United States District Court, D. Colorado
A. BRIMMER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment [Docket No. 26]. The Court has subject
matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331
lawsuit arises out plaintiff Jennifer Christos'
termination from Halker Consulting, LLC in May 2015.
Plaintiff was hired by Halker Consulting, LLC (the
“Company”) on October 28, 2013 as an Electrical
Engineer III. Docket No. 26 at 4, ¶ 2. Plaintiff was an
at-will employee and had no written employment contract with
the Company. Id., ¶¶ 3-4; Docket No. 43 at
2, ¶¶ 3-4. On or about May 5, 2014, plaintiff began
reporting to Phil Jimenez as her immediate supervisor. Docket
No. 26 at 4, ¶ 5. Around this time, she also assumed the
title of project manager. Id. at 4, ¶ 5. In
August 2014, plaintiff complained that she was being treated
unfairly by Mr. Jimenez. Id. at 5, ¶ 6. She
submitted a complaint to Travis Hutchinson, the Company's
former Chief Operations Officer. Id. Edward Lowry, the
Company's former Human Resources Director, investigated
the complaint. Docket No. 43 at 2, ¶ 6. In September
2014, plaintiff was taken off one project and moved to a
different project. Docket No. 43 at 5, ¶¶ 43-44;
Docket No. 59 at 3, ¶¶ 43-44. The parties dispute
whether plaintiff was replaced on the first project by a male
colleague with lesser qualifications and whether the new
project involved one of the Company's most difficult
clients. Docket No. 43 at 5, ¶¶ 43-44; Docket No.
59 at 3, ¶¶ 43-44. Plaintiff did not submit any
further complaints about discriminatory treatment after
September 2014. Docket No. 26 at 5, ¶ 7. Mr. Jimenez was
terminated on December 3, 2014. Id., ¶ 8.
January 29, 2015, plaintiff began reporting to a new manager,
Tyler Farley. Id. at 5, ¶ 9; Docket No. 43 at
3, ¶ 9. That same month, Dale Sostrom began working for
the Company as a project manager. Docket No. 43 at 6, ¶
52. At some point in early 2015, Lauren Worth, the
Company's former Human Resources Manager, learned that
plaintiff was pregnant. Docket No. 26 at 5, ¶
Plaintiff's due date was in mid- June. Docket No. 43 at
7, ¶ 59. In February 2015, plaintiff was instructed
to begin transitioning her work to other project managers.
Docket No. 43 at 7, ¶ 56. The parties dispute whether
the decision to have plaintiff transition her work was made
in preparation for plaintiff's upcoming maternity leave
or as a response to plaintiff's difficulties managing her
workload. Id.; Docket No. 59 at 4, ¶ 56.
2014 or early 2015, the oil and gas industry experienced an
economic downturn that forced the Company's management to
consider layoffs. Docket No. 26 at 6, ¶¶ 12-15.
David Hart, the Company's former Chief Financial Officer,
identified targets for the number of employees to be included
in the layoffs. Id., ¶ 16. Those targets were
conveyed to the department managers, who were responsible for
recommending employees for termination. Id., ¶
17. Ms. Farley, together with subsupervisors Craig Melton,
Greg Campbell, and Brianne Stebbins, used a rating matrix to
rank the project managers in her department. Id. at
7, ¶¶ 18, 20; Docket No. 27-7 at 6,
106:6-9. Plaintiff and Mike Molter received the two
lowest scores on the matrix. Docket No. 26 at 7, ¶ 21.
On May 1, 2015, plaintiff was included in a companywide
layoff. Id., ¶ 25.
filed her complaint on July 19, 2016. Docket No. 1. Plaintiff
asserts three claims against the Company: (1) sex and
pregnancy discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et
seq., as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of
1978; (2) retaliation under Title VII; and (3) interference
with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.
