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Stockmar v. Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 19, 2015


For Vanessa Stockmar, Plaintiff: Sara Ann Green, Elwyn F. Schaefer, Bachus & Schanker, LLC-Denver, Denver, CO.

For Tanya Carleton, Consol Plaintiff: Michael Turner Field, Pendleton, Wilson, Hennessey & Crow, P.C., Denver, CO.

For Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Inc., a Colorado corporation, Defendant: John Nathaniel McNamara, Jr., McNamara Law Firm, P.C., Denver, CO.


CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, States District Judge.

This is a gender discrimination and retaliation case in which two female Plaintiffs, Vanessa Stockmar and Tanya Carleton, former employees at the Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine (" CSTCM"), [1] both allege that they were (1) the targets of sexual harassment by their CSTCM supervisor, Vladimir Dibrigida, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2; and (2) the targets of retaliatory discharge, insofar as CSTCM terminated their employment because they complained of sexual harassment, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(a).

Plaintiff Carleton argues that this Court should grant summary judgment against CSTCM on her retaliatory discharge claim (Doc. # 45 at 13), whereas Plaintiff Stockmar argues that this Court should grant summary judgment against CSTCM as to both her Title VII claim and her retaliation claim (Doc. # 44 at 17). The Court denies both of Plaintiffs' motions because there are disputed issues of material fact both as to whether the complained-of conduct was unwelcome and as to Defendant's motive and intent in terminating[2] Plaintiffs' employment. For the same reasons, the Court denies Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to liability. However, the Court grants that portion of the Motion that requests the court to cap compensatory damages at $50, 000, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(A).


Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates there is " no genuine issue as to any material fact" and that it is " entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In applying this standard, the Court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Adler v. Wal-- Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998).



Title VII prohibits " discriminat[ion] against any individual with respect to his [or her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 66, 106 S.Ct. 2399, 91 L.Ed.2d 49 (1986), the United States Supreme Court held that a plaintiff may establish a Title VII violation by proving that discrimination based on sex created a " hostile or abusive work environment." To survive summary judgment on this claim, a plaintiff must show that: (1) she is a member of a protected group; (2) she was subject to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment was based on sex; (4) the harassment was so severe or pervasive that it altered a term, condition, or privilege of the plaintiff's employment and created an abusive working environment; and (5) a basis for employer liability. Harsco Corp. v. Renner, 475 F.3d 1179, 1186 (10th Cir. 2007).

Title VII also " forbids employer actions that 'discriminate against' an employee (or job applicant) because he has 'opposed' a practice that Title VII forbids or has 'made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in' a Title VII 'investigation, proceeding, or hearing.'" Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 59, 126 S.Ct. 2405, 165 L.Ed.2d 345 (2006) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)). To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, a plaintiff must show that (1) she engaged in protected opposition to discrimination; (2) the employer took an adverse employment action against her; and (3) a causal connection exists between the protected activity and the adverse action. Dick v. Phone Directories Co., 397 F.3d 1256, 1267 (10th Cir. 2005).

Regarding Plaintiff Carleton's Motion, Defendant contends that a genuine issue of material fact -- i.e., whether the requisite " causal connection" exists between Carleton's filing of an EEOC charge and her termination -- precludes summary judgment on her retaliation claim. Specifically, Defendant points to the deposition testimony of Mark Manton, CSTCM's chief executive officer and the individual who terminated Carleton. Manton testified that Carleton's termination was not motivated by her filing of an EEOC claim but rather because she was an " uncooperative" employee. (Doc. # 47 at 5.) Although the jury may ultimately conclude that Mr. Manton's explanation is not credible, questions regarding an employer's motive and intent in making an employment decision are " particularly inappropriate" for summary judgment disposition. See Randle v. City of Aurora, 69 F.3d 441, 453 (10th Cir. 1995) (internal citation omitted) (" If the plaintiff succeeds in raising a genuine factual issue regarding the authenticity of the employer's stated motive . . . it is for the trier of fact to decide which story is to be believed"). Accordingly, the Court DENIES Plaintiff Carleton's Motion.

As for Plaintiff Stockmar's Motion, Defendant contends that the Court should not grant summary judgment because DiBrigida's conduct was not " unwelcome." In support of this argument, Defendant points to DiBrigida's deposition testimony, stating that Stockmar engaged in sexual joking and banter with him and that " everything was consensual." [3] (Doc. # 72-1 at 2-3.)[4] Meanwhile, Stockmar has submitted evidence indicating DiBrigida's conduct was, in fact, unwelcome. (Doc. # 44 at 2-4, Doc. # 44-5 at ¶ ¶ 5, 9-10, Doc. # 47-1 at 22:10-25, 23:1-2.) Whether DiBrigida's conduct was " welcome" inevitably requires evaluations of both DiBrigida's and Stockmar's credibility, evaluations which must be made by the jury -- not the Court. See Randle, 69 F.3d at 453. Similarly, although Stockmar claims that she was terminated in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, Manton claims that she was not terminated, but rather, that she resigned, because " she was quitting and moving to Virginia." (Doc. # 46-1 at ¶ 13); see also (Doc. # 44-10) (a letter from Manton to Stockmar, stating that " Your attorney Mr. Schaefer's letter dated May 19, 2011 asserts you were 'constructively discharged' and have been forced to leave. That is untrue. Mr. Schaefer states you would be leaving CSTCM 'soon.' It is in our mutual best interest to sever CSTCM'S relationship with you now. In CSTCM's view you have quit your employment here.") Stockmar denies telling Manton that she was resigning or moving to Virginia. ...

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