Huck v. Elliott I. Greenspan, D.O., P.C. and Associates et al
OPINION and ORDER regarding defendants' motion for summary judgment 27 . Signed by District Judge Gerald E Rosen. (LSau)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN SOUTHERN DIVISION LAURA HUCK, Plaintiff, vs. ELLIOT I. GREENSPAN, D.O, P.C. & ASSOC. ELLIOT GREENSPAN, and MARK LEBLANC, Defendants. ______________________________________/ OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT At a session of said Court, held in the U.S. Courthouse, Detroit, Michigan on January 30, 2009 PRESENT: Honorable Gerald E. Rosen United States District Judge I. INTRODUCTION This Title VII/Elliot-Larsen pregnancy discrimination/Family Medical Leave Act action is presently before the Court on Defendant's Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff has responded to Defendant's Motion. Having reviewed and considered the parties' briefs, supporting documents, and the entire record of this matter, the Court has determined that oral argument is not necessary. Therefore, pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(e)(2), this matter will be decided on the
No. 06-CV-14562-DT Hon. Gerald E. Rosen
briefs. This Opinion and Order sets forth the Court's ruling. II. PERTINENT FACTS Plaintiff Laura Huck is a former employee of Defendant Elliot I. Greenspan, D.O., P.C. & Associates (the "Medical Practice"). Defendant Dr. Elliot Greenspan is President of the Medical Practice. Defendant Mark LeBlanc is an attorney with whom Dr. Greenspan consults on business operations and legal matters, and who, during a portion of the relevant time period, managed the Practice while Dr. Greenspan recuperated from a heart attack. Huck was hired by the Medical Practice on September 17, 2001. She worked for the Practice at its Wixom, Michigan office from the date of her hire until her employment was terminated on May 13, 2005. [Plaintiff's Dep., p. 75.] Plaintiff was first employed as a medical biller making $14 per hour at the Medical Practice. While working in this position, Huck reported to Theresa Duncan ("Duncan"), the office manager. As a medical biller, Plaintiff worked approximately 40 hours per week. It was not long after Plaintiff began working at the Practice that Ms. Duncan began training Plaintiff to take over her administrative responsibilities in anticipation of her taking a maternity leave in the summer of 2002. Then, when Ms. Duncan returned from her leave, Huck and Duncan effectively became co-managers, each sharing certain duties, while others were divided up in ways that worked out best for both of them. During this period of time, both Ms. Duncan and Plaintiff reported directly to Dr. Greenspan.
Over time, Ms. Duncan and Plaintiff became friends outside of work. However, their relationship deteriorated some time around July of 2004, when Ms. Duncan went on vacation. While Ms. Duncan was away, Plaintiff brought to Dr. Greenspan's attention certain concerns she claimed the office staff had shared with her about Ms. Duncan. Following that meeting, Dr. Greenspan changed some of Plaintiff's and Ms. Duncan's duties. Greenspan relieved Ms. Duncan of her oversight responsibilities of the front desk and gave these responsibilities to Plaintiff. After these changes were made, Ms. Duncan's and Plaintiff's relationship faltered, ultimately evolving into a noticeable schism between the two. While each party tried to mend the relationship, it would never recover. In September of 2004, Dr. Greenspan suffered a heart attack and did not return to practice until February of 2005. During this time, Dr. Greenspan ceased to have weekly meetings with Plaintiff and Ms. Duncan. Although he maintained some degree of involvement with the Medical Practice, Greenspan delegated his managerial responsibilities to Mark LeBlanc. On one visit to the Practice while recuperating in December of 2004, Dr. Greenspan communicated to Huck and Duncan his concern that there were too many physicians just "standing around" and too few incoming patients. He also told Plaintiff that he thought the office was over staffed in general, and this comment was memorialized by Plaintiff in her own handwritten notes. It was while Dr. Greenspan was on medical leave that Mr. LeBlanc recommended as a cost cutting measure that Dr. Greenspan reduce his staff. Specifically, LeBlanc recommended that Dr. Greenspan not renew contracts for two of the physicians working