Id. at 6-9. Plaintiff also asserts a claim against
Mr. Hutchinson and Matthew Halker, the owner of the Company,
for intentional interference with contract under Colorado
law. Id. at 9; see also Docket No. 27-5 at
4, 302:25-303:8 (stating that Mr. Halker was “the owner
of the company”). On April 17, 2017, defendants moved
for summary judgment on all claims. Docket No. 26.
judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56 when 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);
see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
248-50 (1986). A disputed fact is “material” if
under the relevant substantive law it is essential to proper
disposition of the claim. Wright v. Abbott Labs.,
Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). Only
disputes over material facts can create a genuine issue for
trial and preclude summary judgment. Faustin v. City
& Cty. of Denver, 423 F.3d 1192, 1198 (10th Cir.
2005). An issue is “genuine” if the evidence is
such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict
for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d
837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997).
“the moving party does not bear the ultimate burden of
persuasion at trial, it may satisfy its burden at the summary
judgment stage by identifying a lack of evidence for the
nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant's
claim.” Bausman v. Interstate Brands Corp.,
252 F.3d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation
marks omitted) (quoting Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998)). “Once
the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the
nonmoving party to demonstrate a genuine issue for trial on a
material matter.” Concrete Works of Colo., Inc. v.
City & Cty. of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1518 (10th Cir.
1994). The nonmoving party may not rest solely on the
allegations in the pleadings, but instead must designate
“specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 324 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). “To
avoid summary judgment, the nonmovant must establish, at a
minimum, an inference of the presence of each element
essential to the case.” Bausman, 252 F.3d at
1115. When considering a motion for summary judgment, a court
must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Id.
Title VII Discrimination
asserts a claim against the Company for sex and pregnancy
discrimination under Title VII. Title VII makes it unlawful
“for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to
discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against
any individual with respect to his 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). Under the
Pregnancy Discrimination Act, “Title VII's
prohibition against sex discrimination applies to
discrimination based on pregnancy.” Young v. United
Parcel Serv. Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1338, 1343 (2015).
does not provide any direct evidence that she was
discriminated against on account of her sex. Accordingly, she
must rely on the burden-shifting framework set forth in
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 793
(1973), to prove discriminatory animus. See Khalik v.
United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1192 (10th Cir. 2012)
(a plaintiff can prove discrimination “by relying on
the three-part McDonnell Douglas framework”)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Under that framework,
plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima
facie case of discrimination. Id. This requires
plaintiff to show three elements: (1) that she belonged to a
protected class; (2) that she suffered an adverse employment
action; and (3) that the adverse employment action occurred
under circumstances giving rise to an inference of
discrimination. Luster v. Vilsack, 667 F.3d 1089,
1095 (10th Cir. 2011). If plaintiff succeeds in establishing a
prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to state
a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse
employment action. Sandoval v. City of Boulder,
Colo., 388 F.3d 1312, 1321 (10th Cir. 2004). If
defendant produces a legitimate reason, then the court must
grant defendant summary judgment unless plaintiff can show a
genuine issue of material fact as to whether the stated
reason for the adverse action is pretextual. Id.
can be shown by such weaknesses, implausibilities,
inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the
employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action
that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them
unworthy of credence and hence infer that the employer did
not act for the asserted non-discriminatory reasons.”
Lobato v. N.M. Environmental Dep't, 733 F.3d
1283, 1289 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks
omitted). In determining whether evidence of pretext exists,
the court must “examine the facts as they appear to the
person making the decision, not the plaintiff's
subjective evaluation of the situation.” Id.
(internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). The
pertinent inquiry is whether the employer “honestly
believed [the reasons for its decision] and acted in good
faith upon those beliefs.” Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Company concedes, for purposes of summary judgment, that
plaintiff has established a prima facie case of
discrimination. Docket No. 26 at 9. However, the Company
asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment because it
had two legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons to terminate
plaintiff's employment: (1) the Company had to make
personnel cuts in order to survive an economic downturn; and
(2) plaintiff received the second lowest weighted score on
the rating matrix used to determine which project managers
would be included in the layoff. Id. at 9-10.
Plaintiff does not dispute that defendants' stated
reasons for the termination satisfy defendants' burden of
showing legitimate and non-discriminatory grounds.
See Docket No. 59 at 5; seealso Zamora
v. Elite Logistics, Inc., 478 F.3d 1160, 1165 (10th Cir.
2007) (noting employer's “exceedingly light”
burden to provide legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for