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Miller v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

June 4, 2018

TINA MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Tina Miller originally filed suit on December 13, 2017 against Defendant Wal-Mart Stores East, LP (“Walmart”) asserting a number of claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 arising out of her employment at a Walmart store in Greenville, Alabama. Doc. 1. On January 5, 2018, Walmart moved to dismiss all of Miller's claims. Doc. 7. After a protracted investigation into the timeliness of Miller's claims and a summary-judgment conversion, the motion is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, it is ORDERED that the motion for summary judgment (Doc. 7) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and that Miller's religious and gender discrimination and retaliation claims are DISMISSED with prejudice.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims in this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds adequate allegations to support both.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The following is a recitation of the facts as alleged in the complaint. Tina Miller began working at a Walmart store in Greenville in October 2015. Doc. 1 at 2. From the outset of her employment, Miller's coworker Christian Middleton has harassed her. Doc. 1 at 2. Middleton began sexually harassing Miller in December 2015 by making graphic comments related to Miller's sexual preferences. Doc. 1 at 3. The same month, Middleton threatened to rape Miller and “cut her up into tiny pieces and feed her to the [alligators].” Doc. 1 at 3. Over the next two months, Middleton continued to harass Miller by propositioning her, making violent sexual comments, and physically threatening Miller and her family, culminating in a threat that he would kill Miller's husband and her children. Doc. 1 at 3. Middleton also physically intimidated Miller by approaching her from behind when she was not looking and effectively forcing her against a pole in one of the store's aisles. Doc. 1 at 5-6.

         On February 4, 2016, Miller reported Middleton's behavior to the store manager, James Packer. Doc. 1 at 6. Packer informed Miller that he would open an investigation and that she would need to provide a statement. Doc. 1 at 6. He also stated that the investigation would continue even though Middleton had requested a transfer. Doc. 1 at 6. One week later, Miller asked Packer for an update on the progress of the investigation, but Packer “yelled at her and stated investigations take time.” Doc. 1 at 6. However, Middleton's behavior worsened and no investigation occurred. Doc. 1 at 6. As a result of the harassment, Miller has suffered stress and anxiety and was forced to seek counseling and mental health treatment. Doc. 1 at 6.

         Miller filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and brought three claims: (1) sexual harassment and hostile work environment, (2) discrimination on the basis of her religion and gender, and (3) retaliation. Doc. 1 at 7-13. Walmart promptly filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that all of Miller's claims should be dismissed because she failed to file a timely charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) prior to filing suit. Doc. 7 at 2-3. The court ordered additional briefing on the issue of timeliness and converted the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. See Docs. 18, 19, 20, 23 & 24.

         Apart from the issue of timeliness, Walmart argues that Miller's discrimination and retaliation claims fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Doc. 7 at 3-7. In response, Miller concedes that her discrimination claim should be dismissed, but maintains that she has stated a viable claim for Title VII retaliation. See Doc. 16 at 1. In the alternative, she informally requests leave to amend her retaliation claim. See Doc. 16 at 1.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of material fact is genuine only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). In responding to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Indeed, the nonmovant must “go beyond the pleadings” and submit admissible evidence demonstrating “specific facts showing that there is a genuine [dispute] for trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). If the evidence is “merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted).

         When a district court considers a motion for summary judgment, it “must view all the evidence and all factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and must resolve all reasonable doubts about the facts in favor of the nonmovant.” Rioux v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 520 F.3d 1269, 1274 (11th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The court's role is not to “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “If a reasonable fact finder evaluating the evidence could draw more than one inference from the facts, and if that inference introduces a genuine issue of material fact, then the court should not grant summary judgment.” Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb Cnty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1315 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). Importantly, if the nonmovant “fails to adduce evidence which would be sufficient . . . to support a jury finding for [the nonmovant], summary judgment may be granted.” Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1370 (11th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         IV. ...


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