at the Practice. LeBlanc also recommended to Greenspan that he terminate Plaintiff's employment, as he viewed Huck's job as merely duplicative of Theresa Duncan's job, and LeBlanc considered Ms. Duncan better qualified. Dr. Greenspan, however, refused to take any action at that time. Meanwhile, in December 2004, Plaintiff became pregnant. After definitively learning that she was pregnant in January of 2005, she met with Dr. Greenspan to discuss his facilitating a better working relationship between Ms. Duncan and herself. Shortly thereafter, however, some complications with her pregnancy developed, and Plaintiff requested, and was granted, a two-week FMLA leave. Plaintiff returned to work on February 7, 2005. Upon her return, Plaintiff again met with Dr. Greenspan on February 8, 2005, and told him for the first time that she was carrying twins. Dr. Greenspan congratulated her and they talked about the subject briefly. Plaintiff then again asked Dr. Greenspan to help mend the rift between herself and Ms. Duncan. According to Plaintiff, Dr. Greenspan's response was to change both her and Ms. Duncan's responsibilities again. It is disputed whether Huck requested that her duties be changed or whether Dr. Greenspan unilaterally made the decision. In any event, as of February 8, 2005, Plaintiff was relieved of her billing responsibilities, and she was made primarily responsible for running the front desk and for maintaining an attractive office, as well as given the responsibility of making sure medical residents arrived on time. Her desk was removed from the billing department and she was provided, instead, work space in the occupational medicine area of the practice.
Plaintiff apparently was not happy with her new duties and new work area. In her notes of the meeting that took place on February 8, 2005, Plaintiff wrote that she "told him [Greenspan] [the new duties were] too stressful" and that "[she] d[id]n't want to be out front." Dr. Greenspan told Plaintiff she would be working a 9 to 5 schedule and she would be relieved of her managerial duties in terms of supervising employees.1 Dr. Greenspan also informed Plaintiff that she would be paid hourly instead by salary, however, her benefits and pay rate remained the same. Plaintiff asserts that after this meeting she never met with Dr. Greenspan again. On March 29, 2005, Huck submitted a twelve (12) week FMLA leave request to Christy Hiipakka, the Practice's Human Resources Director, for a leave to commence on an unspecified date in the future based upon the anticipated birth of her twins in August. The leave request was approved that same day. At some point in time shortly thereafter, several employees reported to LeBlanc and Greenspan that Huck had lost her temper on several occasions and was causing disruptions in the office. Huck admits that she "may have raised [her] voice," on occasion. Dr. Greenspan testified that because Plaintiff was rude, unprofessional with
According to Defendants, the move from management back to non-management employment was done at Plaintiff's request. Plaintiff admitted receiving a letter with her paycheck following the February 8, 2005 meeting with Dr. Greenspan which stated "This letter is to confirm  our meeting on 2-8-05 in which you requested to no longer be considered management to Wixom Health Center[.] I'm notifying you that we accept this change at the clinic. However, all of your prior duties and those outlined and discussed at our meeting will continue." See Plaintiff's Dep., pp. 367-68. Plaintiff further admitted that she never disputed the letter or its contents and never discussed the letter with Dr. Greenspan. Id.
patients and raised her voice with them, and because he knew that the Practice needed to cut costs, he decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment. The day when the decision was made to fire Huck, Karen Lajko, who was in charge of sales and marketing for the Wixom office's occupational medicine division, met with Greenspan and LeBlanc to discuss, according to her, chaos in the occupational medicine division associated with situations involving Huck. After listening to Lajko's account of Huck's behavior and the problems she was causing in the office, Greenspan decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment.2 Mark LeBlanc testified about Ms. Lajko's presentation of her concerns and the ultimate decision to terminate Plaintiff: Q: Do you remember when the decision was made by Dr. Greenspan to lay her [Plaintiff] off? A: Q: I do. When was that?
