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Butrum v. The Louisville Zoo Foundation, Inc.

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

September 13, 2019



          Rebecca Grady Jennings, District Judge

         Defendant Louisville Zoo Foundation, Inc. has moved for summary judgment. [DE 60]. Briefing is complete, and the motion is ripe. For the reasons below, the Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 60] is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Louisville Metropolitan Government (“Louisville Metro”) employed Plaintiff Racheal Elizabeth Anne Butrum (“Butrum”) as Maintenance Supervisor at the Louisville Zoo (the “Zoo”), an agency of Louisville Metro. [DE 1, Compl. ¶¶ 1, 4]. Butrum was the first female Maintenance Supervisor at the Zoo. [Id. at ¶ 4]. Butrum alleges that during her employment she was subject to sexual harassment, that her supervisors undermined her authority and tolerated sexist behavior towards her by her subordinates, that she was treated differently than male employees, and that the Director of the Zoo intervened in a human resources investigation and falsified the findings. [Id. at ¶ 4-39].

         Butrum sued both the Louisville Zoo Foundation, Inc. (“Foundation”) and Louisville Metro. [DE 1, Compl. ¶¶ 1-2]. She alleges Sexual Harassment (Count 1), Hostile Work Environment (Count 2), and Sexual Discrimination (Count 3), in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, as well as Retaliation (Count 4) in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12203, Fraud and Conspiracy to Commit Fraud (Count 5) in violation of 17 C.F.R. § 23.410, violation of the Whistleblower Act, 5 U.S.C. § 1201 (Count 6), violation of the Open Records Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (Count 7), Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (“IIED”)(Count 8), Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (“NIED”)(Count 9), Defamation (Count 10), and Punitive Damages (Count 11). [DE 1, Compl. ¶¶ 41-72]. The complaint does not separate the Foundation and Louisville Metro and all eleven counts in Butrum's complaint are against “Defendants.” [Id.]

         The Foundation moves for summary judgment on all claims. [DE 60 at 1335]. The Foundation is a nonprofit, non-governmental entity that raises funds for the Zoo and promotes awareness of Zoo causes. [DE 60-2, 60-3]. The Foundation presents evidence that it is not involved with the Zoo's employment practices or management of the Zoo's employees. [DE 60-3, 60-4, 60-5]. The Foundation thus argues it cannot be liable for Butrum's claims. [DE 60 at 1340-42]. Butrum argues the Foundation and Zoo are essentially one entity. [DE 70 at 1615- 27]. Butrum further argues even if the Foundation and Zoo are separate entities, the Foundation is the Zoo's “employer, ” and that the Zoo's Director acted as an agent of the Foundation when he allegedly manipulated the result of a human resources investigation into Butrum's claims. [DE 70 at 1627-32]. For these reasons, Butrum asserts the Foundation is sufficiently connected to the Zoo to be liable for her claims.

         II. STANDARD

         Summary judgment is required when “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). The moving party bears the burden of specifying the basis for its motion and showing the lack 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 nonmoving party must produce specific facts showing a material issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The non-moving party cannot rest on its pleadings to avoid summary judgment but must support its claims with evidence. Id. Factual differences are not considered material unless the differences are such that a reasonable jury could find for the party contesting the summary judgment motion. Id. at 252.

         The Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Williams v. Int'l Paper Co., 227 F.3d 706, 710 (6th Cir. 2000). But the nonmoving party must do more than show 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 nonmoving party must 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[.]” Shreve v. Franklin Cty., Ohio, 743 F.3d 126, 136 (6th Cir. 2014). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving party].” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252.


         a. Title VII Claims and ADA Retaliation Claim

         Plaintiff's Title VII claims and ADA retaliation claim against the Foundation must be dismissed. “Title VII provides that ‘it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer' to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. A person aggrieved by such discrimination may bring a civil action against the ‘employer.' ” Wathen v. Gen. Elec. Co., 115 F.3d 400, 405 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a), 2000e-5(b)) (emphasis added). The ADA retaliation provision, 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a), states that “[n]o person shall discriminate against any individual because such individual has opposed any act or practice made unlawful by [the ADA] or because such individual made a charge . . . under [the ADA].” Id. This provision is much like Title VII's prohibition of retaliation. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Retaliation claims under the ADA use the same framework as a retaliation claim under Title VII. Johnson v. Cleveland City School Dist., 344 Fed. App'x 104, 113 (6th Cir.2009) (citing Penny v. United Parcel Serv., 128 F.3d 408, 417 (6th Cir.1997)). Butrum's Title VII claims and ADA retaliation claim will thus be analyzed together.

         Here, the Foundation was not Butrum's employer. Louisville Metro employs Zoo staff, including Butrum. [DE 60-8]. That said, an entity which is not the plaintiff's formal employer may be treated as if it were the employer for employment laws such as Title VII under either the single-employer doctrine or joint employer doctrine. Sanford v. Main St. Baptist Church Manor, Inc., 449 Fed.Appx. 488, 491 (6th Cir. 2011).

         Under the single-employer doctrine, “two nominally independent entities are so interrelated” that all the employees of one are attributed to the other. Sanford, 449 Fed.Appx. at 491 citing Swallows v. Barnes & Noble Book Stores, Inc.,128 F.3d 990, 993 (6th Cir.1997). In determining whether to treat two entities as a single employer, courts examine four factors: (1) interrelation of operations, i.e., common offices, common record keeping, shared bank accounts and equipment; (2) common management, common directors, and ...

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