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Daquilla v. Brennan

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

October 10, 2017



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District Court

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. [DN 38.] Plaintiff Jessica Daquilla has responded, [DN 45], and Defendant, the United States of America, on behalf of its Agency the United States Postal Service, has replied. [DN 49.] This matter is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion [DN 38] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Jessica Daquilla (“Daquilla”) filed the current action against Megan J. Brennan, the Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service, (“USPS”), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging age and gender discrimination, age- and gender-based hostile work environment, and retaliation. [See DN 27.] Daquilla, a female over the age of 50, is an employee of the USPS, and has worked there since 2007. [Id. at 3.] She has worked at numerous locations, but transferred to the Murray, Kentucky Post Office in 2013, where she became a city route carrier. [Id. at 4.] In October of 2014, she began working “Route 6” for the Murray Post Office, where her supervisor was Amanda Wallace. [Id.] That same month, Sean Clark (“Clark”) was hired as the new Postmaster for the Murray Post Office. [Id.]

         Daquilla alleges in her Amended Complaint that, as soon as Clark started his job as Postmaster there, she noticed that he “treated female employees, especially older female employees, differently than the male employees. To the female employees, he was condescending, belittling, hateful, and demeaning. To the male employees he treated them with professional courtesy.” [Id.] Daquilla further alleges that, soon after Clark started, he began staring at her while she was working in the office, and made belittling and humiliating comments toward her. [Id.] Clark also allegedly treated her in a “hostile manner.” [Id.]

         In her Amended Complaint, Daquilla refers to a few specific incidents, which contributed to the filing of this lawsuit: first, she alleges that “Clark ordered [her] to meet the route timing that had been established by a much younger and taller male carrier who had the route previous[ly].” [Id. at 5.] Next, in October of 2014, Clark denied Daquilla relief on her route and then walked the route with her, at which time he allegedly made an inappropriate comment to her. [Id.] Daquilla claims that Clark complained that his legs hurt from walking at such a slow pace, and “that a monkey could do the job of Plaintiff.” [Id.] Clark disputes this narrative, claiming that Daquilla asked him why he stopped being a mail carrier, to which he replied that the repetitiveness of the job made him feel like a monkey. Next, Daquilla alleges that Clark rearranged her delivery route in such a way that she had to walk further, and was able to use her mail truck less. [Id. at 5-6.] In November of 2014, a Threat Assessment Team visited the Murray Post Office for the purpose of investigating allegations about Clark, stemming from the complaints Daquilla and other Murray Post Office employees had made about him. [Id. at 6.]

         Months later, in June of 2015, Daquilla alleges that Clark instructed her to return to the Murray Post Office at the end of her shift, but before she had finished delivering the mail assigned to her, at which time she passed off her undelivered mail. [Id. at 6-7.] The next morning, Daquilla alleges that she found that undelivered mail hidden in her mail hamper at the office, an offense Daquilla claims could have gotten her fired. [Id. at 7.] She alludes to the idea that Clark was involved in hiding the mail. [Id.] Defendant claims that Clark was on vacation at the time these events transpired. Additionally, in September of 2015, Daquilla alleges that she again requested assistance on her route and asked Clark if she could skip lunch in order to meet the route's demands. [Id. at 7.] Clark allegedly denied both of these requests, although Daquilla claims that Clark has let at least one male carrier skip lunch. [Id.] Daquilla also alleges that, because of Clark's attitude and hostile demeanor, she has become “worried about her personal safety and well being, as well as [that of] her co-workers at the Murray Post Office.” [Id.] Lastly, Daquilla references incidents between Clark and other females employees in the Murray Post Office, including Clark berating Tara Jerome, who was pregnant at the time, and that Clark had employee Dora Carlson follow Daquilla into the bathroom at work to monitor her. [DN 38-3, at 262.]

         Daquilla filed two separate complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), both of which were dismissed. [See DN 38-10; 38-13.] The Amended Complaint was filed within 90 days of the receipt of the EEOC's decision regarding Daquilla's second complaint, as required by the terms of that decision.


         Summary judgment is proper where “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When examining whether a motion for summary judgment should be granted, the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, “not every issue of fact or conflicting inference presents a genuine issue of material fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1477 (6th Cir. 1989). Rather, the question is whether the party who bears the burden of proof in the case has presented a jury question as to each element in the case. Hartsel v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 799 (6th Cir. 1996). This means that the plaintiff must present to the court more than a mere scintilla of evidence supporting her position. Id. Indeed, the plaintiff must present evidence on which the trier of fact could reasonably find for the plaintiff. Id. It is not enough for a plaintiff to present speculation as to elements of the case, because “the mere existence of a colorable factual dispute will not defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. A genuine dispute between the parties on an issue of material fact must exist to render summary judgment inappropriate.” Monette v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1177 (6th Cir. 1996).


         A. Disparate Treatment Claims

         In a Title VII action, the burden of persuasion rests with the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). To that end, “[the] plaintiff must either present direct evidence of discrimination or introduce circumstantial evidence that would allow an inference of discriminatory treatment.” Johnson v. Kroger Co., 319858, 864-65 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Johnson v. Univ. of Cincinnati, 215 F.3d 561, 572 (6th Cir. 2000)). In the case where a plaintiff is able to present to the Court “direct evidence of discriminatory intent in connection with a challenged employment action, ‘the burden of both production and persuasion shifts to the employer to prove that it would have [taken the adverse action] even if it had not been motivated by impermissible discrimination.'” Id. at 865 (quoting Nguyen v. City of Cleveland, 229 F.3d 559, 563 (6th Cir. 2000)). Where no direct evidence of discrimination is present in a case, “Title VII claims are subject to the familiar burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell…as is subsequently modified in Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981).” Risch v. Royal Oak Police Dept., 581 F.3d 383, 390 (6th Cir. 2009).

         Pursuant to the McDonnell framework, once the plaintiff has established a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer “to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the adverse employment action. McDonnell, 411 U.S. at 802. Then, if the employer is able to demonstrate a nondiscriminatory reason for the action, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the employer's reason is actually pretext for some unlawful discrimination. Id. at 804. In such a case, the burden of persuasion remains with the plaintiff at all times. Risch, 581 F.3d at 391.

         i. Age Discrimination

         The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA, prohibits the discharge of, or discrimination against, an employee who is 40 years of age or older because of their age. See 29 U.S.C. § 623(a); see also Clevidence v. Wayne Savings Community Bank, 143 F.Supp.2d 901, 906 (N.D. Ohio 2001). “An employer violates the ADEA when preference is given to a younger employee even if the younger employee is within the protected class of persons age 40-and-over.” Barnes v. GenCorp Inc., 896 F.2d 1457, 1466 (6th Cir. 1990). Daquilla presents no direct evidence of age discrimination in the present case, which means that her allegations must satisfy the McDonnell test, outlined above. See Id. See also Blackwell v. Sun Elec. Corp., 696 F.2d 1176, 1180 (6th Cir. 1983).

         Under a claim for age discrimination due to disparate treatment, the plaintiff must demonstrate four separate elements: “(1) membership in a protected group; (2) qualification for the job in question; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4) circumstances that support an inference of discrimination.” Blizzard v. Marion Tech. College, 698 F.3d 275, 283 (6th Cir. 2012); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510 (2002). Defendant does not contest the first two elements: Daquilla was 40 years of age or older at all relevant times, and was qualified for her job. Where Defendant takes exception is with respect to prong three: “adverse employment action.” Defendant claims that Daquilla cannot point to any adverse action actually taken against her, whether based upon age or otherwise, and ...

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