A: During that meeting where Karen, it was in his office the one we just discussed, on Tuesday prior to the Friday she [Plaintiff] was laid off, and after Karen finished her speech. I think with no one else speaking in between I looked at Dr. Greenspan and I said "my recommendations from the beginning of the year remain the same. And do with it what you will." And he then protested the recommendation by saying words to the effect of, I'm not quoting him but this is as close as I can come, "no, because if I lay her off she's the type that's going to sue and we're going to have to deal with that." I responded to him in some fashion. He said that she's pregnant and that she will sue us. He mentioned the pregnancy. I said, "pregnancy is
Defendants characterize the decision as not being one of "termination" of Plaintiff's employment but rather as one of an indefinite "layoff." In any event, it is undisputed that Plaintiff has never been recalled from her purported "layoff."
not a factor here. Pregnancy is not a consideration here. And you can't let the fact that someone might sue you run your business decisions." He was silent for an extended period of time and finally he said, "fine, we will lay her off." [LeBlanc Dep., Plaintiff's Ex. G., pp. 72-73.] Plaintiff was terminated on May 13, 2005, and was informed of her termination by Defendant LeBlanc. She was told that her termination was due to budgetary reasons. The next day, Karen Lajko spoke at a staff meeting which had ostensibly been convened to boost morale, and allegedly told other employees at that meeting that Huck was terminated because of her pregnancy. According to employees who were present at the meeting, Lajko said that Huck was let go because, being pregnant, she "needed to relax a little bit."3 According to Lajko: A: The office meeting was actually supposed to be. . .we were supposed to all gather basically it was about, you know, bringing up morale, kind of getting things done. I remember basically, my, my -- I was opening. I was basically the very first person to speak. And again, knowing the girls, the girls like I know the girls, I basically when I first walked up I said, "you know what, there's a big elephant in the room, let's get it out." Basically what had always been kind of . . . . . . what had always been kind of what they'd done at Wixom Health is things would happen and nobody would ever explain them. You know, Laura was a friend of people's and people cared about Laura, and there was already enough anger in the place they needed to understand that, you know what, it's not time to be angry, it's time to move forward. And basically what I did was I shared with them my story about [my pregnancy with] the girls [twins] and I just said, "you
Lajko does not deny that she told the assembled employees that Plaintiff had been laid off because she needed to relax a little bit because of her pregnancy; she stated only that she "d[id]n't recall saying that." [Lajko Dep., p. 52.]
know what, again, she's going to be taken care of, she just needs to relax and we all need to basically support her in that." Just you know what, she is -- because she was upset." She was calling everybody. Again, she just needed to stop, she needed to stop. [Lajko Dep., p. 53 (some internal punctuation added for clarification).] Others present at the meeting attested to the fact that Lajko referenced the fact that she [Lajko] herself had had twins before and that Lajko expressed that she was concerned about Plaintiff working because she was pregnant.4 LeBlanc was present at this meeting but did not comment in response to any of Lajko's remarks. (LeBlanc claims that he did not hear Lajko's reference to pregnancy and would have protested had he heard the comment.) Plaintiff thereafter initiated this pregnancy discrimination action against Dr. Greenspan, Mr. LeBlanc, and the Medical Practice. In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges both Title VII and Elliott-Larsen claims of pregnancy discrimination (Counts I and IV); hostile work environment (Counts II and V); and retaliation (Counts III and VI); as well as claims of violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (the "FMLA") (Count VII) and discrimination and retaliation under the FMLA (Count VIII (mislabeled in the Complaint as "Count XI")).
These other employees include Amy Mello and Jessica Golemba. They told Plaintiff in separate telephone conversations that Karen Lajko told the assembled group of Medical Practice employees that Plaintiff was terminated because she was pregnant. Plaintiff tape recorded the telephone conversations and Plaintiff's counsel had the tapes transcribed by a court reporter. See Affidavit of Marla Linderman, Plaintiff's Ex. P. The tapes were subsequently played at Mello's and Golemba's depositions and the deponents authenticated their voices and what they said in the recorded conversations.
