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Corio v. Tri City Cycle, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 6, 2019

HAYLEY CORIO, Plaintiff,
v.
TRI CITY CYCLE, INC, a Colorado Corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER

          RAYMOND P. MOORE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Hayley Corio (“Ms. Corio” or “Plaintiff”) was terminated from her employment from Defendant Tri City Cycle, Inc. (“Tri City” of “Defendant”), a motorcycle dealership, after she complained of sexual harassment and filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). This lawsuit followed. The case is now before the Court on Tri City's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 29) seeking judgment as a matter of law in its favor on all of Ms. Corio's claims. Ms. Corio filed a response in opposition; Tri City filed a reply. The matter is ripe for resolution.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Court considers the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, as the non-movant, “unless contradicted by the record.” DePaula v. Easter Seals El Mirador, 859 F.3d 957 (10th Cir. 2017) (citing Birch v. Polaris Indus., Inc., 812 F.3d 1238, 1251 (10th Cir. 2015)).

         The Alleged Sexual Activities During Ms. Corio's Employment.

         Tri City is a motorcycle distributorship.[1] It has about 25-30 employees. On or about July 18, 2015, Tri City hired Ms. Corio to be the marketing manager.[2] Among Plaintiff's co-workers was an employee named John Goddard, one of two sales managers. Mr. Goddard was already employed by Tri City, and had been for several years, when Ms. Corio started her employment. The other sales manager was David Wagner.

         According to Ms. Corio, at the dealership, “[t]here was always teasing and, like, flirting with everybody in the dealership in a friendly, light-hearted way.” (ECF No. 30-2, p. 62.) She testified “It's the culture…of the industry. It's babes and bikers, and there's always a light amount of profanity used.” (ECF No. 30-2, p. 63.) There was also a certain level of acceptance of conduct, such as a bikini bike wash, which Ms. Corio did not find offensive. (ECF No. 30-2, p. 63.)

         At first, Ms. Corio and Mr. Goddard apparently got along well enough. Whether that was true thereafter is disputed. Ms. Corio testified that in or about June 2016 Mr. Goddard's conduct of sexually inappropriate behavior “ramped up.” Mr. Goddard allegedly made sexually inappropriate statements to her, showed her two inappropriate sexually charged videos, sent her inappropriate sexual text messages, and watched inappropriate videos at his desk with other employees. He also directed some of this conduct toward other female employees. Ms. Corio testified she found this all offensive and told Mr. Goddard this was unacceptable, e.g., telling Mr. Goddard “That's disgusting” or “Don't ever show me that shit again.” (ECF No. 30-2, pp. 61, 90.) Mr. Goddard admits he sent Ms. Corio some texts and made some comments to Ms. Corio but, contrary to Ms. Corio's testimony, testified they were friends and that she never objected or indicated she was offended.[3] Tri City presented evidence that Ms. Corio engaged in some conduct which may be deemed sexually inappropriate. Indeed, there is testimony that Mr. Goddard and Ms. Corio engaged in inappropriate conduct.

         Sometime before January 23, 2017, Mr. Goddard sent Ms. Corio two text messages involving a penis. Ms. Corio said she took offense to the texts and showed one to Mr. Wagner. Mr. Wagner told Tri City's owner, Brady Welton, about the text message on Monday, January 23, 2017. Mr. Welton, along with the human resources manager Christina Traw, [4] investigated. It was Ms. Corio's day off, so Mr. Welton called Ms. Corio at home about the incident. About four days later, Tri City disciplined Mr. Goddard. Thereafter, Mr. Goddard ceased all behavior toward Ms. Corio which she deemed inappropriate. Mr. Goddard, however, did not cease such behavior toward others.

         According to Ms. Corio, there were still inappropriate comments and videos. In other words, Ms. Corio contends the culture did not change. For example, Mr. Goddard wrote a note for sales spiffs, including a spiff of $50 to “whoever sells to the hottest customer.” (ECF No. 30-2.) The parties' interactions, however, are disputed. Ms. Corio contends that Mr. Goddard became “very cold and standoffish” when she came back to work on Tuesday, January 24 (ECF No. 30-2, p. 102), and that Mr. Welton, with whom she used to have regular meetings, became distant. Tri City provides evidence to the contrary.

         In May 2017, Ms. Corio filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC. By letter from Ms. Corio's counsel, Tri City was notified of the EEOC charge on or about May 20, 2017. Thereafter, on May 23, Ms. Corio advised Mr. Welton that she would “prefer” to communicate with him regarding work matters via email or text; all other matters were to be directed through her lawyer. Tri City viewed Ms. Corio's “preference” as a demand; Ms. Corio viewed it as a request.

         On May 25, 2017, Mr. Welton held a storewide meeting to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace.

         Ms. Corio's Alleged Requests for a Raise.

         Meanwhile, Ms. Corio apparently had an issue with her compensation. Ms. Corio was paid an annual salary of $50, 000 plus capped bonuses based on the performance of Tri City. At some point around mid-year 2016, Ms. Corio began asking Mr. Welton (more than once) about a change to her pay structure to straight salary of about $61, 000. (See ECF No. 29-2, pp. 129-130.) There is a factual dispute over whether, in late 2016, Mr. Welton told Ms. Corio that he would be eliminating her quarterly bonuses and would adjust her salary. Ms. Corio never received an increase in salary. There is a factual dispute as to whether and, if so, when a decision was made not to give Ms. Corio a raise.

         Ms. Corio's Termination from Employment, Followed by Mr. Goddard's Termination from Employment.

         On June 30, 2017, Tri City terminated Ms. Corio's employment. At the time she was terminated, Ms. Curio asked Mr. Welton about vacation time she would have been entitled to in a few weeks if she had not been terminated. Mr. Welton offered to pay Ms. Corio the vacation pay in exchange for her providing Tri City with a list of account names and passwords for Tri City accounts. Ms. Corio provided this information on July 4, 2017, but Tri City never paid her the vacation pay.

         The parties dispute why Ms. Curio was terminated. Ms. Curio contends it was in retaliation for complaining about and filing a complaint with the EEOC about the sexual harassment. Tri City contends it was for several reasons, including Ms. Corio's subordination, failure to show up for work, and negative attitude.

         In or about late June 2017, Mr. Goddard posted sexually inappropriate materials on his Snapchat outside of work hours. An employee from a business next to Tri City saw it and told her employer; the employer then reported it to Tri City. After investigating the matter, Tri City terminated Mr. Goddard's employment.[5]

         Ms. Corio's Lawsuit.

         On February 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit. She asserts three claims for relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and one claim for breach of contract. She also seeks punitive damages.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine dispute 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- 70 (10th Cir. 1994). Whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact depends upon whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986); Stone v. Autoliv ASP, Inc., 210 F.3d 1132, 1136 (10th Cir. 2000); Carey v. United States Postal Serv., 812 F.2d 621, 623 (10th Cir. 1987). Once the moving party meets its initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact to be resolved at trial. See 1-800-Contacts, Inc. v. Lens.com, Inc., 722 F.3d 1229, 1242 (10th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). “The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (citation omitted). The facts, however, must be considered in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cillo v. City of Greenwood Vill., 739 F.3d 451, 461 (10th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Sexual Harassment - Hostile Work Environment

         Ms. Corio claims she was subjected to sexual harassment in the work place by Mr. ...


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