Red Hat et al v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc
ORDER granting 26 CRST's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of Defendant CRST Van Expedited, Inc. and against Plaintiffs Ona S. Red Hat and Leo Runearth and close this case. Signed by Chief Judge Linda R Reade on 10/16/12. (djs)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
CEDAR RAPIDS DIVISION
ONA S. RED HAT and LEO
CRST VAN EXPEDITED, INC., n/k/a
CRST EXPEDITED, INC.,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
PROCEDURAL HISTORY.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Parties.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Pre-Employment Training and Expenses. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Employment Contracts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Red Hat’s Training Period with Thomas Hinsdale. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Report of Hinsdale’s Sexual Harassment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Plaintiffs’ Post-Training Driving and End of Employment.. . . . . . . 10
ANALYSIS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sexual Harassment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Applicable law. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Term, condition or privilege of employment. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Coworker vs. supervisor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Whether Lead Driver is a supervisor. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Whether CRST knew or should have known of the
harassment and failed to take proper action. . . . . . . .
Affirmative defense. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Racial Harassment.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Retaliation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Breach of Contract. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Promissory Estoppel.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Iowa Wage Payment Collection Law. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Retaliatory Discharge. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
CONCLUSION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
The matter before the court is Defendant CRST Van Expedited, Inc.’s (“CRST”)
“Motion for Summary Judgment” (“Motion”) (docket no. 26). In the Motion, CRST
argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs’ claims pled in the
Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) (docket no. 20).
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On October 18, 2011, Plaintiffs Ona S. Red Hat and Leo Runearth (collectively,
“Plaintiffs”) filed a seven-count Complaint against CRST. Count I alleges that Red Hat
was subjected to sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e.1 Count II alleges that Red Hat was subjected to
racial harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e. Count III alleges that CRST retaliated against Red Hat for her report of
harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e. Count IV2 alleges that CRST breached its employment contracts with
Plaintiffs. Count V alleges that CRST made promises to Plaintiffs and those promises
must be enforced under the doctrine of promissory estoppel. Count VI alleges that CRST
failed to pay Plaintiffs the wages due to them in violation of the Iowa Wage Payment
Plaintiffs mistakenly cite to Title VII in Counts I and II as 28 U.S.C. § 2000.
Plaintiffs improperly number this count as a second Count III in the Complaint.
Therefore, the court will consider this Count IV and renumber subsequent counts
Collection Law, Iowa Code chapter 91A. Count VII alleges that CRST discharged
Runearth in retaliation for Red Hat’s report of harassment in violation of public policy.
On October 28, 2011, CRST filed an Answer (docket no. 23) to the Complaint, in which
CRST denied Plaintiffs’ allegations and asserted affirmative defenses.
On June 20, 2012, CRST filed the Motion. On July 16, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a
Resistance (docket no. 33). On July 25, 2012, CRST filed a Reply (docket no. 36).
Neither party requested a hearing, and the court finds that a hearing is unnecessary. The
matter is fully submitted and ready for decision.
III. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION
The court has federal question subject matter jurisdiction over Counts I, II and III
because they arise under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all
civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”). The
court has supplemental jurisdiction over Counts IV, V, VI and VII because “the federallaw claims and state-law claims in the case derive from a common nucleus of operative fact
and are such that [a plaintiff] would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial
proceeding.” Kan. Pub. Emps. Ret. Sys. v. Reimer & Koger Assocs., Inc., 77 F.3d 1063,
1067 (8th Cir. 1996) (alteration in the original) (quoting Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill,
484 U.S. 343, 349 (1988)) (internal quotation marks omitted); 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
IV. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate “if 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). “A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a
reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a fact is material if its resolution affects
the outcome of the case.” Amini v. City of Minneapolis, 643 F.3d 1068, 1074 (8th Cir.
2011) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252 (1986)), cert.
denied, 132 S. Ct. 1144 (2012) . “[S]elf-serving allegations and denials are insufficient
to create a genuine issue of material fact.” Anuforo v. Comm’r, 614 F.3d 799, 807 (8th
Cir. 2010). “To survive a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must
substantiate [its] allegations with sufficient probative evidence [that] would permit a finding
in [its] favor based on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy.” Barber v. C1
Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 801 (8th Cir. 2011) (second alteration in
original) (quoting Putman v. Unity Health Sys., 348 F.3d 732, 733-34 (8th Cir. 2003))
(internal quotation marks omitted). The court must view the record in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party and afford it all reasonable inferences. See Schmidt v.
Des Moines Pub. Sch., 655 F.3d 811, 819 (8th Cir. 2011).
V. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs and affording them all
reasonable inferences, the uncontested material facts are as follows.
Plaintiffs, a married couple, are citizens of Oklahoma. Plaintiffs were employed
as over-the-road truck drivers at CRST from approximately October 22, 2009 to December
16, 2009. Plaintiffs are of Native American descent.
CRST is an Iowa corporation with its principal place of business in Cedar Rapids,
Iowa. CRST is an interstate logistics and transit company that employs long-haul drivers.
CRST uses an efficiency model known as “team driving,” in which two drivers are
assigned to a truck and alternate between sleeping on board the truck and driving to
maximize mileage and minimize stops.
B. Pre-Employment Training and Expenses
Prior to signing employment contracts with CRST, CRST paid for Plaintiffs to
attend driving school at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. CRST also
advanced funds to Plaintiffs to pay for lodging, transportation and pre-employment
physicals and drug screenings.
On October 19, 2009, Plaintiffs attended a CRST orientation, during which they
learned about the company’s policies, including its harassment policy. Red Hat signed an
acknowledgment that stated:
I ACKNOWLEDGE I have received and read CRST Van
Expedited’s Policy Against Unlawful Harassment and
Discrimination. I understand that CRST Van Expedited does
not tolerate any form of harassment or discrimination at work,
including sexual harassment, and any employee who is found
to have violated the Policy will [b]e subject to appropriate
disciplinary action up to and including termination. . . .
I also understand and agree that if I believe I am being
subjected to harassment or discrimination, no matter how
severe or pervasive, I will immediately report it to my fleet
manager or to the Human Resources Department directly so
that I may be removed from the harassing situation and so that
CRST may conduct a prompt investigation.
Red Hat Acknowledgment, Defendant’s Appendix (“Def. App’x”) (docket no. 26-2) at 49.
Red Hat also testified during her deposition that she received a copy of CRST’s harassment
policy and that the policy was covered during the orientation.