III. DISCUSSION A. STANDARDS APPLICABLE TO MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Summary judgment is proper "`if the pleadings, depositions, answer to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Three 1986 Supreme Court cases -- Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986); and Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986) -- ushered in a "new era" in the standards of review for a summary judgment motion. These cases, in the aggregate, lowered the movant's burden on a summary judgment motion.5 According to the Celotex Court, In our view, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. After reviewing the above trilogy, the Sixth Circuit established a series of principles to be applied to motions for summary judgment. They are summarized as follows:
"[T]aken together these three cases signal to the lower courts that summary judgment can be relied upon more so than in the past to weed out frivolous lawsuits and avoid wasteful trials. . . ." 10A C. Wright, A. Miller, M. Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure 3d, § 2727.
* The movant must meet the initial burden of showing "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact" as to an essential element of the non-movant's case. This burden may be met by pointing out to the court that the respondent, having had sufficient opportunity for discovery, has no evidence to support an essential element of his or her case. * The respondent cannot rely on the hope that the trier of fact will disbelieve the movant's denial of a disputed fact, but must "present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment." * The trial court no longer has the duty to search the entire record to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact. * The trial court has more discretion than in the "old era" in evaluating the respondent's evidence. The respondent must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Further, "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find" for the respondent, the motion should be granted. The trial court has at least some discretion to determine whether the respondent's claim is plausible. Betkerur v. Aultman Hospital Association, 78 F.3d 1079, 1087 (6th Cir. 1996). See also, Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479-80 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court will apply the foregoing standards in deciding Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment in this case. B. PLAINTIFF'S TITLE VII CLAIMS ARE NOT BARRED BY PROCEDURAL DEFECTS WITH REGARD TO HER EEOC CHARGE Defendants first argue that Plaintiff's Title VII claim against the Medical Practice should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because (1) Plaintiff's EEOC Charge was not timely filed and (2) notice of the Charge was not timely given to the employer. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 (1) provides in pertinent part:
[I]n a case of an unlawful employment practice with respect to which the person aggrieved has initially instituted proceedings with a State or local agency with authority to grant or seek relief from such practice or to institute criminal proceedings with respect thereto upon receiving notice thereof, such charge shall be filed by or on behalf of the person aggrieved within three hundred days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred. In this case, the last "alleged unlawful employment practice" Plaintiff asserts took place on May 13, 2005, the date on which she was fired. Defendants point to a date stamp on the "Charge of Discrimination" form showing a date of March 17, 2006, to support their claim that Plaintiff's Title VII Charge was not timely-filed [See Charge of Discrimination, Defendant's Ex. G]. If the Charge was filed on March 17, 2006, as the Defendants assert, Plaintiff's Title VII claim would be time-barred as it would have been filed eight days after the expiration of the 300 days allotted under the statute (308 days after the date of Plaintiff's termination). However, the Court notes that Plaintiff's signed Charge is dated "2/18/06," and it was notarized by Gretchen Houden, Notary Public for Livingston County, on that same date. Plaintiff states that it was on this date, February 18, 2006, that she filed her Charge. If the Charge was filed on February 18, 2006, Plaintiff's Charge would fall well within the 300 days allowed under the statute. As further evidence of timely filing her Charge, Plaintiff points to the EEOC's notification of termination of the investigation to show that she filed her Charge on February 18, 2006. [See EEOC Notice of Termination of Investigation, Plaintiff's Ex. O]. The narrative in the Notification of Termination of Investigation reports the date of Plaintiff's filing of her Charge contesting the termination of her employment as February
18, 2005. The Court recognizes, however, that the indication of "2005" as the year must be a typographical error, because Plaintiff's firing did not occur until May 17, 2005 -nearly three months later. The EEOC, thus, necessarily must have meant that her Charge contesting her firing was filed on February 18, 2006.6 Based upon the forgoing, the Court finds that the Plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence that the charge was timely filed. Both the notary public and the EEOC report recognize that the charge was filed on February, 18, 2006, well within the 300 days allowed. Therefore, Defendants' motion for Summary Judgment on the basis of untimely filing of the Charge will be denied. Defendants also argue that notice of the filing of the Charge was not given to the employer until more than 10 days after the charge was filed as required by Title VII
