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Watson v. ARG Resources LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

January 30, 2017



          L. Scott Coogler, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Calandra Watson (“Watson”) brings this action against her former employer, Arby's Restaurant Group, Inc. (“ARG”), [1] alleging claims for hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as well as state-law claims for assault and battery and invasion of privacy. Before this Court is ARG's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 19.) For the reasons explained herein, ARG's motion is due to be granted.

         I. Factual Background

         Watson began her employment with ARG on July 18, 2012, at ARG's Northport, Alabama, Arby's location as a part-time team member. She sometimes worked the closing shift at the restaurant with a co-worker, Darrel Jernigan (“Jernigan”), who was also the store's assistant manager. Jernigan informed Watson that the store's general manager, Janice Jones (“Jones”), had instructed him to ensure that all employees left the restaurant together at the end of the closing shift, so that no employee would be in the restaurant alone. On three separate occasions over a six-week period when Watson worked the closing shift with Jernigan, he engaged in conduct that Watson interprets as sexual harassment.

         On the first such occasion, Watson was working in the “back line” area where the food is prepared in the restaurant when Jernigan passed behind her and rubbed his pelvic area against her backside. As Watson turned around, Jernigan made a “smart remark, ” which Watson considered “harassing.” Watson attempted to report Jernigan's conduct to Jones, but Jones responded that Jernigan “probably didn't mean to do it.” Watson agreed that Jernigan's conduct may have been accidental because the “back line” area has limited space, and employees sometimes bump into each other while working.

         The second incident occurred several weeks later while Watson stood in the kitchen in front of the sink, washing dishes to clean up for the night. Jernigan again came behind Watson, and his pelvic area made contact with her backside. This time, Watson said to Jernigan, “Look, you need to watch what you're doing.” When Watson informed Jones that Jernigan had touched her a second time, Jones giggled and said that Jernigan could not possibly have rubbed his pelvic area against Watson “because his belly was so big.”

         Finally, on the third occasion, Watson and Jernigan were walking by each other, and Jernigan touched Watson's breast with his elbow. Watson interpreted Jernigan's behavior as intentional because he did not say “excuse me” after brushing against her. Upset at Jones's response to her first complaints, Watson went to a co-worker, Sharrese Burks (“Burks”), and the shift manager, Kelsey Mennig (“Mennig”), in order to find out to whom she should report the touching. Mennig suggested that Watson talk to Jones, to which Watson replied, “Ms. Janice ain't going to do nothing but laugh about it like it's funny. She don't take nobody serious.”

         At some point after these incidents, [2] Watson was involved in an unrelated disagreement with another employee, which prompted her to contact the restaurant's area supervisor, David Emerson (“Emerson”). Emerson met with Watson on April 9, 2015, and offered her the option to transfer to another Arby's location. At first, Watson declined the transfer and agreed to let the disagreement with the other employee pass. Watson then complained to Emerson that Jernigan had engaged in “excessive touching” while the two worked together at the restaurant. According to Watson, Emerson replied that “if he had to come back to the store [] somebody was going to be gone.” This statement caused Watson to reconsider the option to transfer, and she moved to the University of Alabama Arby's location on April 20, 2015.

         Shortly after the transfer, on May 4, 2015, Watson submitted her charge of discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Sammie Clark (“Clark”), the general manager of the University of Alabama store, scheduled Watson to work fewer hours than she had been working at the Northport store. Clark also made a rude comment to other employees about Watson's smell. She made no complaint about this incident, however, and remained employed with ARG until February 22, 2016, when she left because she found another, better-paying job.

         Watson received her right-to-sue letter from the EEOC on November 9, 2015. This suit was timely filed on February 2, 2016.

         II. Standard of Review

         Watson, proceeding pro se, filed no response to ARG's motion for summary judgment. Nonetheless, this Court “consider[s] the merits of the motion” in order to determine whether summary judgment is appropriate. United States v. 5800 SW 74th Ave., 363 F.3d 1099, 1101-02 (11th Cir. 2004).

         A motion for summary judgment is due to be granted upon a showing that “no genuine dispute as to any material fact” remains to be decided in the action and “the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In ruling on such a motion, this Court “view[s] the facts and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the . . . motion.” White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007)). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists “if the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor.” Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

         III. ...

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