C. Employment Contracts
Plaintiffs signed employment contracts with CRST on October 22, 2009. The
contracts each state that Plaintiffs will be employed for a term of eight months and be
employed on an at-will basis thereafter. Regarding termination of employment, the
During the Term[,] Employee’s employment may be
terminated only for the following reasons[:] (1) by CRST with
or without Due Cause effective immediately, (2) by mutual
agreement of CRST and Employee, or (3) upon the death of
the Employee[.] For the purposes of this Contract, “Due
Cause” means Employee’s breach of this Contract and/or
Employee’s failure to satisfy or comply with any of the
standards, requirements, obligations and conditions set forth in
Red Hat Employment Contract, Def. App’x at 68; Runearth Employment Contract, Def.
App’x at 71. The contracts also contain the following regarding reimbursement for
Student acknowledges and agrees that CRST advanced on
behalf of Employee, in accordance with the Pre-employment
Driver Training Agreement, the payment of certain tuition,
lodging, transportation and other expenses and fees incurred
by Employee in the course of Employee participating in the
Driver Training Program . . . sponsored by CRST[.]
Red Hat Employment Contract, Def. App’x at 69; Runearth Employment Contract, Def.
App’x at 72. The contracts go on to state that CRST will make deductions from the
employee’s paycheck starting in the second week of phase 4 of the driver training program
to repay fees and expenses advanced to the employee during phase 1 of the driver training
program. The contracts further state:
If during the Term either (1) Employee breaches this Contract,
or (2) Employee’s employment is terminated for Due Cause,
then Student will owe and immediately must pay to CRST the
following sum[:] (i) $3,950 plus (ii) the amounts advanced by
CRST on behalf of Student . . . for Student’s DOT physical
and drug screen expenses, Lodging Cost and Transportation
Cost incurred during Phase 1 that Student has not yet repaid
via deductions from weekly pay pursuant to this section 7(a),
plus (iii) interest accruing as of the Effective Date at a rate
equal to the lesser of 1.5% per month or the maximum rate
permitted by applicable federal and state usury laws[.]
Employee hereby authorizes CRST to deduct the amount due
under this section . . . , if any, from the compensation
amounts otherwise due to Employee . . . upon the termination
of Employee’s employment[.]
Red Hat Employment Contract, Def. App’x at 69-70; Runearth Employment Contract,
Def. App’x at 72-73. The contracts further state that they are governed by Iowa law.
D. Red Hat’s Training Period with Thomas Hinsdale
As part of the driver training program, new CRST drivers are required to complete
twenty-eight days of over-the-road training with a Lead Driver. Lead Drivers instruct
driver trainees on the proper way to drive CRST’s vehicles, monitor their progress and
evaluate them at the conclusion of the training period.
Lead Drivers can make
recommendations at the end of the training period that influence management decisions
regarding the trainees, but Lead Drivers do not have the authority to hire, fire, promote,
demote or reassign trainees.
Before starting her over-the-road training, Red Hat was speaking with her assigned
Lead Driver when Thomas Hinsdale approached them. Hinsdale corrected Red Hat’s Lead
Driver on his knowledge of road rules, and Red Hat asked Hinsdale to be her Lead Driver.
Hinsdale then spoke to the dispatcher and became Red Hat’s Lead Driver.
Hinsdale informed Red Hat of the rules of his truck before departing for the training
period. One of Hinsdale’s rules was that, for her protection, Red Hat had to hold his hand
whenever the two went to a truck stop and pretend that they were a couple. Red Hat told
Hinsdale that she could take care of herself and would not hold his hand. At this point Red
Hat still believed that Hinsdale was looking out for her and did not interpret his rule as
harassment at the time. Red Hat did not report Hinsdale’s rule about holding hands to
anyone at CRST.
During the beginning of Red Hat’s training with Hinsdale, both Hinsdale and Red
Hat were suffering from head colds. Hinsdale offered Red Hat Nyquil, which Red Hat
refused to take because she did not want the medicine to make her drowsy. Red Hat did
not report Hinsdale’s offer of Nyquil to anyone at CRST.
At some point during Red Hat’s training period with Hinsdale, Hinsdale made
derogatory remarks about dark-skinned drivers of other vehicles, calling them “slow-ass
Mexicans” and “dumb-ass Mexicans” during conversations with his dispatcher. Hinsdale
also referred to a dark-skinned female customer as a “bitch” and other derogatory names
even though Red Hat had no problems dealing with the customer.
Between November 9 and November 11, 2009, Hinsdale touched Red Hat’s hair,
rubbed her shoulders and shared sexual jokes with her that he had received on his cellular
phone. Red Hat told Hinsdale to stop telling her sexual jokes, and he complied. Hinsdale
also told Red Hat that CRST stands for “constantly raping student truckers” and told her
that it was acceptable to cheat on her husband. Hinsdale also embarrassed Red Hat by
making a scene in a truck stop and acting as though they were a couple. Hinsdale would
also yell at Red Hat to use his quarters for her laundry, not to leave the truck unless he
was leaving the truck and not to sign up for a shower unless he was there.
Red Hat called Runearth, who was training with a different Lead Driver at the time,
and told him about the things Hinsdale said to her. Runearth told Red Hat to call her
dispatcher, but she did not want to call anyone because Hinsdale had told her that the
dispatchers were his friends and that they would “have his back no matter what anyone
told them.” Red Hat Deposition, Def. App’x at 14. Red Hat told Runearth that she just
wanted to finish her training so that she could drive with him and that she did not want any
trouble. Red Hat also told Tony Stanolis, another trainee driver, about how Hinsdale was
treating her. When Stanolis told Red Hat to report Hinsdale to her dispatcher, Red Hat
again said that she just wanted to finish her training. Red Hat also told another trainee
driver, Cindy, about Hinsdale’s actions.
On November 11, 2009, in the early morning, Red Hat woke up to find Hinsdale
standing over her and touching her backside. Red Hat screamed at Hinsdale and asked him
what he was doing, and he turned around quickly and said that he was “putting [her] sock
back on [her] bunk.” Red Hat Deposition, Def. App’x at 15. Red Hat then ran to the
truck stop and tried to contact Runearth. When she couldn’t reach Runearth, Red Hat
called Stanolis. Stanolis told Red Hat that she needed to report Hinsdale and that he would
report the incident if she did not. Red Hat was then able to reach Runearth, who also told
Red Hat to call her dispatcher.