Defendants place far too much weight on the EEOC's date stamp on the Charge. There is nothing in the date stamp indicating that this was the "filed" date of the Charge. Rather, it appears that the stamp merely indicates that the date on which the Charge was received by the EEOC's Detroit District Office was March 17, 2006. The face of Plaintiff's Charge, in fact, indicates that the Charge was actually originally filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (the "MDCR"), not the EEOC. That the Charge was not originally filed with the EEOC is evidenced by the fact that Plaintiff marked the box on the Charge requesting "I also want this charge filed with the EEOC." See Defendants' Ex. G. The MDCR and the EEOC operate together pursuant to a work sharing agreement under which the EEOC and the MDCR have each designated the other as its agent for the purpose of receiving charges. See Dircken v. State of Mich., Dept. of Educ., Vocational Rehabilitation, 35 F.3d 565, 1994 WL 443499 (6th Cir. 1994). Under a work sharing agreement between the two agencies, the state agency acts as agent for the EEOC, thus filing a charge with the state agency constitutes a simultaneous filing with the EEOC. Id.; see also Brown v. Crowe, 963 F.2d 895, 898 (6th Cir.1992). Plaintiff's filing of a charge of discrimination on February 18, 2006 with the MDCR accordingly constituted a simultaneous -- and timely -- filing with the EEOC.
regulations. See 29 C.F.R. § 1601.14(a). The Charge was filed on February 18, 2006, but the Defendants claim they did not receive notice of the Charge until March 29, 2006. However, as noted, the EEOC apparently did not receive a copy of the Charge from the MDCR until March 17, 2006. See note 6 supra. Therefore, Defendants received notice of the Charge within 10 business days of the EEOC's receipt of the Charge.7 In any event, assuming that notice of the Charge was not timely provided in accordance with the regulations, the delay in providing notice complained of by Defendants is not grounds to dismiss Plaintiff's claims. It is well-settled in the Sixth Circuit that punishment for the EEOC's ignoring of its own regulations should not be thrust upon the plaintiff. Nichols v. Muskingum College, 318 F.3d 674, 678 (6th Cir. 2003). Though Nichols involved the EEOC's failure to transfer the plaintiff's charge to the appropriate state agency, the Court finds its reasoning persuasive. It was the duty of the EEOC to provide the employer with notice of the Charge. The EEOC's misfeasance should not be held against the Plaintiff. Id. Therefore, the Court finds that any failure of the EEOC to timely notify Defendants of the Charge does not provide a basis for dismissing Plaintiff's complaint.8
March 17, 2006 was a Friday.
In her brief, the Plaintiff argues that the Defendants failed to raise the EEOC's failure to provide notice as an affirmative defense, and therefore it should be deemed to have been waived. The Court's rejection of Defendants' untimely notice argument makes it unnecessary to address this issue. However, the Court notes that Defendants sufficiently preserved this defense by broadly asserting "Plaintiff's claims are barred, in whole or in part, by the applicable statute of limitations" and "Plaintiff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pursuant to
PLAINTIFF HAS FAILED TO PRODUCE DIRECT EVIDENCE OF DISCRIMINATION Title VII provides that "[i]t shall be unlawful employment practice for an employer
. . . to discharge or discriminate against . . . any individual with respect to his compensation, or terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual's . . . sex." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In 1978, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, amending Title VII to clarify that discrimination based on pregnancy is deemed to be discrimination based on sex under the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Thus, "[i]t is now well settled that a claim of discrimination on the basis of pregnancy must be analyzed in the same manner as any other sex discrimination claim brought pursuant to Title VII." Boyd v. Harding Academy of Memphis, Inc., 88 F.3d 410 (6th Cir. 1996). It is well-established that the burden is on an employment discrimination plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. See Lautermilch v. Findlay City Schools, 314 F.3d 271, 275 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 813 (2003); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1972). A Title VII plaintiff may establish a prima facie case either by presenting direct evidence of intentional discrimination by the defendant, Terbovitz v. Fiscal Court, 825 F.2d 111, 114-15 (6th Cir, 1987) (citing Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 121, 105 S.Ct. 613, 621-22 (1985)), or by Tittle VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." [See Defendants' Affirmative Defenses, filed March 9, 2007].
