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Knight v. Century Park Associates, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 30, 2015

SHARON KNIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CENTURY PARK ASSOCIATES, LLC, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND REMANDING CASE TO STATE COURT

WILLIAM J. MARTINEZ, District Judge.

On June 5, 2014, Defendant Century Park Associates ("Defendant") removed the instant action from the District Court of Boulder County, Colorado, to this Court. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff Sharon Knight ("Plaintiff") alleges that Defendant, Plaintiff's former employer, violated Colorado Revised Statute § 8-2-123, terminated Plaintiff in violation of public policy, and engaged in discriminatory employment practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, Colorado Revised Statute § 24-34-401, et seq. ("CADA"). (ECF No. 13.) Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). (ECF No. 35.) For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The relevant facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, are as follows. Plaintiff was hired at Bridge Assisted Living ("Bridge"), a facility operated by Defendant, in October 2006. (ECF No. 37-7 at 1.) On November 14, 2010, Plaintiff was notified that a Bridge resident may have been abused by a staff member. (ECF No. 35 at 2.) On November 15, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with the Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division of the Department of Public Health based on the resident abuse. (Id. ) On November 29, 2010, Plaintiff was notified that a different Bridge resident had significant bruising, but could not explain how she became bruised. (Id. ) Bridge's General Manager, Shirley McNeff, reported this incident to the Longmont Police Department. (Id. at 2-3.)

Plaintiff testified that, beginning in approximately December 2010, Lisa Rademacher, the business office manager, and two other employees, Jessica Schlagel and Brittany Cox, harassed and/or undermined Plaintiff. (ECF No. 37-2 at 4-5.) After Plaintiff complained about the alleged harassment, on January 24, 2011, Plaintiff, Ms. Rademacher, and Ms. McNeff met with Jackie Bobbitt, Defendant's Senior Regional Director of Operations, who informed the three that if they could not "work it out, " she would decide "what changes would be made." (ECF No. 37 at 3.) Later that same day, Ms. Rademacher emailed Ms. Bobbitt alleging Plaintiff had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with Ms. Schlagel. (Id. )

Ms. Bobbitt interviewed Ms. Schlagel and Ms. Cox on February 23, 2011. (ECF Nos. 35-4 & 35-6). Ms. Schlagel stated that Plaintiff made physical advances on her at various times in the workplace. (ECF No. 35-6.) Ms. Cox reported that at a Halloween party off-site, "[Plaintiff] grabbed my breasts. I said stop.' Then I walked away."[1] (ECF No. 35-4 at 3.) Ms. Cox also claimed that she had witnessed Plaintiff and another Bridge employee, Amanda Cletcher, kissing in a car at work.[2] (ECF No. 35-5.) Plaintiff was terminated on February 23, 2011, allegedly for "poor job performance and poor judgment." (ECF No. 37-2.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Henderson v. Inter-Chem Coal Co., Inc., 41 F.3d 567, 569 (10th Cir. 1994). Whether there is a genuine dispute regarding a material fact depends upon whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement as to require submission to a jury or, conversely, is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986); Carey v. U.S. Postal Serv., 812 F.2d 621, 623 (10th Cir. 1987).

A fact is "material" if it pertains to an element of a claim or defense, and a factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is so contradictory that if the matter went to trial, a reasonable juror could return a verdict for either party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The Court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and resolve factual ambiguities against the moving party. Houston v. Nat'l Gen. Ins. Co., 817 F.2d 83, 85 (10th Cir. 1987). The summary judgment standard thus favors a right to trial. See id.

III. ANALYSIS

Defendant argues that Plaintiff's Title VII and CADA gender discrimination claims are time-barred. (ECF No. 35 at 2.) Defendant further argues that Plaintiff's retaliation claims fail because her termination occurred due to the sexual harassment investigation rather than any other reason. (Id. ) Plaintiff responds that the discovery rule or equitable tolling renders her gender discrimination claims timely, and that Defendant's stated reason for her termination was pretextual. The Court addresses these arguments below.

A. Plaintiff's Title VII Claim

Defendant argues that Plaintiff's Title VII gender discrimination claim is time-barred. (ECF No. 35 at 11.) A charge of discrimination under Title VII must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") within 180 or 300 days (depending on the situation) "after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). "A claim not filed within these statutory limits is time barred." Daniels v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 701 F.3d 620, 628 (10th Cir. 2012); see also Noland v. City of Albuquerque, 779 F.Supp.2d 1214, 1222 (D.N.M. 2011) ("Filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC is a jurisdictional prerequisite to the institution of a lawsuit based on a claim of employment discrimination under Title VII."). Plaintiff does not dispute that she was terminated on February 23, 2011, but did not file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC until January 11, 2013. ( Compare ECF No. 35 at 7, with ECF No. 37 at 2.)

The Tenth Circuit has held that "the clock starts running when the plaintiff first knew or should have known of his injury, whether or not he realized the cause of his injury was unlawful." Almond v. Unified Sch. Dist., 665 F.3d 1174, 1176 (10th Cir. 2011). Thus, "an employee who discovers, or should have discovered, the injury (the adverse employment decision) need not be aware of the unlawful discriminatory intent behind that act for the limitations clock to start ticking." Id. at 1177 (emphasis in original). This rule generally means that "a claim accrues when the ...


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