E. Report of Hinsdale’s Sexual Harassment
At approximately 10:30 P.M. on November 11, 2009, Red Hat called her
dispatcher, Patrick Ralph, and reported Hinsdale’s harassment. Ralph then put Red Hat
through to Todd Wright, the Operations Director. Red Hat reported the harassment to
Wright, and Wright told Red Hat that he wanted to get her away from the truck. Red Hat
told Wright that she had only a few dollars, so Wright told her that CRST would get her
a hotel room and pay for a taxi to take her to the hotel. Wright told her that someone from
Human Resources would contact her in the morning. Red Hat went to a hotel as directed
by Wright. CRST paid for the taxi and the hotel.
The next morning, Lisa Oetkin from CRST Human Resources called Red Hat,
spoke to her regarding the harassment and asked her to fill out an incident report. Later
that day, Red Hat retrieved her belongings and log book from Hinsdale’s truck and took
a Greyhound bus to meet her new female Lead Driver, Robyn Seigler. Red Hat drove
with Seigler for the remainder of her training, and Red Hat reported no problems with
Seigler. Seigler typed out Red Hat’s handwritten incident report regarding Hinsdale’s
harassment, and Red Hat faxed the report to Oetkin.
Oetkin then conducted an
investigation and disciplined Hinsdale by putting a letter in his file and preventing him
from training female drivers. Oetkin informed Red Hat of the results of the investigation
and the discipline Hinsdale received. Red Hat testified that CRST removed her from the
harassing situation and conducted a prompt investigation and that she was satisfied with
the way CRST handled the report. Red Hat Deposition, Def. App’x at 33-34.
Seigler recommended to CRST management that Red Hat be allowed to end her
training before the Thanksgiving holiday even though she had not driven the required
number of miles so that she could start driving with her husband after the holiday. CRST
approved this recommendation, and Plaintiffs had approximately six days of rest over the
holiday before starting to drive together.
F. Plaintiffs’ Post-Training Driving and End of Employment
Plaintiffs began driving together as co-drivers on December 2, 2009, and drove four
loads together before their employment with CRST ended on December 16, 2009. Red
Hat and Runearth were assigned to fleet manager Chris O’Shea, who had no knowledge
of Red Hat’s report regarding Hinsdale. O’Shea learned of the Hinsdale report after
Plaintiffs’ employment ended.
Plaintiffs made late deliveries and pickups on several occasions. First, Plaintiffs
were late delivering a load on December 7, 2009. Plaintiffs contend that they were late
in part because they had not received the proper directions from CRST. O’Shea avers that
Plaintiffs were never knowingly provided with bad directions. On December 9, 2009,
Plaintiffs were late picking up a load for a second time. Plaintiffs contend that they were
late in part because they had a defective trailer. On December 10, 2009, Plaintiffs were
again late delivering a load. Plaintiffs contend that they were late in part because they
were fatigued and did not know that they could decline to pick up a load. O’Shea
disciplined Red Hat and Runearth on December 11, 2009, for delivering the load late. At
the time of their discipline, Red Hat admitted that she stayed up with Runearth during the
day and that they shut down the truck at night instead of alternating driving and sleeping
as a team. Red Hat’s failure to drive the truck also contributed to Plaintiffs’ late deliveries
and pick ups.
On December 11, 2009, Plaintiffs picked up a load in Washington that was
scheduled to be delivered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 13, 2009. Plaintiffs
encountered bad weather in the mountains and did not deliver the load until December 16,
2009. Red Hat and Runearth’s employment ended on December 16, 2009, when O’Shea
told Red Hat and Runearth to get off the truck in Oklahoma City and Red Hat told O’Shea
that she no longer wanted to be a driver. CRST’s personnel records list Red Hat’s reason
for leaving CRST as “voluntary” and “did not want to be a driver.” Termination Record,
Def. App’x at 48. O’Shea avers that he did not terminate Red Hat and Runearth’s
employment, although multiple late deliveries and pickups can result in termination, and
that Red Hat and Runearth voluntarily quit their employment with CRST after stating that
the driving profession was not for them.
At the time Red Hat and Runearth’s employment ended with CRST, CRST deducted
the amounts it had advanced to Plaintiffs during their training period from their final
paychecks. This deduction resulted in no net pay for Plaintiffs, and Plaintiffs still owe
CRST money for the advanced costs.
In the Motion, CRST argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on all seven
counts in the Complaint.
A. Sexual Harassment
CRST argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Red Hat’s claim of sexual
harassment in Count I because Red Hat was not subjected to a discriminatorily hostile
work environment. Specifically, CRST argues that: (1) the alleged harassment did not
affect a term, condition or privilege of Red Hat’s employment because the harassment was
not so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of employment and create a hostile
work environment; (2) Hinsdale was not Red Hat’s supervisor, so CRST cannot be
vicariously liable for his harassment; and (3) even if Hinsdale was Red Hat’s supervisor,
CRST can establish the affirmative defense that it took prompt remedial measures and Red
Hat unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities
provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.
In response, Red Hat argues that Hinsdale’s actions created a hostile work
environment because: (1) Red Hat was subjectively offended by Hinsdale’s actions; (2)
CRST is not entitled to the prompt remedial action defense because the defense is only
applicable if the Lead Driver is a coworker rather than a supervisor; and (3) Hinsdale was
Red Hat’s supervisor, so CRST should be held vicariously liable for his actions.
“Title VII . . . makes it ‘an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to
discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions,
or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s . . . sex.’” Harris v. Forklift
Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)). “The phrase
‘terms, conditions, or privileges of employment’ evinces a congressional intent to strike
at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women in employment, which
includes requiring people to work in a discriminatorily hostile or abusive environment.”
Id. (quoting Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 64 (1986)) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
“When the workplace is permeated with discriminatory
intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the
conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment, Title
VII is violated.” Id. (internal citations omitted) (quoting Meritor Sav. Bank, 477 U.S. at
65, 67) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, “[c]onduct that is not severe or
pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment—an
environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive—is beyond Title VII’s
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has stated:
[h]ostile work environments created by supervisors or
coworkers have the following elements in common: (1) the
plaintiff belongs to a protected group; (2) the plaintiff was
subject to unwelcome harassment; (3) a causal nexus exists
between the harassment and the plaintiff’s protected group
status; and (4) the harassment affected a term, condition, or
privilege of employment. Al-Zubaidy v. TEK Indus., Inc., 406
F.3d 1030, 1038 (8th Cir. 2005). In addition, for claims of
harassment by non-supervisory personnel, [the plaintiff] must
show that [her] employer knew or should have known of the
harassment and failed to take proper action.
