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Stuart v. Erickson Living Management

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 18, 2019

H. DENISE STUART, Plaintiff,
v.
ERICKSON LIVING MANAGEMENT and WIND CREST, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PHILIP A. BRIMMER, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Recommendation of United States Magistrate and Order filed on July 29, 2019. Docket No. 60. Magistrate Judge Nina Y. Wang recommends that the Court grant Defendant[s'] Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 38] and deny Plaintiff's Motion for Summary [Judgment] [Docket No. 45]. Docket No. 60 at 2. Plaintiff H. Denise Stuart objected to the magistrate judge's recommendation on August 13, 2019. Docket No. 65. Defendants responded on August 27, 2019. Docket No. 69. Plaintiff did not file a reply.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The background facts have been set forth in the magistrate judge's recommendation and will not be repeated here except as relevant to resolving plaintiff's objections. On July 11, 2018, plaintiff filed her amended Employment Discrimination Complaint [Docket No. 10] alleging that her former employer, defendant Wind Crest,[1] discriminated against her based upon her race and “retaliated against [her] for opposing discrimination in the workplace” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Docket No. 10 at 3, 9. Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss [Docket No. 23] and the magistrate judge recommended that the motion be granted and that plaintiff's claims be dismissed without prejudice so that plaintiff could seek leave to amend her complaint. Docket No. 30 at 6. Plaintiff did not object to the magistrate judge's recommendation. The Court dismissed plaintiff's retaliation claim without prejudice on December 3, 2018, and plaintiff was granted leave to amend her complaint within 21 days of the Court's order. Docket No. 31 at 2. Plaintiff did not file an amended complaint.

         Defendants then moved for summary judgment on plaintiff's discrimination claim, arguing that plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of discrimination and that defendants had terminated plaintiff based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons. Docket No. 38 at 10, 14. Plaintiff did not file a response, but filed her own motion for summary judgment [Docket No. 45]. Construing plaintiff's motion as a response to their summary judgment motion, defendants filed a reply. Docket No. 48. At the final pretrial conference, the magistrate judge “attempted to clarify whether Plaintiff's filing was a response to Defendant[s'] motion for Summary Judgment or an affirmative motion.” Docket No. 60 at 3; see also Docket No. 52. In response, plaintiff “suggested that she might be affirmatively moving for summary judgment, ” Docket No. 60 at 3, but did not file any additional papers in support of her motion.

         In light of plaintiff's pro se status, the Court construes her filings liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 & n.3 (10th Cir. 1991). Therefore, the Court will construe plaintiff's filing as a motion for summary judgment, as the magistrate judge did. See Docket No. 60 at 1 n.1. The magistrate judge recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted and that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied. Docket No. 60 at 18.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary 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). Where “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) (quoting Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted)). “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) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)). 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, 477 U.S. at 324; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). “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 (citation omitted). When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.; see McBeth v. Himes, 598 F.3d 708, 715 (10th Cir. 2010). However, where, as here, there are cross motions for summary judgment, the reasonable inferences drawn from affidavits, attached exhibits, and depositions are rendered in the light most favorable to the non-prevailing party. Jacklovich v. Simmons, 392 F.3d 420, 425 (10th Cir. 2004). Furthermore, “[w]hen the parties file cross motions for summary judgment, we are entitled to assume that no evidence needs to be considered other than that filed by the parties, but summary judgment is nevertheless inappropriate if disputes remain as to material facts.” Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank of Wichita, 226 F.3d 1138, 1148 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         When reviewing a magistrate judge's recommendation on a dispositive motion, the Court must “determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). An objection is “proper” if it is both timely and specific. United States v. One Parcel of Real Property Known as 2121 East 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996). To be sufficiently specific, an objection must “enable[] the district judge to focus attention on those issues - factual and legal - that are at the heart of the parties' dispute.” See Id. (quoting Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 147 (1985)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff raises six objections to the magistrate judge's recommendation, focusing only on what she believes are errors in the magistrate judge's recitation of the undisputed material facts. See Docket No. 65.[2] She argues that the magistrate judge “did not state on the record the reasons for denying” her motion for summary judgment and that the magistrate judge “overlooked important facts to discredit” her motion. Id. at 1.

         First, plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's statement that plaintiff “filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (‘EEOC') on or about July 13, 2017.” Docket No. 65 at 1; Docket No. 60 at 2. Plaintiff states that she actually filed a charge of discrimination on June 13, 2017. Docket No. 65 at 1. Plaintiff is correct: her EEOC charge is dated June 13, 2017. See Docket No. 10 at 9. However, this minor error in the magistrate judge's procedural background section is immaterial to the magistrate judge's disposition of the parties' motions. See Docket No. 60. This objection does not set forth a genuine issue of material fact that would prevent the Court from entering summary judgment.

         Next, plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's statement that “Defendants hired Ms. Stuart, an African-American female, as a Care Associate in the Memory Care Department.” Docket No. 65 at 2; Docket No. 60 at 5, ¶ 1. Plaintiff states that defendants hired her, “a Black American Female, as a Care Associate . . . and QMAP Associate, ” which includes administering medication or providing emergency first aid when needed. Docket No. 65 at 2. Plaintiff has admitted that defendant Wind Crest hired her as a “Care Associate.” Docket No. 38 at 3, ¶ 1. Moreover, the record indicates that plaintiff was hired as a Care Associate in defendants' Memory Care Department, as the magistrate judge noted. See Docket No. 38-1 at 1 (Wind Crest's offer letter of employment, sent to plaintiff, for the position of Care Associate). Even if plaintiff was also hired as a QMAP Associate, or even if plaintiff's job title or job duties changed over time, plaintiff has not explained why her job title would have an impact on the magistrate judge's ruling. The Court finds that this is not a disputed material fact that would preclude summary judgment. And to the extent that plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's statement that plaintiff is an “African-American female” rather than a “Black American Female, ” plaintiff does not raise an argument that the magistrate judge's language had any impact on her recommendation or that this distinction raises a genuine issue of material fact. The Court will overrule this objection.

         Plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's statement that, in or about March 2017, plaintiff's co-workers filed workplace complaints against plaintiff. Docket No. 65 at 2; Docket No. 60 at 6, ¶ 4. Plaintiff contends that, in April 2017, she met with two of her supervisors who did not mention that any complaints had been lodged against her and that the supervisors did not issue plaintiff a written or verbal warning at the meeting. ...


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