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Murray v. Holyoke School District Re-1J

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 9, 2014

SHARON MURRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
HOLYOKE SCHOOL DISTRICT RE-1J, HOLYOKE SCHOOL BOARD, and HOLYOKE HIGH SCHOOL, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 38.) For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed. Plaintiff Sharon Murray worked for many years for the Holyoke School District in various positions. (Doc. # 43, ¶ 2.) She was born in 1959, and during the timeframe relevant to her cause of action, was between 50 and 52 years old. (Doc. ## 38, ¶ 1; 43, ¶ 1.) Plaintiff was the school district's Athletic Director for the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years. (Doc. ## 38, ¶ 4; 43, ¶ 2.) In 2009, Brent Miles became superintendent for the school district. (Doc. ## 38, ¶ 6; 43, ¶ 3.) In 2010, Superintendent Miles replaced Plaintiff with Ms. Bennett, who was "slightly younger" than her, as Athletic Director. (Doc. ## 38, ¶ 9; 43, ¶ 4.) From 2010[1] into 2011, Plaintiff complained to school officials, including Junior/Senior High School Principal Ortner and school board members, about her removal from the Athletic Director position. (Doc. # 43, ¶ 5.) On or about August 20, 2010[2], Principal Ortner gave Plaintiff a written reprimand for deleting athletic files, taking leave for the entire month of July 2010, refusing to deal with athletic paperwork, money, or questions, and failing to attend staff meetings or clock in and out of her computer. (Doc. ## 38, ¶ 15; 43, ¶ 21.)

During the 2010-2011 school year, Plaintiff was a secretary in the junior/senior high school building. (Doc. # 38, ¶ 10.) Ms. Tammie Timm, 38 years old for all times relevant to this case, was also a secretary in the same building, a position she had held since 2006. (Doc. ## 38, ¶ 12; 43, ¶ 8.) From November 2008, through the end of the 2010-2011 school year, Ms. Brenda Krueger and her sister, Tammy Kroeger, were secretaries in the elementary school building. (Doc. # 38, ¶¶ 13, 14.) The school district decided to reduce the number of school secretaries from two to one in each building for the 2011-2012 school year. ( Id., ¶ 16.) Superintendent Miles, on advice from Principal Ortner, decided to retain Ms. Timm as secretary in the junior/senior high school building, thereby displacing Plaintiff from her position. (Doc. ## 38, ¶ 14; 43, ¶ 11.) Ms. Krueger, 43 years old for all times relevant, agreed to let her sister, Ms. Kroeger, remain as secretary in the elementary school. (Doc. # 38, ¶ 2, 18.)

As a result, neither Ms. Krueger nor Plaintiff had employment positions with the District for the upcoming school year. However, Superintendent Miles opened a position of administrative assistant to the Superintendent and Board of Education and considered the two displaced secretaries for the position. (Doc. # 38, ¶ 19.) Plaintiff applied and interviewed for the position, but was not selected. Instead, the school district offered the position to Ms. Krueger. (Doc. ## 38, ¶ 20; 43, ¶ 14.) In making his recommendation, Superintendent Miles considered his interviews with each candidate and their references, which were relayed from other district employees on a document that he created specifically for this selection process. Both candidates selected district employees to serve as references. However, for reasons not clear to this Court, apparently Ms. Krueger had several days to get references, whereas Plaintiff had only a few hours. In addition, Superintendent Miles obtained references for each candidate from other employees. (Doc. # 43, ¶ 16.) Superintendent Miles explained that he recommended the district hire Ms. Krueger because she answered interview questions better than Plaintiff, had better references, and because of her helpfulness and humor. (Doc. ## 43, ¶ 18; 49 at 3.) On May 27, 2011, Plaintiff's employment was terminated. (Doc. # 43, ¶ 21.)

On May 5, 2011, Plaintiff filed a formal complaint of discrimination with the district. On May 10th and 25th of 2011, Plaintiff's attorney also sent two complaints of age discrimination to school officials. (Doc. # 43, ¶ 25.) On or about October 4, 2011, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. (Doc. # 43, ¶ 22.)

In November of 2011, Ms. Timm resigned from her position as secretary for the junior/senior high school. Plaintiff applied for the position. Ms. Ortner corresponded with Plaintiff via email to set up an interview, but Plaintiff was out of town during that time. Ms. Ortner informed Plaintiff she had a deadline to complete the interview process. Plaintiff did not respond. (Doc. # 43, ¶ 19, 20; 49 at 3.) Ms. Thompson, who is younger than Plaintiff, was hired for the position. (Doc. # 43, ¶ 19.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

The purpose of a summary judgment motion is to assess whether trial is necessary. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S 317, 323 (1986). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment shall be granted if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure of materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

A fact is "material" if it pertains to an element of a claim or defense; a factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is so contradictory that if the matter went to trial, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving party]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

"The movant bears the initial burden of making a prima facie demonstration of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law." Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670-71 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). After the movant has met its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to put forth sufficient evidence for each essential element of the claim such that a reasonable jury could find in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

The nonmovant must go beyond the allegations and denials of her pleadings and provide admissible evidence, which the Court views in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). Although the nonmoving party need not present evidence "in a form that would be admissible at trial, " Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, "the content or substance of the evidence must be admissible." Thomas v. Int'l Bus. Machs., 48 F.3d 478, 485 (10th Cir. 1995). However, conclusory statements based merely on conjecture, speculation, or subjective belief are not competent summary judgment evidence. Bones v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 366 F.3d 869, 875 (10th Cir. 2004). Furthermore, "[h]earsay testimony that would be inadmissible at trial cannot be used to defeat a motion for summary judgment because a third party's description of a witness' supposed testimony is not suitable grist for the summary judgment mill.'" Adams v. Am. Guarantee and Liab. Ins. Co., 233 F.3d 1242, 1246 (10th Cir. 2000) (quoting Wright-Simmons v. City of Oklahoma City, 155 F.3d 1264, 1268 (10th Cir. 1998)).

B. McDONNELL DOUGLAS BURDEN-SHIFTING FRAMEWORK

Plaintiff brings her claims pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). The ADEA was passed "to promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age" and "to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment." 29 U.S.C. § 621(b). The ADEA, in part, prohibits an employer from "fail[ing] or refus[ing] to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his ...


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