Gordon v. Shafer Contracting Co., Inc., 469 F.3d 1191, 1194-95 (8th Cir. 2006). “The
environment must be both objectively hostile as perceived by a reasonable person and
subjectively abusive as actually viewed by [the plaintiff].” Anderson v. Durham D & M,
L.L.C., 606 F.3d 513, 518 (8th Cir. 2010). In examining the objective component, the
court looks to the “totality of the circumstances, ‘including the frequency of the
discriminatory conduct, its severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating or
a mere offensive utterance and whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with the
employee’s work performance.” Id. at 518-19 (quoting Singletary v. Mo. Dep’t of Corr.,
423 F.3d 886, 893 (8th Cir. 2005)). The court also considers “the ‘physical proximity to
the harasser, and the presence or absence of other people.’” Id. at 519 (quoting Carter v.
Chrysler Corp., 173 F.3d 693, 702 (8th Cir. 1999)).
Although an employer can be held directly liable for sexual harassment by nonsupervisory coworkers if the above five elements are proven, “[an employer] cannot be
vicariously liable for sexual harassment by non-supervisory coworkers.” Alvarez v. Des
Moines Bolt Supply, Inc., 626 F.3d 410, 419 (8th Cir. 2010). If a supervisor commits the
harassment, the employer will be held vicariously liable for the supervisor’s harassment
unless the employer can establish the affirmative Ellerth-Faragher3 defense. Weger v. City
of Ladue, 500 F.3d 710, 718 (8th Cir. 2007). To establish the Ellerth-Faragher defense,
the defendant must show: (1) that it “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct
promptly any sexually harassing behavior”; and (2) “that the plaintiff employee
unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities
provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.” Id.
Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998); Faragher v. City of Boca
Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998).
Term, condition or privilege of employment
CRST concedes, for purposes of summary judgment, that Red Hat belongs to a
protected group, Red Hat was subjected to unwelcome harassment and a causal nexus
exists between the harassment and Red Hat’s protected group status. CRST argues that
Hinsdale’s harassment did not affect a term, condition or privilege of employment because
the harassment was not so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of employment and
create a hostile work environment. CRST maintains that Hinsdale’s conduct was limited
to subjectively offensive statements and a few instances of Hinsdale touching Red Hat. In
response, Red Hat agrees that Hinsdale’s actions were subjectively offensive and argues
that the question of whether a reasonable person would conclude that the conduct was so
severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of employment is a question for the jury.
The record illustrates that Red Hat found her work environment to be subjectively
abusive. With regard to whether Red Hat’s work environment was objectively hostile, the
court finds that a reasonable jury could conclude that Hinsdale’s actions were objectively
so severe and pervasive that they altered the conditions of Red Hat’s employment. Red
Hat testified that Hinsdale told Red Hat sexually explicit jokes, touched her hair and
shoulders on multiple occasions and one morning Red Hat woke up to Hinsdale touching
her backside while she slept. Thus, a reasonable person could find Hinsdale’s conduct to
be physically threatening or humiliating and not simply consisting of an offensive
utterance. See Anderson, 606 F.3d at 519. Additionally, because Red Hat was alone with
Hinsdale living on a semi-truck, Red Hat’s physical proximity to Hinsdale and the absence
of other people support a finding that Hinsdale’s actions altered the conditions of Red Hat’s
employment. See id. Thus, there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether
Hinsdale’s sexually harassing conduct created a hostile work environment.
Coworker vs. supervisor
The court must now determine whether CRST could be held liable for any hostile
work environment created by Hinsdale. CRST argues that Hinsdale was not Red Hat’s
supervisor because he did not have the power to hire, fire, promote or reassign Red Hat
and, thus, CRST cannot be held vicariously liable for his actions. CRST further argues
that, even if Hinsdale was Red Hat’s supervisor, CRST can establish an affirmative
defense because CRST responded with prompt remedial action and Red Hat unreasonably
failed to take advantage of preventative or corrective opportunities that CRST provided.
In response, Red Hat argues that Hinsdale was Red Hat’s supervisor because
“CRST’s practices give Lead Drivers virtually unchecked authority and control over all
aspects of a trainee’s daily activities, as well as authority to recommend whether a trainee
is ready for full-driver status, and their recommendations are virtually always followed.”
Plaintiffs’ Brief in Opposition of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (“Plaintiffs’
Brief”) (docket no. 33-5) at 14. Red Hat also argues that the prompt remedial action
affirmative defense is “only applicable if the Lead Driver is concluded to have been a coworker rather than a supervisor.” Id. at 13.
Whether Lead Driver is a supervisor
“[T]o be considered a supervisor, ‘the alleged harasser must have had the power
(not necessarily exercised) to take tangible employment action against the victim, such as
the authority to hire, fire, promote, or reassign to significantly different duties.’” Weyers
v. Lear Operations Corp., 359 F.3d 1049, 1057 (8th Cir. 2004). In EEOC v. CRST Van
Expedited, Inc., 679 F.3d 657, 684 (8th Cir. 2012), the Eighth Circuit considered whether
CRST could be held vicariously liable for its Lead Drivers’ sexual harassment of trainee
The Eighth Circuit found that a CRST Lead Driver is not a supervisory
employee, and, therefore, CRST was “not vicariously liable for any harassment that its
Lead Drivers allegedly perpetrated against female trainees.” Id. at 684. The Eighth
Circuit stated that “[t]he fact that an alleged harasser may have been a team leader with
the authority to assign employees to particular tasks will not be enough to make that person
a supervisor.” Id. (quoting Merritt v. Albemarle Corp., 496 F.3d 880, 883 (8th Cir.
2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Additionally, with respect to Lead Drivers’
ability to make recommendations regarding trainees, the Eighth Circuit stated that
“CRST’s reliance, in part, on a Lead Driver’s evaluation of a trainee’s performance to
decide whether to promote that trainee to full-driver status is insufficient to render a Lead
Driver a supervisor” because there was not evidence that CRST rubberstamped its Lead
Drivers’ recommendations and “a coworker’s authority to make mere recommendations
or evaluations to a superior about tangible employment decisions pertaining to a fellow
employee does not constructively promote that coworker to a supervisor for purposes of
vicarious Title VII liability.” Id. at 685 (emphasis omitted).
The factual circumstances of the instant action are nearly identical to the facts at
issue in EEOC. Although Hinsdale had the authority to make recommendations to CRST
management about Red Hat based on her performance during the training period, he did
not have the power to hire, fire, promote or reassign her to significantly different duties.
Thus, Hinsdale did not have the power to take tangible employment action against Red Hat
such that he can be deemed a supervisor for purposes of Title VII liability. See id. at 684.
