Bobbette M. Blake Plaintiff- Appellant
MJ Optical, Inc., a Nebraska corporation Defendant-Appellee
Submitted: May 10, 2017
from United States District Court for the District of
Nebraska - Omaha
RILEY, BEAM, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.
Blake sued her former employer, MJ Optical, Inc., alleging
she was the victim of sex discrimination, age discrimination,
and a hostile work environment. The district
court granted MJ Optical's motion for
summary judgment, finding Blake's evidence insufficient
to support her federal and state law claims. Blake appeals,
and we affirm. See 28 U.S.C. § 1291.
case involves Blake's relationships with MJ Optical and
the Hagge family, both of which began over forty years ago.
Blake started working at a company called Shamrock in the
early 1970s. Shamrock's owner, Michael Hagge, would
sometimes bring his then-adolescent son, Marty Hagge, to help
around the shop. It is not entirely clear in the record, but
at some point the Hagges went from owning Shamrock to MJ
Optical and Blake followed them there. For decades Blake
worked as a bench technician in the finishing
department-fitting eyeglass lenses into frames-for Shamrock,
and then MJ Optical.
point before 1993, Marty became Vice President of MJ Optical.
Marty was one step removed from being Blake's direct
supervisor, but "[h]e supervised the whole shop"
and Blake interacted with him every day. Blake maintains they
had a purely "[e]mployer/employee relationship, "
albeit one that sometimes extended beyond work. For instance,
Marty invited Blake to his daughter's wedding, and Blake
attended; Marty enrolled in a few college courses with
Blake's grandson, and at least once helped the grandson
with class work; and Marty lent Blake's church a hog
cooker, prompting Blake to introduce him to her pastor. These
anecdotes are illustrative of what Blake admits was a
"good" relationship with Marty for a majority of
claims that all changed at her husband's funeral in 1999.
Marty attended the funeral, as did his father and several
other MJ Optical employees. Blake says she was standing
outside the funeral home when Marty walked by and
"grabbed [her] fanny." When Blake asked "What
was that all about?" Marty replied, "I thought you
needed it." That was the entirety of the exchange.
that was not the end of the conduct Blake now cites as the
basis for this action. From that point onward, Marty would
occasionally touch Blake's buttocks at "[v]arious
times during the workday." According to Blake, Marty
"would either smack it really hard or grab [her] whole
cheek of [her] butt. I mean, it was no love pat." Blake
flashed "a dirty look" at least once in response to
the touching, but she never verbalized her complaint to Marty
or anyone else given her belief it "[w]ouldn't have
done any good." Marty also began telling Blake she
"needed to find a man, " which Blake took to mean
"that if [she] had sex with a man, that it would make
[her] happy." Again, any frustrations Blake had about
these recurring comments were not communicated to Marty or
anyone else. Blake also recalls one exchange where she was
standing in front of Marty's desk when he commented on
her breasts, saying "you'd better watch those things
because they're going to poke my eyes out" and
asking whether her nipples were "the size of nick[el]s
or quarters." "[E]mbarrassed" by the
interaction, Blake says she "probably turned red"
and "went home and bought padded underclothes."
found herself on the receiving end of what she perceived to
be age-related affronts, too. For instance, Marty would tell
Blake he "only kept her around to 'watch her die,
'" even when other MJ Optical employees were present
and could hear. Blake acknowledges the comments were
occasionally prompted by her asking Marty why he kept her
around and were "[s]ometimes" meant as a joke.
Marty would also tell Blake her "hands aren't any
good anymore" whenever she needed his assistance fitting
lenses into difficult frame styles. Yet again, Blake never
informed Marty that she did not find the comments funny, nor
did she complain to anyone else.
all of the above, Blake admits she would platonically touch
Marty "between his shoulders" and joke around with
Marty "[o]n occasion." Sometimes Marty said,
"I love you, Bobbi, " to which Blake would respond,
"I love you, too, Marty." Furthermore, when asked
during a deposition whether she ever thought Marty "was
treating [her] differently because of [her] gender, "
Blake replied, "No." Other than the comments above,
the only time Blake felt treated differently due to her age
was when Marty told her she was "too old" to carry
stacks of trays, a limitation she says was unwarranted but
one that "[d]idn't matter" to her.
chain of events that ultimately led to Blake leaving MJ
Optical began on May 9, 2013, when she noticed a problem with
a large number of frames. Blake reported the issue to Mary
Hagge-the president of MJ Optical and Marty's mother-who
then tasked Marty with finding and fixing the problem. After
Marty determined there was nothing wrong with the tracing
machine, he turned his focus to Blake's work in the
"mounting area." In an attempt to
"diagnose" the problem, Marty "temporarily
asked [Blake] to refrain from completing her mounting
work" while two other long-term employees took over for
a few days to see if the problem was manual or mechanical.
Blake kept busy with other work, did not consider this
short-term reassignment to be a demotion, continued at the
same pay rate, was not worried she would be fired, and did
not complain in any way.
despite explicit instructions to the contrary-Blake resumed
her spot at the mounting station two or three days later when
she noticed it was unoccupied. As Blake tells it, she was
about to start when Marty noticed her from the front of the
shop and came at her "like a bull moose. He was red in
the face, chomping his tongue like he does when he gets
angry." Then Marty said, "I don't want you
doing that, sit down. Let somebody else do it." Marty
also accused Blake of being the reason he had to quit school
and stay put at MJ Optical, an accusation Blake says Marty
would sometimes make to all employees out of bitterness for
his own situation. This was not the first time Marty had
exhibited his angry demeanor in the workplace, so Blake
feared he may become physically aggressive.
the encounter Blake was "shaking and crying" so
much she "couldn't hardly function." Blake
sought out Mary and described Marty's outburst, noting
how upset it made her. Mary dismissed the notion Marty would
have ever hit Blake-he "wouldn't do something like
that"-but said she would talk to Marty about his anger
problem. Despite finally registering a complaint against
Marty, Blake did not mention any mistreatment based on her
sex or age. (Blake did take this opportunity to air her
grievances against her direct supervisor for unrelated
reasons.) The ...