disgruntled vending machine customer, Witham performed her job duties well.

As to the events giving rise to her termination, however, Witham and Intown often disagree. In the following paragraphs, the Court recounts the events from the perspective of each party. As this is a motion for summary judgment, the Court will view the facts in the light most favorable to Witham, the non-movant. And so, where the two versions of the events diverge, the Court accepts Witham's version as true.

A. The Altercation

On November 19, 2012, Witham was working behind the front desk of the hotel. A camera faced the front desk from the public entrance-that is, it was pointing head-on at Witham. In color and with sound, the video from that camera depicts the following events.

Witham was speaking with two men, one of whom, Edward Lucas, worked for Intown. The two men stood on the other side of the front desk from Witham, facing her with their backs to the camera. They were positioned between the front desk and the public entrance. A third man-Damien Depa, at the time an Intown manager-in-training-stood behind the counter with Witham and walked in and out of view during the video.

A few moments into the video, a stranger entered from the public entrance and stood behind Lucas and the other man. When Lucas and the other man realized the stranger was behind them, they ended their conversation with Witham and left through the public entrance. The stranger approached the front desk. He told Witham that the hotel's vending machine was broken-he had ordered a root beer and been given bottled water. Witham began to explain that the hotel did not own the vending machine, and then she asked him for his room number. He told her that he was not an Intown guest-he lived in an apartment across the street. She then told him that the vending machine was for hotel guests only and warned that police could ticket him for trespassing. She reiterated that the hotel did not own the vending machine and that she could not give him a refund.

Then there was silence. Suddenly, the stranger muttered something that-to the Court- was inaudible. Whatever was said, Witham took offense, and replied, "Well, you're not a tenant here so you're not gonna talk like that in my office, and you can go ahead and leave." From here, the situation escalated quickly. She told him several more times to leave. He moved to the door as they continued their heated exchange. She made an exaggerated "goodbye" gesture. As the stranger was about to exit, he made a comment about Witham being lucky that he refrained from coming over the counter of the front desk. Witham then dared him to do so and pointed out the security camera. She repeated the dare several times while raising her voice.

He answered the dare and climbed up onto the counter and threatened to "f[**]k her up"; she kept daring him and even put up her hands-fingers pointed towards the sky, with her palms facing her chest-and motioned repeatedly towards herself, further inviting him to cross over the counter. Then the stranger reached out and shoved a computer monitor to the floor. Witham told Depa to call 911 and came out from behind the front desk. From the parties' briefings, it appears that the door she used was locked from the visitor side-that is, she could come out from behind the desk via the door, but the stranger could not have reached her through the door.

Witham situated herself between the stranger and the public entrance, which blocked his only apparent way out of the lobby. The stranger grabbed the door and repeatedly tried to open it, but each time Witham shoved her body against the door to block his escape. Indeed, the second time he tried to open the door-whether inadvertently or not-Witham stuck out her left forearm near his throat and he visibly recoiled. Then he shoved her; she shoved back. The two scuffled back and forth and fell to the ground. The stranger got the upper hand: He stood up and kicked her at least twice before he flung the door open and rushed out. Not long thereafter, Witham stood up and followed him out. That is the end of the camera's footage. There was more scuffling outside-this time involving Lucas as well-but the stranger got away before police arrived.

Witham eventually went back inside, collected her things, and went to the hospital for treatment. She complained of a broken finger; a sore right hand; and swelling, bruising, and pain in her face. There is dispute about who made contact, but either Witham or Depa reached out to Mark McCracken, the Market Manager for Intown, to tell him about the incident. When McCracken arrived, he, Lucas, and Depa spoke to the responding police officers about what happened. McCracken also conversed with Witham's brother about her condition. Depa prepared an incident report, ...

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