Red Hat asserts that the factual circumstances of this case differ from those in
EEOC because Red Hat’s second Lead Driver, Seigler, recommended to CRST
management that Red Hat move on to co-driving with her husband before she had
completed all of her training miles and CRST accepted the recommendation. This fact
does not illustrate that Seigler or any other Lead Driver had authority over tangible
employment decisions beyond mere recommendations, and Red Hat has not demonstrated
that CRST rubberstamped such recommendations. See id. at 684-85. Based on the Eighth
Circuit’s reasoning in EEOC, the court finds that Hinsdale was not Red Hat’s supervisor
and, therefore, CRST cannot be held directly liable for Hinsdale’s actions unless Red Hat
can show that CRST knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take
Whether CRST knew or should have known of the harassment and
failed to take proper action
Because Hinsdale was not Red Hat’s supervisor, “‘[CRST] may be directly liable
for its employees’ actions that violate Title VII if the company knows or should have
known of the conduct, unless it can show that it took immediate action and appropriate
corrective action.’” Id. at 690 (quoting Alvarez, 626 F.3d at 419) (alteration in original)
(emphasis omitted). “Where an employer takes ‘prompt remedial action that is reasonably
calculated to stop the harassment,’ the employer is not liable under Title VII for the
underlying sexual harassment.” Alvarez, 626 F.3d at 419 (quoting Engel v. Rapid City
Sch. Dist., 506 F.3d 1118, 1123 (8th Cir. 2007)).
Factors in assessing the reasonableness of remedial measures
may include the amount of time that elapsed between the notice
and the remedial action, the options available to the employer,
possibly including employee training sessions, transferring the
harassers, written warnings, reprimands in personnel files, or
termination, and whether or not the measures ended the
Carter, 173 F.3d at 702 (internal citations omitted).
Prior to November 11, 2009, the only CRST employees Red Hat had talked to
regarding Hinsdale’s behavior were Runearth, Stanolis and Cindy. None of these CRST
employees were supervisors and none of them informed human resources or CRST
management about Hinsdale’s actions. In fact, Red Hat repeatedly said that she did not
want to report Hinsdale because she did not want to cause a problem or get into trouble.
Therefore, there is no evidence that CRST knew or should have known of the harassment
before Red Hat contacted her dispatcher on November 11, 2009. See Moore v. Neb. Beef,
Ltd., 449 F. App’x 540, 541 (8th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (affirming summary judgment
on the plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim because “nothing in the record suggested
that [the defendant] knew or had reason to know [the plaintiff] had been mistreated by coworkers based on his race, color, or sex”).
The evidence also shows that CRST took immediate and appropriate corrective
action. Red Hat called her dispatcher at approximately 10:30 P.M. on November 11,
2009, and reported Hinsdale’s harassment. The dispatcher transferred Red Hat to his
supervisor, Wright, and Wright took immediate action to get Red Hat away from Hinsdale,
including paying for Red Hat’s taxi and hotel. The next morning, Oetkin began her
investigation by interviewing Red Hat. That same day, CRST assigned Red Hat to another
Lead Driver, and Red Hat was on the truck with her new female Lead Driver that night.
Hinsdale was subsequently disciplined with a written notation in his file, and he was no
longer allowed to train female drivers. Oetkin then informed Red Hat of the results of her
investigation and Hinsdale’s discipline. Red Hat even testified that she was satisfied with
the way CRST handled her report of harassment when she made it. Red Hat Deposition,
Def. App’x at 33-34. Therefore, no reasonable jury could find that CRST did not take
immediate and appropriate corrective action once Red Hat made her report. See Stuart v.
Gen. Motors Corp., 217 F.3d 621, 633 (8th Cir. 2000) (holding that summary judgment
was proper because “no rational jury could find that [the defendant’s] response was neither
prompt or adequate”). The court finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact
regarding whether CRST knew of should have known about the harassment or took
immediate and appropriate remedial action once it became aware of the harassment. Thus,
Red Hat has failed to meet her burden to establish the elements required for a coworker
sexual discrimination claim, and the court shall dismiss Count I on this ground.
Even if the court were to hold that Hinsdale was Red Hat’s supervisor, CRST can
establish the Ellerth-Faragher affirmative defense. While Red Hat is correct that the
prompt remedial action prong of a hostile work environment claim only applies to actions
involving non-supervisory employees, the Ellerth-Faragher defense is applicable to actions
involving supervisory employees. “The first element of the affirmative defense imposes
two requirements on employers, they must have (1) exercised reasonable care to prevent
sexual harassment (the ‘prevention prong’) and (2) promptly corrected any sexual
harassment that did occur (the ‘correction prong’).” Weger, 500 F.3d at 719. The Eighth
Circuit has held that “an employer exercised reasonable care to prevent harassment where
it distributed its antiharassment policy to all of its employees, and the policy’s complaint
procedure ‘identifie[d] three company officials to whom harassment [could be] reported.”
Id. at 719-20 (quoting Gordon v. Shafer Contracting Co., Inc., 469 F.3d 1191, 1195 (8th
Cir. 2006)) (alteration in original). “The correction prong requires [the defendant] to
demonstrate that it ‘exercised reasonable care . . . to correct promptly any sexually
harassing behavior.’” Id. at 720 (quoting Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775,
“[T]o satisfy the second element of the Ellerth-Faragher affirmative defense, the
[defendant] must show that ‘the [plaintiff] unreasonably failed to take advantage of any
preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the [defendant] or to avoid harm
Id. at 724.
“‘[W]hile proof that an employee failed to fulfill the
corresponding obligation of reasonable care to avoid harm is not limited to showing an
unreasonable failure to use any complaint procedure provided by the employer,
demonstration of such failure will normally suffice to satisfy the employer’s burden under
the second element of the defense.’” Id. (quoting Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524
U.S. 742, 745 (1998)); see also Adams v. O’Reilly Auto., Inc., 538 F.3d 926, 932 (8th
Cir. 2008) (“A showing that an employee failed to avail him- or herself of a proper
complaint procedure ‘will normally suffice to satisfy the employer’s burden under the
second element of the defense.’” (quoting Faragher, 524 U.S. at 807-08)). “[T]here is
no bright-line rule as to when a failure to file a complaint becomes unreasonable . . . .”
Weger, 500 F.3d at 724 (quoting Reed v. MBNA Mktg. Sys., Inc., 333 F.3d 27, 35 (1st
Cir. 2003)). “‘[A]n employee’s subjective fears of confrontation, unpleasantness or
retaliation do not alleviate the employee’s duty . . . to alert the employer to the allegedly
hostile environment.’” Id. at 725 (quoting Williams v. Mo. Dep’t of Mental Health, 407
F.3d 972, 977 (8th Cir. 2005)).
