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Mukherjee v. The Children's Mercy Hospital

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

March 21, 2018




         On March 6, 2018, the Court issued an order pertaining to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. #88. In that order, which granted in part and denied in part Defendant's motion, the Court deferred consideration of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) claim, and directed the parties to provide supplemental briefing on that claim. Id. The Court asked for supplemental briefing on (a) the statute of limitations, (b) whether O'Neil had the same job responsibilities as and similar working conditions to Plaintiff, and (c) whether Defendant is asserting a statutory affirmative defense. On March 16, 2018, the parties filed their briefs. Docs. #94-95. With regard to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #70) on Plaintiff's EPA claim, the Court grants the motion.

         I. STANDARD

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment on a claim only if there is a showing that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Williams v. City of St. Louis, 783 F.2d 114, 115 (8th Cir. 1986). “[W]hile the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Wierman v. Casey's Gen. Stores, 638 F.3d 984, 993 (8th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 588-89 (1986); Tyler v. Harper, 744 F.2d 653, 655 (8th Cir. 1984). “[A] nonmovant may not rest upon mere denials or allegations, but must instead set forth specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial.” Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Faircloth, 845 F.3d 378, 382 (8th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted).


         As set forth in the Court's March 6, 2018 Order and confirmed in Plaintiff's supplemental briefing, Plaintiff claims her male predecessor, Stephen O'Neil, held the same job with the same duties and responsibilities, but was paid more than she was paid. Docs. #88, 94. A cause of action under the EPA “may be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrued…except that a cause of action arising out of a willful violation may be commenced within three years after the cause of action accrued.” 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). In her supplemental brief, Plaintiff concedes her claim is for Defendant's allegedly willful violation of the EPA. She states “her claim and [the] damages she seeks for Defendant's Equal Pay Act violation relate to” the time period of December 13, 2013 (three years prior to the date she filed her Complaint), to May 7, 2014 (the date her employment concluded). Doc. #94, at 2.

         A. Statute of Limitations

         Defendant argues Plaintiff's EPA claim is time-barred because she waited more than two years to file her complaint, and she failed to set forth factual support to establish the alleged EPA violation was willful to meet the three-year statute of limitations. “A finding of willfulness requires behavior on the part of the employer that exceeds negligence; the employer must act knowingly or with reckless disregard of whether the contested conduct was prohibited.” Simpson v. Merchs. & Planters Bank, 441 F.3d 572, 580 (8th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted) (finding a reasonable jury could conclude the employer willfully violated the EPA when presented with evidence the employer had knowledge of the EPA, the employer's personnel policies treated male and female employees differently, and a statement by one of the employer's board members that men were needed at the bank, and needed to be paid more than women).

         In responding to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff did not cite anything in the record establishing a genuine issue of material fact that Defendant's alleged violation of the EPA was willful. Her statement of additional facts did not cite to anything in the record evidencing (or even suggesting) Defendant's behavior was or could be considered willful. In fact, nowhere in Plaintiff's opposition brief is the word “willful” mentioned. Docs. #79-80. Likewise, in her supplemental brief, Plaintiff did not mention the word “willful, ” other than to inform the Court that her EPA claim is based upon a willful violation. Doc. #94.

         Unlike Simpson, the record does not establish facts such as Defendant having personnel policies that treated men and women differently, or a person associated with Defendant making a statement about hiring more men and/or paying men more than women. Rather, it is uncontroverted that Defendant has an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy as well as an Anti-Discrimination/Anti-Harassment Policy, and there is no evidence that the policies are applied differently based upon gender. There is also no evidence that Plaintiff complained about unequal pay, and Defendant ignored that complaint. See also Grover v. Smarte Carte, Inc., 836 F.Supp.2d 860, 871 (D. Minn. 2011) (finding the plaintiff demonstrated a fact issue with regard to willfulness by pointing to her complaints that her pay was unequal to her male counterparts and the employer's failure to attend to those complaints); Thomeczek v. Brownlee, 320 F.Supp.2d 884, 888 (E.D. Mo. 2004) (entering summary judgment in favor of the employer because the plaintiff did not establish a genuine issue of material fact of willfulness, and thus, the two-year limitations period applied).

         Plaintiff failed to cite anything in the record that would allow a reasonable jury to conclude Defendant willfully violated the EPA. Further, Plaintiff failed to cite any case wherein a Court found similar evidence, albeit lacking, was sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Plaintiff has simply rested on her allegation that the EPA violation was willful, and that is not sufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins., 845 F.3d at 382. Even when reviewing the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the Court finds Plaintiffs claim of a willful violation of the EPA fails. For this reason alone, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with regard to Plaintiffs EPA claim is granted.

         B. Substantive Claim

         Even if Plaintiffs EPA claim was not time-barred, Plaintiff failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact with regard to her substantive claim. To establish a claim under the EPA, a plaintiff must identify a male employee who was paid more for equal work in a job that required equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and was performed under similar working conditions. Dindinger v. Allsteel, Inc., 853 F.3d 414, 421-22 (8th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted).

         First, the Court must determine whether O'Neil was paid more than Plaintiff was paid. Importantly, Plaintiffs claim, as set forth in her supplemental brief, is limited to her rate of pay from December 13, 2013, to May 7, 2014. Doc. #94, at 2. Plaintiffs biweekly rate of pay, when hired in July 2012, was $6, 154.50.[1] In or about August 2013, Plaintiff received a two percent pay increase. Although the exact figure was not provided, it appears Plaintiffs biweekly rate of pay increased to $6, 277.59. There is no evidence indicating Plaintiffs rate ...

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