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Hales v. Casey's Marketing Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 3, 2018

Lauren M. Hales Plaintiff- Appellant
Casey's Marketing Company Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: October 19, 2017

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Davenport .

          Before WOLLMAN and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges, and GOLDBERG, Judge. [1]

          WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

         Lauren Hales sued her former employer, Casey's Marketing Company (Casey's), for hostile work environment sexual harassment (hostile work environment) and retaliatory termination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Title VII) and the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA), Iowa Code § 216.1, et seq. The district court dismissed the ICRA claim as time-barred and rejected the Title VII claims on summary judgment. It also excluded evidence of previous sexual assaults and expert testimony. We affirm.

         Eighteen-year-old Hales was employed at Casey's Summer Street store in Burlington, Iowa, from April 9, 2013, through May 31, 2013. On May 28-29, 2013, Hales worked the 9:00 p.m to 5:00 a.m. shift at Casey's West Avenue store, also located in Burlington, Iowa. This was her second time working at this location.

         At approximately 1:44 a.m. on May 29, a male customer entered Casey's West Avenue store, where he stayed for approximately twenty-two minutes. Hales had never met this customer before. The customer purchased some items and began speaking with Hales, asking her if she had a boyfriend and if she worked at the West Avenue location often. He also made comments about her appearance. The customer told Hales about where he lived, where he worked, what kind of vehicle he drove, that there was a dashboard camera on his vehicle, and, using a sexually suggestive tone, that he liked to film things.

         In an attempt to "elude" the customer, Hales decided that she was going to go outside to smoke a cigarette. She asked a co-worker to keep an eye on her because a customer had been "hitting on her." The co-worker asked Hales why she was going outside if the customer was still in the store and suggested that Hales should just ask him to leave. Hales responded that she could take care of herself.

         The customer followed Hales outside and blocked the entrance to the store. Hales asserts that after the customer said that "his girlfriend calls him when it's raining outside to tell [him] how wet she is, [but that] that's his job, " Hales told him to "back off." The customer replied, "What are you going to do about it?" In response, Hales extended her cigarette towards the customer in an attempt to make him move away. The customer instead stepped toward Hales and burned his left arm on her cigarette. The customer recoiled and then reentered the store, followed by Hales.

         The customer returned to the Casey's West Avenue store the next day and reported that Hales had burned him with a cigarette. The West Avenue manager thereafter reviewed the surveillance tapes, and informed the Summer Street location manager about the incident between Hales and the customer.

         When Hales reported for her next shift at Casey's Summer Street store on May 31, 2013, her manager asked her if "anything out of the ordinary had happened" while working at the West Avenue store. Hales acknowledged that she had burned a customer with her cigarette, but stated that she did so in order to defend herself. The manager thereupon terminated Hales's employment.

         On June 27, 2013, and February 10, 2014, Hales filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC), arguing that her termination was based on discrimination and in retaliation for resisting sexual harassment. The complaint was cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On June 1, 2014, Hales requested separate administrative releases from the ICRC and the EEOC. The ICRC issued Hales an administrative release letter on her ICRA complaint on June 4, 2014. The EEOC mailed Hales a Dismissal and Notice of Rights on her retaliation claim on September 24, 2014. It mailed Hales a Dismissal and Notice of Rights on her hostile work environment claim on October 8, 2014, which she received on October 13, 2014. The EEOC's letters stated that a lawsuit "must be filed WITHIN 90 DAYS of your receipt of this notice, or your right to sue based on this charge will be lost." (emphasis in original). The EEOC sent copies of the letter to James Hales (Mr. Hales), who is Hales's father as well as her attorney. Both sets of letters were sent to the same residential address, because Hales lived there with her father from June 2014 to September 2014.[2]

         Hales filed suit in federal district court on January 7, 2015. Casey's moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) arguing that Hales's ICRA claim was time-barred because it was filed outside the statutory filing period. See Iowa Code § 216.16(4) (stating that "an action . . . is barred unless commenced within ninety days after issuance by the commission of a release"). Hales argued that the limitation period should apply only to parties who wish to have their claim resolved in state court. She also argued that her claim should not be time-barred because the EEOC did not issue its letter until after the state court filing deadline had expired. The district court disagreed and granted Casey's motion to dismiss on the ICRA claim.

         Hales sought to introduce evidence that she had previously been sexually assaulted, along with testimony from her counselor that Hales had been undergoing therapy in order to learn to have a voice and be "empowered" to resist sexual assaults. The district court granted Casey's motion in limine and motion to exclude expert opinion and testimony, concluding that evidence of Hales's ...

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