First, the evidence shows that CRST provided Red Hat with a copy of its
harassment policy, which includes instructions to contact a fleet manager or Human
Resources if the employee has been subjected to conduct which may be harassment. Red
Hat signed a form stating that she had received and understood the policy. Therefore, the
prevention element of the first prong of the defense is satisfied. See id. at 719.
Second, as discussed above, CRST took prompt remedial action to correct the
sexually harassing behavior. CRST immediately removed Red Hat from Hinsdale’s truck
and reassigned her to a female Lead Driver. CRST also promptly investigated the matter
and disciplined Hinsdale. Therefore, the correction element of the first prong of the
defense is satisfied. See id.
Third, the evidence shows that, although Red Hat signed an acknowledgment that
she would immediately report any harassment to CRST, she waited weeks before reporting
Hinsdale’s harassing behavior to CRST. Although the delay of her report was relatively
short, given that Hinsdale and Red Hat were living alone together on a truck, it was not
reasonable for Red Hat to delay reporting Hinsdale’s actions to CRST. Red Hat’s husband
and trainee friends urged her to report the harassment, but she refused due to her fears of
retaliation. However, Red Hat’s subjective fears of retaliation were not sufficient to
alleviate her duty to report the harassment to CRST. See id. at 725.
Based on the above discussion, CRST has established its affirmative defense because
it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any sexually harassing
behavior and Red Hat unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or
corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise prior to her
initial report to CRST. Therefore, even if Hinsdale was Red Hat’s supervisor, CRST
cannot be held liable for his actions because CRST has established an affirmative defense.
Thus, the court shall dismiss Count I.
B. Racial Harassment
CRST argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Red Hat’s racial harassment
claim in Count II because the claim is based on Hinsdale’s sporadic comments about
Mexicans that were not directed at Red Hat and Hinsdale never made disparaging
comments about Native Americans. In response, Red Hat argues that there is a genuine
issue of fact regarding whether Red Hat was subjected to severe and pervasive harassment
during the time she was training with Hinsdale.
To establish her Title VII hostile work environment claim based on racial
harassment, Red Hat must prove the same elements as required to prove her sexual
harassment claim, namely: “(1) the plaintiff belongs to a protected group; (2) the plaintiff
was subject to unwelcome harassment; (3) a causal nexus exists between the harassment
and the plaintiff’s protected group status; and (4) the harassment affected a term,
condition, or privilege of employment.” Gordon, 469 F.3d at 1194-95. “A hostile work
environment exists when the workplace is dominated by racial slurs, but not when the
offensive conduct consists of offhand comments and isolated incidents.” Bainbridge v.
Loffredo Gardens, Inc., 378 F.3d 756, 759 (8th Cir. 2004); see also Anderson, 606 F.3d
at 519 (“‘[S]imple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely
serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms and conditions of
employment.’” (quoting Arraleh v. Cnty. of Ramsey, 461 F.3d 967, 979 (8th Cir. 2006))).
Based on the evidence, there is no support for Red Hat’s claim that racial
harassment affected a term, condition or privilege of employment because she was not
subjected to severe or pervasive racial discrimination. Red Hat’s claim rests solely on a
few comments that Hinsdale made to his dispatcher, namely, calling drivers of other
vehicles “slow-ass Mexicans” and “dumb-ass Mexicans” and his general derogatory
comments about a customer who was not Caucasian. The comments were not directed at
Red Hat, and Hinsdale never made disparaging remarks about Native Americans. See
Bainbridge, 378 F.3d at 760 (holding that sporadic remarks that were not directed at the
plaintiff did not constitute harassment so severe or pervasive that it altered the terms or
conditions of employment); Pye v. Nu Aire, Inc., 641 F.3d 1011, 1018 (8th Cir. 2011)
(holding that summary judgment was appropriate because a coworker’s one-time use of a
racial slur that was not directed at the plaintiff was not sufficient to support a hostile work
Red Hat appears to argue in her brief that the court should consider all of Hinsdale’s
harassing conduct in assessing whether there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding
Red Hat’s racial harassment claim. However, the court has considered Hinsdale’s sexual
harassment conduct in relation to Count I and will only consider Hinsdale’s raciallymotivated conduct in assessing Red Hat’s claim in Count II.
The court finds that no reasonable jury could find that Hinsdale’s sporadic
comments about Mexicans were sufficiently severe and pervasive as to alter a term or
condition of Red Hat’s employment. Thus, there is no genuine issue of material fact
regarding Red Hat’s racial harassment claim, and the court shall dismiss Count II.
CRST argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Red Hat’s retaliation claim
in Count III because: (1) Red Hat did not suffer a materially adverse employment action
because she quit her employment with CRST; and (2) there is no causal connection
between Red Hat leaving her employment with CRST and her sexual harassment
complaint. In response, Red Hat argues that: (1) CRST constructively discharged her
because the hostile work environment made it impossible for Plaintiffs to continue working
for CRST; and (2) the constructive discharge is causally connected to Red Hat’s
harassment complaint because, after the complaint, she was subjected to discipline by
managers and retaliatory conduct from dispatchers.
“Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee
because she has ‘opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice,’ or has
made a charge or participated in an investigation or proceeding under the statute.”
Alvarez, 626 F.3d at 416 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)). “A prima facie case of
unlawful retaliation requires a showing that the employee engaged in some form of
protected activity, that the employee was subject to adverse employment action, and that
the adverse action was causally connected to the protected activity.” Woodland v. Joseph
T. Ryerson & Son, Inc., 302 F.3d 839, 845 (8th Cir. 2002); see also Alvarez, 626 F.3d
at 416 (“A plaintiff must show that the protected conduct was a determinative factor in the
employer’s materially adverse employment action.”). “The defendant may then rebut the
plaintiff’s case by advancing a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for the adverse
employment action.” Rheineck v. Hutchinson Tech., Inc., 261 F.3d 751, 757 (8th Cir.
2001). “If the defendant makes this showing, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s
proffered reason was a pretext for illegal discrimination.” Id.
“A constructive discharge occurs when an employee resigns after the employer has
created an intolerable working environment in a deliberate attempt to compel such a
resignation.” MacGregor v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 373 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2004). “‘[A]
constructive discharge arises only when a reasonable person would find conditions
intolerable.’” Smith v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 895 F.2d 467, 472 (8th Cir. 1990)
(quoting Johnson v. Bunny Bread Co., 646 F.2d 1250, 1256 (8th Cir. 1981)). “In
addition, ‘the employer’s actions must have been taken with the intention of forcing the
employee to quit.’” Id. (quoting Johnson, 646 F.2d at 1256).
