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Naguib v. Trimark Hotel Corporation

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 11, 2018

Isis Naguib Plaintiff- Appellant
Trimark Hotel Corporation, a Texas corporation; M&C Hotel Interest Inc., a Delaware corporation, doing business as Millennium Hotel & Resorts Defendants - Appellees Employee Lawyers Association of the Upper Midwest Amicus on Behalf of Appellant(s)

          Submitted: February 14, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis



         Isis Naguib was fired from her job as Executive Housekeeper at Millennium Hotel ("Millennium") in Minneapolis, a Trimark Hotel Corporation ("Trimark") property, after an internal wage and hour investigation revealed that the housekeeping department had been rounding employee hours down. The hotel claims Naguib instituted the practice and benefitted from it because she received an annual bonus for decreasing payroll costs. Naguib contends that she was fired because of her age, as retaliation for her truthful deposition testimony in previous litigation, for taking protected leave, and for opposing discriminatory practices. The district court [1] granted summary judgment to Trimark on all counts because it found that Millennium had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its adverse employment action. Naguib appeals, and we affirm.

         I. Background

         Naguib ran the housekeeping department at Millennium from 1977 until she was fired in 2014. In that role she oversaw roughly 50 housekeepers and managed payroll for the department. Housekeepers at Millennium typically worked eight-hour shifts. Any time worked in excess of eight hours qualified as overtime, during which employees were entitled to a higher wage rate. Millennium tracked its employee hours using a punch clock system. However, Naguib also required housekeepers to handwrite their hours on a sign-in sheet. Some housekeepers would later report that Naguib had told them they were not allowed to list any overtime hours on the handwritten sheet; they were directed to write in eight-hour shifts rather than the same hours reflected in the punch clock system. Naguib then manually overrode punch clock times and entered the shifts reflected on the handwritten sheets. Naguib's contract with Millennium included an annual one percent bonus tied to minimizing employee payroll.

         Naguib's discrimination and retaliation claims are based on a series of incidents that occurred over roughly three years. First, she testified in a 2011 deposition that Millennium used the "Freeman" cleaning standard despite being told by Millennium's General Manager, Robert Rivers, that the hotel did not use that standard, which she considered to be untruthful. Millennium ended up settling that lawsuit for $20 million. It is unclear if Naguib's testimony played any role in that settlement, but Naguib claims it is one reason that she was eventually fired. Second, in April 2013 Rivers sent an e-mail to his replacement, new General Manager Katie Neufeld, asking whether she was "taking control" of Naguib. J.A. at 105. Third, in June 2014 Neufeld said to Naguib, "you'll probably never retire, we'll be carrying you out . . . in a box." Id. at 83. Fourth, Neufeld allegedly asked Naguib to tell her Muslim employees to get notes from their mosques saying they could wear head scarves to work. Neufeld denies this ever happened, and company policy accommodated religious attire at all times.

         Fifth, Naguib had consistently been allowed to roll over her vacation hours from one year to another throughout her tenure at Millennium despite a hotel policy to the contrary. On June 4, 2014, Naguib requested to carry roughly 80 hours past her July 1 deadline. Millennium told Naguib that she could use the hours before December 31 of that year. After Naguib declined to select vacation days to use her hours, Millennium assigned her days off starting on October 21. She claims this was retaliation for a separate discrimination complaint filed by her son Omar, a hotel employee. Finally, on October 30, 2014, Naguib requested Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave due to hypertension. Millennium granted the request but suspended and fired her shortly thereafter.

         Naguib claims that any or all of these incidents led to her firing or indicate an animus that motivated her firing. Millennium tells a different story. During Naguib's mandatory vacation days and subsequent FMLA leave in October 2014, David Simmons filled in as head of housekeeping at Millennium. He personally observed timekeeping irregularities and flagged them for management. For example, he observed that housekeepers routinely punched out after their scheduled work hours and then wrote in a lower hour total on their sign-in sheet. When Simmons asked them about this practice, they told him that Naguib had told them they were not allowed to list overtime hours. Millennium investigated the wage and hour issue with housekeeping and throughout the rest of the hotel. During the investigation, multiple employees reported that Naguib had told them not to list overtime hours. The investigation also revealed that housekeeping had by far the most punch time edits of any Millennium department. Naguib claims that management essentially condoned that practice for years. Simmons also discovered that one housekeeping employee was regularly sewing hotel linens at home after eight-hour workdays and not receiving overtime pay.

         On November 7, 2014, the day Naguib returned from FMLA leave, Millennium suspended her pending completion of its investigation. Millennium fired Naguib on November 19 as a result of its investigation. Millennium disciplined three other managers for timekeeping edits but did not fire anyone else. The hotel then compensated its employees for the unpaid overtime hours.

         Naguib sued Millennium, claiming the hotel discriminated against her because of her age and retaliated against her because of her deposition testimony, because she opposed discrimination, and because she took protected leave. The district court granted summary judgment in Millennium's favor on all counts, concluding that Millennium had a legitimate, non-retaliatory or discriminatory reason for firing Naguib that was not pretextual. Naguib appeals.

         II. Discussion

         "[W]e review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Brunsting v. Lutsen Mountains Corp., 601 F.3d 813, 820 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). We will affirm if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and ...

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