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Tipton v. Barr

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

December 11, 2019

ELAINE TIPTON, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE Defendant.

          ORDER ON PARTIES' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motions for Summary Judgment (Docs. 39 and 49) and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 53.) The motions are fully briefed. (Docs. 40, 47, 48, 49, 53, 56, 57, 58, 59.) After careful consideration, and for the reasons below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 39) is GRANTED. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED. As such the case is DISMISSED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed her complaint against Defendant Jeff Sessions (now William Barr), Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice on June 16, 2017. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff worked at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (“USMCFP”) in Springfield, Missouri, as a part-time dental hygienist. She worked there for approximately five years and nine months (approximately from January 2009-September 2014) under two different contractors. Plaintiff initially worked at the USMCFP as a contract worker for a business named Interactive Medical Specialists (“IMS”). During her last year (2013-2014) at the USMCFP, Plaintiff worked under Compass Medical Provider, LLC (“Compass”). Compass had contracted with the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to provide part-time dental hygienist services at the USMCFP with an effective contract start date of October 1, 2013 (the “Compass contract”). The negotiated contract between Compass and the BOP included one base year period, with four possible 12-month options for renewal. The option of renewal was to be exercised at the discretion of the BOP. The Compass contract stated, “[t]he service does not constitute an employer/employee relationship.” (Doc. 40-4.) Additionally, the parties agree that Plaintiff had a right of first refusal pursuant to Exec. Order No. 13, 495, 74 Fed. Reg. 6103 (January 30, 2009) due to her then current contract work under the IMS contract at the USMCFP. (Docs. 47-4, 48.)

         In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that her supervisors at the prison harassed her based on her gender, sexual orientation, age, and religion, and Defendant retaliated against her for filing a formal complaint. Specifically, in November 2013, Plaintiff filed complaints with Defendant, alleging she had been harassed by Defendant's employees. Four days after filing her complaints, an email from Freelon Payton stated, “Warden Sanders believes it would be in the best interest of the government to have [Plaintiff] replaced if she does not feel safe working in her current environment.” (Doc. 47-2.) Further, prior to filing her complaint, Plaintiff could eat in the officers' cafeteria, have a Groupwise email account, and take OSHA mandated training at the prison. (Docs. 47-1 and 47-4.) Those privileges were taken away several months after Plaintiff made complaints to Defendant's employees. Defendant contends however, that they took such action only after supervising contract specialist Christy Bruner became aware that Plaintiff was using privileges she should not have had as a contract worker. Then, in February 2014, Defendant chose not to renew the Compass contract and decided to hire a full-time dental hygienist instead. The Compass contract was terminated, which then eliminated Plaintiff's position. After pursuing administrative relief with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), with no decision being issued, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (the “ADEA”). Plaintiff alleges that at all relevant times she was a joint employee of Compass and Defendant.

         II. Legal Standard

         “Summary judgment is required if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. Ins. Co. v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 893 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2018) (quotation marks and citations omitted). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence “in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and giv[es] the nonmoving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences.” Id. (quotation mark and citation omitted). At the summary judgment stage, the movant must “support” its motion either by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “‘showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The nonmovant must then “present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         The parties raise several issues in the present motions. The first issue concerns Plaintiff's employment status. Defendant previously filed a Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 19.) The Court denied Defendant's motion without prejudice. (Doc. 25.) In that order the Court, noted “[o]n the current record, the Court cannot say there is no genuine issue of material fact that Plaintiff was an independent contractor.” (Id.) While the briefing and discovery cited is more extensive with the present motions, the central issue remains the same: was Plaintiff an employee or an independent contractor for the USMCFP? The second issue concerns the merits of Plaintiff's Title VII claim. Because the Court will grant Defendant's motion concerning the first issue, the Court need not address the merits of Plaintiff's complaint.

         Title VII and the ADEA cover only employees, not independent contractors. Glascock v. Linn Cnty. Emergency Med., PC, 698 F.3d 695, 698 (8th Cir. 2012) (Title VII); Alexander v. Avera St. Luke's Hosp., 768 F.3d 756, 761 (8th Cir. 2014) (ADEA). “Whether a hired party is an independent contractor or employee is an appropriate question for summary judgment.” Glascock, 698 F.3d at 698; see also Estate of Mathis by Manley v. Sears Mfg. Co., No. 3:12-CV-00006-CFB, 2014 WL 12575721, at *3 (S.D. Iowa Jan. 9, 2014) (determining issue of employment status at summary judgment stage). To determine whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor, the Court must engage in a “fact-intensive” inquiry. Schwieger v. Farm Bureau Ins. Co. of Neb., 207 F.3d 480, 484 (8th Cir. 2000). The “primary consideration is the hiring party's right to control the manner and means by which a task is accomplished.” Id. However, the Court must consider “‘all aspects of the working relationship.'” Id. at 483 (citation omitted). This includes:

(1) The right to control the manner and means by which the product is accomplished;
(2) the skill required;
(3) the source of the instrumentalities and tools;
(4) the location of the work;
(5) the duration of the relationship between the parties;
(6) whether the hiring party has the right to assign additional projects to the hired party;
(7) the extent of the hired party's discretion over when and how long to work;
(8) the method of payment;
(9) the hired party's role in hiring and paying ...

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