First, the court finds that Red Hat was not subject to an adverse employment action.
Given the facts of this case, a reasonable jury could not conclude that CRST terminated
CRST’s personnel records list Red Hat’s reason for leaving CRST as
“voluntary” and “did not want to be a driver.” Termination Record, Def. App’x at 48.
When asked during her deposition about her reason for voluntarily leaving, Red Hat stated
that, after O’Shea told her that driving was not for her, she agreed that she no longer
wanted to be a driver. O’Shea avers that he did not terminate Plaintiffs but that they
voluntarily left their employment. Red Hat points to Runearth’s deposition testimony, in
which he stated that O’Shea told Plaintiffs to get off the truck and indicated that it was his
belief that his employment had been terminated at that point. Runearth appears to
acknowledge, however, that no CRST official told Plaintiffs that their employment was
terminated. Based on Red Hat’s testimony, CRST’s personnel records and O’Shea’s
affidavit, a reasonable jury could not find that CRST terminated Red Hat’s employment.
Furthermore, a reasonable jury could not conclude that CRST constructively
discharged Red Hat. Red Hat claims that the dispatchers gave Plaintiffs bad driving
directions and refused to respond to Plaintiffs’ communications in retaliation for her
harassment claim against Hinsdale because, as Hinsdale told Red Hat, the dispatchers were
Hinsdale’s friends and “ha[d] his back.” Red Hat Deposition, Def. App’x at 14. Red Hat
also claims that O’Shea disciplined Plaintiffs as a result of her harassment complaint.
However, Red Hat does not present any evidence beyond conjecture that the dispatchers
or O’Shea even knew about her complaint against Hinsdale, let alone that their actions
were the result of such complaint. O’Shea avers that he did not learn of Red Hat’s
harassment complaint until after she was no longer employed at CRST. Additionally, Red
Hat presents no evidence that the dispatchers and O’Shea acted with the intent to force Red
Hat to quit or could have reasonably foreseen that she would quit as a result of their
actions. See Smith, 895 F.2d at 472. Therefore, a reasonable jury could not find that
CRST constructively discharged Red Hat.
Second, even if Red Hat was subject to an adverse employment action, she has
failed to establish that there was a causal relationship between the employment action and
her report of harassment. Red Hat argues generally that “a number of incidents and
circumstances spread over several days . . . taken together, forms a complex tapestry of
discrimination.” Plaintiffs’ Brief at 19. Red Hat also states that her employment ended
only a few weeks after Hinsdale harassed her. However, as discussed above, there is no
evidence that the dispatchers or O’Shea even knew about Red Hat’s harassment report.
Additionally, Red Hat’s discipline came after Plaintiffs delivered multiple loads late and
Red Hat admitted that Plaintiffs were not driving as a team. Regarding bad driving
directions, Seigler states that “CRST dispatchers are notorious for giving bad or incorrect
directions,” Seigler Affidavit, Plaintiffs’ Appendix (docket no. 33-3) at 57, indicating that
Plaintiffs were not the only drivers to receive bad driving directions. Red Hat presents no
evidence beyond conjecture that there was a causal connection between the dispatchers’
actions, her discipline from O’Shea and her harassment complaint.
reasonable jury could not find that an adverse employment action was causally related to
Red Hat’s harassment report. See Alvarez, 626 F.3d at 416.
Finally, even if Red Hat could establish the elements of a retaliation claim, CRST
has shown that it had a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for the adverse employment
action. On December 7, 2009, Plaintiffs were late delivering a load. On December 9,
2009, Plaintiffs were late picking up a load. On December 10, 2009, Plaintiffs were late
delivering a load. On December 11, 2009, Plaintiffs were disciplined for delivering a late
load. At the time of this discipline, Plaintiffs admitted that they were not driving as a team
pursuant to CRST’s practices and, instead, Red Hat was staying up with Runearth and both
were sleeping at night, thus losing driving time. On December 16, 2009, Plaintiffs were
again late delivering a load.
Under CRST company policy, an employee may be
terminated for repeated late deliveries. Therefore, CRST has illustrated that, if CRST did
discharge Red Hat, it had a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for doing so. Red Hat does
not provide any evidence that CRST used her poor work performance as a pretext for
firing her because of the harassment complaint. See Rheineck, 261 F.3d at 757.
Based on the foregoing, there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding Red
Hat’s retaliation claim, and the court shall dismiss Count III.
D. Breach of Contract
CRST argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ breach of
contract claim in Count IV because, under the terms of the contract, CRST correctly
deducted the amounts it advanced to Plaintiffs from Plaintiffs’ paychecks, resulting in zero
net income on Plaintiffs’ paychecks. In response, Plaintiffs argue that CRST never gave
Plaintiffs a reason for withholding all of their wages and that Plaintiffs did not voluntarily
leave their positions. Plaintiffs also argue that CRST breached the terms of the contracts
when Hinsdale sexually harassed Red Hat.
“In a breach-of-contract claim, the complaining party must prove: (1) the existence
of a contract; (2) the terms and conditions of the contract; (3) that it has performed all the
terms and conditions required under the contract; (4) the defendant’s breach of the contract
in some particular way; and (5) that plaintiff has suffered damages as a result of the
breach.” Molo Oil Co. v. River City Ford Truck Sales, Inc., 578 N.W.2d 222, 224 (Iowa
1998).4 “A party breaches a contract when, without legal excuse, it fails to perform any
promise which forms a whole or a part of the contract.” Id.
There is no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether CRST breached its
contracts with Plaintiffs because there is no evidence that CRST failed to perform any
promise in the contracts with Plaintiffs. First, as discussed above, CRST cannot be held
directly or vicariously liable for Hinsdale’s harassment of Red Hat. Therefore, the
Because the employment contracts state that Iowa law governs the contracts, the
court shall apply Iowa law.
harassment itself cannot be the basis for a breach of contract action.
Second, there is no evidence that CRST breached its contracts with Plaintiffs
regarding payment. Red Hat admitted during her deposition that CRST did what it said
it was going to do in its contract and that she did not do what she promised in the contract
because she failed to finish her driving term. Red Hat Deposition, Def. App’x at 36-37.
