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Robinson v. North American Central School Bus

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

May 6, 2019

DORISE ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTH AMERICAN CENTRAL SCHOOL BUS d/b/a Missouri Central School Bus and ALBERT CARMEL, Defendants.

          MEMRANDUM AND ORDER

          RODNEY W. SIPPEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Dorise Robinson was a bus driver for her former employer Defendant North American Central School Bus, LLC (“NACSB”). Robinson filed this case in state court asserting various claims of employment discrimination. NACSB removed the case to this Court and filed a motion to dismiss. I granted the motion to dismiss in part. The sole claim remaining in the case is a hostile work environment claim. NACSB has filed a motion for summary judgment. Because Robinson has failed to provide evidence that the alleged harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of Robinson's employment and created an abusive working environment, I will grant NACBS's motion.

         Background

          The following information is taken from the Parties' statements of undisputed facts [Doc. Nos. 54 and 63.1] and from the record. NACSB is a school bus company that provides student transportation services to students in and around St. Louis, Missouri. Robinson was hired as a part-time bus driver at the company's St. Louis Terminal in the summer of 2012. The St. Louis Terminal employed approximately 124 drivers during the regular school year. Drivers bid on and were assigned bus routes for the school year. [Doc. No. 54, Ex. A, Pl.'s Depo. at 40:5 - 41:13] The routes had separate morning and afternoon components (shifts).

         When Robinson began her employment she received and signed NACSB's “Harassment Free Workplace” policy. [Id. at 28:18 - 29:23; Ex. B ¶ 7][1] This document informed employees that they have a right to work in an environment free from harassment based on any characteristic protected by law including gender. The policy provided employees with instructions on how and when to report workplace harassment. In addition, NACSB posted its “Open Door Policy” on the employee bulletin board of the St. Louis Terminal. [Id. at Ex. B ¶ 7][2] The policy states that all employees are encouraged to the express concerns or complaints with the location manager (referred to as the Contract Manager or Location Manager). If unsatisfied with the location manager's response, the employee is directed to contact the regional manager and provided with the appropriate contact information.

         Albert Carmel was employed as a dispatcher in the St. Louis Terminal during Robinson's employment. Carmel was not a supervisor and did not have any supervisory authority over Robinson. [Id. at Ex. A, Pl.'s Depo. at 62:14 - 64:6; Ex. B ¶ 6][3] Robinson asserts that Carmel's behavior in the workplace created a hostile work environment for her. Robinson worked for NACSB from the summer of 2012 through May 2016. She voluntarily elected not to return to work for the 2016-2017 school year. She asserts that she decided not to return to her work in August of 2016 at the “last minute” because of the “way [she] was treated.” Instead she pursued her own home healthcare business. [Id. at Ex. A, Pl.'s Depo. at 152:18 - 155:6 and 195:4 - 200:6]

         In her amended complaint Robinson asserted claims for a hostile work environment, disparate treatment, and retaliation based on gender pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. [Doc. No. 11] She also asserted a claim of retaliation based on gender pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1981. Robinson named Carmel as a defendant. NACSB and Carmel filed a motion to dismiss asserting that Robinson's claims were unexhausted or failed to state a claim for relief. On April 24, 2017, I granted the motion to dismiss, in part, and permitted Robinson to proceed solely on her hostile work environment claim against NACSB, the only claim she exhausted in her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge.[4] Robinson's prayer for relief requests damages for mental anguish and emotion distress and seeks punitive damages. NACSB has moved for summary judgment on Robinson's hostile work environment claim. Robinson opposes the motion.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Lynn v. Deaconess Medical Center, 160 F.3d 484, 486 (8th Cir. 1998)(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis of its motion and identifying those portions of the affidavits, pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When such a motion is made and supported by the movant, the nonmoving party may not rest on his pleadings but must produce sufficient evidence to support the existence of the essential elements of his case on which he bears the burden of proof. Id. at 324. In resisting a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff has an affirmative burden to designate specific facts creating a triable controversy. Crossley v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 355 F.3d 1112, 1113 (8th Cir. 2004).

         Direct evidence of employment discrimination is rare, therefore, most cases rely on circumstantial evidence. In the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, courts employ the burden shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)(Title VII case).

         Under the burden-shifting analysis, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of intentional discrimination. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802; Bashara v. Black Hills Corp., 26 F.3d 820, 823 (8th Cir. 1994). If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, a presumption of discrimination is established and the burden of production shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. 411 U.S. at 802. The defendant need not persuade the court that the articulated reason was the basis of the employer's action; rather, it must simply provide some evidence of a non- discriminatory reason or reasons for its action. St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 509 (1993).

         Upon the proffer of such evidence, the presumption of discrimination established by the prima facie case “simply drops out of the picture.” Id. at 510-11. The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to prove that the reason articulated by the employer was really a pretext for discrimination. Aucutt v. Six Flags Over Mid-America, Inc., 85 F.3d 1311, 1316 (8th Cir. 1995). A rejection of the employer's proffered non-discriminatory reason by itself or combined with elements of the prima facie case may be enough to establish, but does not compel, an inference of intentional discrimination. St. Mary's Honor Center, 509 U.S. at 511.

         The burden of proving discrimination remains on the plaintiff at all times. Id. at 515-16. It is not enough to merely discredit defendant's articulated reason for the adverse employment action. A plaintiff must always establish that the real reason for defendant's action was impermissible discrimination. Id.; see also Huston v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 63 F.3d 771, 777 (8th Cir. 1995). To avoid summary judgment, a plaintiff must present evidence that, when viewed in its entirety: (1) creates a fact issue as to whether the employer's proffered reason is pretextual, and (2) creates a reasonable inference that ...


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