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Queen v. City of Bowling Green

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

July 20, 2018



          Joseph H. McKinley, Jr., Chief Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 42]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Court holds that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background

         PLAINTIFF Jeffrey Queen brings this lawsuit against Defendants, the City of Bowling Green (the “City”) and Captain Dustin Rockrohr. Queen worked for five years as a firefighter for the City. During the course of his employment, Queen observed his coworkers and superiors engage in behavior that was racist, sexist, homophobic, and discriminatory against non-Christians.

         First, Queen alleges that he was discriminated against on the basis of his religious beliefs. Queen is an atheist. When he began his training program, Assistant Chief of Training Norman Simpson referred to individuals with non-Christian beliefs as “pagans.” (Compl. [DN 1-2] ¶ 16.) Other firefighters asked Queen which church he belonged to. After training, a firefighter asked whether Queen had been “saved.” (Id. ¶ 19a.) Chief Colson told Queen that he needed to join a church and Chief Campbell advised Queen to “get right with Jesus.” (Id. ¶ 19c.) Captain Barnard stated that atheists “deserved to burn, ” and Chief Frye said, “I'll be damned if I work with [atheists], ” and he was “sure as hell glad none of those fuckers work here.” (Id. ¶ 19d.) Lastly, Queen was forced to participate in bible study during dinner at the fire station. Queen states that he acknowledged that he was an atheist in early 2016, and Captain Smith and another firefighter threatened to “burn his house down.” (Id. ¶ 23.)

         Queen was also harassed by coworkers who accused him of being homosexual. Queen does not identify as homosexual. To the contrary, he is married to a woman with whom he has a child. Still, Queen claims that he was called a “faggot” on a nearly daily basis. (Id. ¶ 31a.) His coworkers also teased that they thought Queen did not like women and called him a “queer.” (Id. ¶ 24.) Queen also observed his fellow firefighters making general discriminatory remarks about homosexuals, saying that they would not touch them because they “probably had AIDS.” (Id. ¶ 24e.) Queen was told, “If a homo works here, we'll make sure he dies in a fire. We'll chop his feet off.” (Id. ¶ 24f.) On another occasion, members of Queen's crew declined to give medical care to a man experiencing chest pain after learning that the man was gay.

         Queen also observed his coworkers and superiors within the Fire Department making other discriminatory comments. For example, several individuals displayed discriminatory animus towards other races. People within the Fire Department referred to African-Americans as “thugs, ” “hoodrats, ” and “niggers”. Muslims were called “towelheads, ” “sand niggers, ” “jihadis, ” and “ali-babas.” Queen also overhead his coworkers saying statements such as “we need to ship them all back where they came from” and “let the bombs torch them, they are going to hell anyway” when talking about Muslims. (Id. ¶ 19e). In 2015, a fellow firefighter burned a copy of the Quaran in front of the Fire Department while stating, “burn them all.” (Id. ¶ 21f.)

         In 2012, Queen complained to Defendant Dustin Rockrohr about the inappropriate slurs directed at him and other minorities. The next day, Captain Rockrohr called Queen at home and advised him that he had spoken to the Fire Chief and they believed Queen should seek other employment because it was “not working out” for him to continue at the Fire Department. (Id. ¶ 27.) Captain Rockrohr also told Queen to “get with the program if you want to continue being a firefighter.” (Id. ¶ 28.) Captain Rockrohr did not, however, take steps to address the subject matter of Queen's complaint. To the contrary, Queen states that after he complained, he was subjected to even more hostile behavior. On one occasion, Queen was tripped as he walked through the fire station.

         Queen also made other efforts to complain about the treatment he received at the Fire Department. He filed two anonymous complaints with the Fire Department's Human Resources Department - one in the spring of 2013 and another in the fall of 2014. Queen does not believe that the Human Resources Department investigated his complaints. He also attempted to use the City's ethics hotline to complain in 2015. Again, Queen contends that his complaints were never investigated.

         By February 2016, Queen claims that the harassment he endured at the Fire Department resulted in a level of anxiety that required a leave of absence. He was granted leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). While on leave, Queen received multiple phone calls from his superiors at the Fire Department asking for information about why he was absent. Eventually, Queen's fear surrounding the hostility from his coworkers caused him to resign from the Fire Department in May 2016.

         Queen claims that because of the hostile work environment at the Fire Department, he was constructively discharged from his employment. His Complaint alleges claims of hostile work environment based on religion (Count I) and gender (Count II), constructive discharge (Count III), violations of the FMLA (Count IV), and retaliation (Count V). Defendants seek summary judgment in their favor on all claims.

         II. Standard of Review

         Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying that portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show that there is some “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         III. Discussion

         A. Hostile Work Environment based ...

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