Runearth also testified that he and Red Hat each owe CRST approximately $4,000 for the
driving school. Runearth Deposition, Def. App’x at 63. Plaintiffs’ employment contracts
state that, if the employee breaches the contract or the employee is terminated for due
cause, CRST is authorized to deduct the amount owed for advancements from the
employee’s final paycheck. Plaintiffs’ paychecks from December 21, 2009, show earnings
of $208.34 and deductions for an advance, bus fare, housing and a physical/drug screen
totaling $536.00, which resulted in zero net pay for Plaintiffs and a deficit of $343.60.
Plaintiffs fail to produce any evidence that CRST breached its contracts with Plaintiffs by
failing to pay them. In fact, it appears that CRST performed in accordance with the terms
of the contracts. Additionally, Plaintiffs cannot show that they performed as required
under the contracts because, as admitted by Red Hat and Runearth, they did not finish their
driving terms with CRST and still owe CRST money. See id.
Because there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether CRST breached
its contracts with Plaintiffs, the court shall dismiss Count IV.
E. Promissory Estoppel
CRST argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Red Hat’s promissory
estoppel claim in Count V because the CRST driver contract did not promise continued
employment with CRST and Plaintiffs voluntarily left their employment with CRST. In
response, Red Hat argues that CRST never reimbursed her for her November 11, 2009
taxi and hotel as Wright had promised and that her promissory estoppel claim is
appropriate because this promise is not in the contract.
The elements of a promissory estoppel claim are:
(1) a clear and definite promise; (2) the promise was made
with the promisor’s clear understanding that the promisee was
seeking an assurance upon which the promisee could rely and
without which he would not act; (3) the promisee acted to his
substantial detriment in reasonable reliance on the promise;
and (4) injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the
Schoff v. Combined Ins. Co. of Am., 604 N.W.2d 43, 49 (Iowa 1999).5
Red Hat cannot establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding her
claim that CRST promised to pay for the hotel and taxi because there is no evidence that
CRST did not pay for the hotel and taxi. In fact, Red Hat testified during her deposition
that CRST paid for the November 11, 2009 taxi and hotel. See Red Hat Deposition, Def.
App’x at 27. Therefore, the court shall dismiss Count V.
F. Iowa Wage Payment Collection Law
CRST argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ Iowa Wage
Payment Collection Law (“IWPCL”) claim in Count VI because “CRST paid Plaintiffs all
sums due and owing them per the terms of their Driver Contracts.” Defendant’s Brief in
Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 26-3) at 28. CRST argues that it
deducted the amounts it advanced to Plaintiffs for education, transportation, preemployment screening and other expenses from their paychecks, resulting in zero net pay
for Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs state that they “concede this claim for purposes of payment under
the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Law.” Plaintiffs’ Brief at 22.
The parties do not contest that Iowa law applies to Plaintiffs’ promissory estoppel
and retaliatory discharge claims. Because CRST is an Iowa corporation and the
relationship between the parties is centered in Iowa, the court shall apply Iowa law. See
Veasley v. CRST Int’l, Inc., 553 N.W.2d 896, 897-98 (Iowa 1996) (listing factors the court
considers in determining which state has the most significant relationship to the cause of
The IWPCL states that “[a]n employer shall pay all wages due its employees.”
Iowa Code section 91A.3. The court finds that, pursuant to Plaintiffs’ employment
contracts, CRST deducted the amounts that it advanced to Plaintiffs from their final
paychecks. Therefore, CRST did not fail to pay wages due to Plaintiffs. Additionally,
Plaintiffs do not resist the Motion with respect to their IWPCL claim. Thus, the court
shall dismiss Count VI.
G. Retaliatory Discharge
CRST argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Runearth’s retaliatory
discharge claim in Count VII because: (1) Runearth was not terminated, but instead he
quit; (2) Runearth did not engage in any protected activity; and (3) common law claims of
wrongful discharge based on employment discrimination are preempted by the Iowa Civil
Rights Act (“ICRA”) and Runearth’s claim would be dismissed under Title VII of the
ICRA for failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. In response, Runearth argues that
he was constructively discharged but does not respond to CRST’s arguments that he was
not engaged in any protected activity and that the common law retaliatory discharge claim
An employee asserting a wrongful-discharge claim based on
violation of public policy must satisfy the court as to all of the
The existence of a clearly defined public policy
that protects an activity.
This policy would be undermined by a discharge
The challenged discharge was the result of
participating in the protected activity.
There was lack of other justification for the
Davis v. Horton, 661 N.W.2d 533, 535 (Iowa 2003); see also Fitzgerald v. Salsbury
Chem., Inc., 613 N.W.2d 275, 281 (Iowa 2000) (“We have identified the elements of an
action to recover damages for discharge in violation of public policy to require the
employee to establish (1) engagement in a protected activity; (2) discharge; and (3) a
causal connection between the conduct and the discharge.”).
Regarding the causal
connection element, “[t]he protected conduct must be the determinative factor in the
decision to terminate the employee.” Fitzgerald, 613 N.W.2d at 289.
First, as discussed above, Runearth cannot establish that he was terminated or
constructively discharged from CRST. Second, even if CRST terminated Runearth’s
employment, he cannot establish that he participated in the protected activity. Red Hat
made the harassment claim based on Hinsdale’s conduct toward her. Runearth never made
a harassment claim on behalf of his wife or engaged in any other protected conduct that
would satisfy the requirement that Runearth participated in a protected activity. Runearth
does not point to, and the court is unaware of, any case law supporting the argument that
a spouse’s protected activity can be transferred for the purposes of a retaliatory discharge
claim. Cf. Smith v. Riceland Foods, Inc., 151 F.3d 813, 819 (8th Cir. 1998) (rejecting
the plaintiff’s argument that “a plaintiff bringing a retaliation claim need not have
personally engaged in statutorily protected activity if his or her spouse or significant other,
who works for the same employer, has done so” and holding that “a plaintiff bringing a
retaliation claim under Title VII must establish that she personally engaged in the protected
conduct”). Third, as discussed above, there is no causal connection between Red Hat’s
report of harassment and Runearth’s departure from CRST. Finally, as discussed above,
CRST can show that any termination was the result of Runearth’s poor work performance
and not Red Hat’s report of sexual harassment. Because Runearth cannot establish a claim
for retaliatory discharge in violation of public policy, the court need not address whether
Runearth’s claim would be preempted by the ICRA. Therefore, because there is no
genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Runearth suffered a retaliatory discharge
in violation of public policy, the court shall dismiss Count VII.
In light of the foregoing, CRST’s Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 26)
is GRANTED. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to enter judgment in favor of
Defendant CRST Van Expedited, Inc. and against Plaintiffs Ona S. Red Hat and Leo
Runearth and CLOSE THIS CASE.
DATED this 16th day of October, 2012.
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