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Rodgers v. North Little Rock School District

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

May 7, 2019



          James M Moody Jr., United States District Judge

         Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants North Little Rock School District (the “District”), Robert Donaldson, and Michael Stone alleging sexual harassment under Title VII and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (“ACRA”) and the tort of outrage. She filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and received a Notice of Right to Sue. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment of Plaintiff's claims arguing that she cannot make a prima facie case of harassment because (1) the conduct alleged does not rise to the level of sexual harassment; (2) there was no adverse employment action; (3) the District took remedial action; and (4) her supervisors are not liable under Title VII. Defendants also contend that the undisputed facts of the case are insufficient to prove a tort of outrage claim under Arkansas law.

         Plaintiff Nina Rodgers responded to the motion and has filed a motion to dismiss her claims against Defendants Donaldson and Stone and her tort of outrage claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted, and Plaintiff's motion is denied as moot.

         I. Standard for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial -- whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

         The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has cautioned that summary judgment should be invoked carefully so that no person will be improperly deprived of a trial of disputed factual issues. Inland Oil & Transport Co. v. United States, 600 F.2d 725 (8th Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 991 (1979). The Eighth Circuit set out the burden of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. M.K. Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338 (8th Cir. 1988):

[T]he burden on the moving party for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e., ‘[to] point out to the District Court,' that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.

Id. at 1339. (quoting City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-274 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted) (brackets in original)). Only disputes over facts that may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which does not prohibit “sexual harassment, ” but makes is it unlawful for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The United States Supreme Court has found that sex discrimination under Title VII includes sexual harassment “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment.” Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986).

         Plaintiff contends that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor, Robert Donaldson, when Donaldson told two of Plaintiff's co-workers, Kimberly Wilson and Richard Walker, that “Nina ain't crazy, Nina just needs some dick.” (Ex. 1 to Pl's Response, p. 68-72). Plaintiff learned about Donaldson's remark later from Kimberly Wilson. Plaintiff complained to Donaldson's supervisor, Michael Stone, about the remark on August 22, 2017. Stone considered the allegation serious and planned to start an investigation. One week later, Stone went on leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. While on leave, Stone contacted Donaldson about the allegation. Donaldson stated that he did not recall making the statement. Stone issued a written reprimand to Donaldson and required him to attend a one-on-one training about rights, roles, responsibilities and professionalism.

         The investigation was eventually taken over by Karli Saracini of the District's Human Resources Department. Saracini met with Donaldson on September 22, 2017. She consulted with the District's legal counsel and sought approval from the Superintendent to engage an outside investigator to complete the investigation. A seven-month investigation revealed three performance-based complaints against Donaldson and a retaliation claim by Kimberly ...

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