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Tiller v. Fluker

May 17, 2007

LENA TILLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MIKE FLUKER AND RICELAND FOODS, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Webber Wright United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Lena Tiller ("Tiller") filed this action against her former employer Riceland Foods, Inc. ("Riceland") and Mike Fluker ("Fluker"), one of her supervisors, alleging sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, Ark.Code Ann. § 16-123-101 et seq., ("ACRA"). She also asserts state law claims of intentional infliction of emotion distress and false imprisonment against Fluker.*fn1

Now before the Court are defendants' motions for summary judgment to which plaintiff responded. After careful consideration, and for the reasons stated below, the Court determines that defendants' motions should be granted.

Background

Riceland hired Tiller on March 20, 2000, to work on the packing room floor in the soybean division.*fn2 In February 2004, she transferred to a hydrogenation operator position, also in the soybean division. Tiller worked 12-hour rotating shifts, four days on and four days off. She worked on a crew that had two other employees and one shift supervisor. Depending on which shift she worked, Tiller's supervisor was either Fluker or Shelia Buffkin. Fluker was her supervisor three out of the four days of her shift.*fn3

Tiller claims that in late February 2004, Fluker pinned her up against her locker, put his hands around her stomach and tried to grab her breast. He allegedly told her she needed "to give him some." Tiller said she told Fluker "I don't think so" and walked away.*fn4 There were no witnesses and Tiller did not report the incident to anyone at the time. She says a couple days later, she told two co-workers, Mike Amos and Phil Washington, about the incident after they asked her why Fluker was following her everywhere.*fn5

Tiller says that on another occasion, sometime between February and April 2004, Fluker pulled her into the supervisor's office, shut the door, and stuck his hands down her pants. Tiller said she told Amos and Washington about the event the night it happened.*fn6 The next incident occurred in April when Fluker allegedly pulled Tiller into a cleaning closet, shut the door, and "held [her] up against the wall in there and tried to take advantage of [her]." She said she fought her way out of the closet and left. Tiller says she told Amos about the incident.*fn7 Tiller alleges that on another occasion Fluker grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to the railroad control room but she jerked loose and ran back upstairs. She discussed the incident with Amos but did not report it to anyone. Tiller also claims Fluker made sexual comments to her on a daily basis and that Amos and Washington overheard the comments*fn8

Tiller claims that sometime in June 2004, she told Buffkin about Fluker's actions toward her and asked her for advice. She says Buffkin suggested she file a complaint with Ashley Berry, Fluker's supervisor.*fn9

Tiller asked for and was given paid time off from July 9 to July 20, 2004.*fn10 As it turned out, July 4, 2004, was the last day Tiller worked at Riceland.*fn11 Tiller says that during this period of leave, she went to Iowa to look for a new job and was involved in an accident.*fn12 She called and notified Berry, who suggested Tiller take short-term disability.*fn13

Tiller called Berry on July 22 and told him she was going to see a plastic surgeon on July 26 regarding her injuries from her accident. In the same telephone conversation, Tiller told Berry she was having personal problems with Fluker and wanted to change shifts. Tiller did not report any sexual harassment to Berry during this conversation, allegedly because he said he did not want to discuss it over the telephone. According to Tiller, Berry told her he would try to get her on another shift.*fn14

On July 28, 2004, Tiller went to the Riceland facility to see Berry. She says she told him about the cleaning closet incident and one of the other incidents with Fluker. Berry suggested she speak with Tony Carlock, the location manager in the soybean division, and Tiller says she told Carlock about the cleaning closet incident. Carlock told Tiller she needed to talk to Lindy Rabeneck, Director of Human Resources. Tiller says she told Rabeneck about all the incidents with Fluker that she could think of at the time.*fn15 According to Tiller, Rabeneck told her she could not get Tiller a change of shift but could get her a different job, the only one posted, but it paid less. Tiller testified Rabeneck told her Riceland would start an investigation but Tiller told her she could not take the pay cut and would have to quit.*fn16 Tiller testified she thought the position was a permanent one and did not understand it to be a temporary assignment.*fn17

Two days later, Berry called Tiller to ask when she was coming back to work; Tiller told him she was not coming back.*fn18

Tiller filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on December 13, 2004. She received a right-to-sue letter on September 27, 2005, and filed an action in federal court on December 23, 2005. Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment on December 7, 2006. This case is set for trial the week of June 18, 2007.

Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As a prerequisite to summary judgment, a moving party must demonstrate "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must "do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving ...


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