showing the existence of circumstantial evidence which creates an inference of discrimination, McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. at 1824. See Talley v. Bravo Pitino Restaurant, Ltd., 61 F.3d 1241, 1246 (6th Cir. 1995). Plaintiff here contends that she can make out her claim of pregnancy discrimination under both theories.
"Direct evidence" of discrimination is "evidence which, if believed, requires the conclusion that unlawful discrimination was at least a motivating factor in the employer's actions." See Talley, 61 F.3d at 1268; Hazle v. Ford Motor Co., 464 Mich. 456, 462, 638 N.W.2d 515, 520 (2001) (quoting Jacklyn v. Schering-Plough Healthcare Products Sales Corp., 176 F.3d 921, 926 (6th Cir. 1999)). When a plaintiff can cite direct evidence of discrimination, the McDonnell Douglas/Burdine shifting burdens of proof are not applicable. Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 121, 105 S.Ct. 613 (1985); DeBrow v. Century 21 Great Lakes, Inc., 463 Mich. 534, 539, 620 N.W.2d 836, 838 (2001). The presentation of direct evidence is generally sufficient to submit the plaintiff's case to the jury. Harrison v. Olde Financial Corp, 225 Mich. App. 601, 610; 572 NW2d 679 (1997). However, to withstand summary judgment, the plaintiff's evidence must be admissible. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Inadmissible hearsay evidence cannot be considered. Hartsel v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 803 (6th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1055 (1997); Jacklyn v. Schering-Plough Healthcare Prod. Sales Corp., 176 F.3d 921, 927 (6th Cir. 1999).
Here, Plaintiff points to the statements of Karen Lajko, director of sales and
marketing for the Medical Practice's occupational medicine division, as direct evidence of discrimination by the Practice, Dr. Greenspan and Mr. LeBlanc. Ms. Lajko, who like the plaintiff had been previously pregnant with twins, communicated her concerns about Plaintiff's pregnancy to Dr. Greenspan a few days prior to Plaintiff's termination. This meeting took place on May 10, 2005, a Tuesday. It is Ms. Lajko's testimony that at this meeting she told Dr. Greenspan she was extremely concerned about Plaintiff seeing that she was, at the time, pregnant with twins. Ms. Lajko cautioned Greenspan, "You're going to stress her." [Lajko Dep., pp. 113-114]. (At this same meeting, Ms. Lajko related to Dr. Greenspan complaints about Plaintiff's behavioral outbursts and the problems she was causing in the office.) It was after Lajko's meeting with Dr. Greenspan that Greenspan decided to fire Plaintiff. [LeBlanc Dep., pp. 72, 73]. Plaintiff was fired on May 13, 2005, the Friday of the same week during which Ms. Lajko spoke to Dr. Greenspan. Then, the day after Plaintiff was fired, Saturday, May 14, Ms. Lajko led an office meeting. At this meeting, Ms. Lajko described her experienced with her own twinpregnancy, and subsequently announced to a room full of 30 people that Plaintiff's employment had been terminated, explaining that because Plaintiff was pregnant "she need[s] to relax, and we all need to support her in that. . . ." [Lajko Dep., p. 53]. Mr. LeBlanc disputes this. According to LeBlanc, Ms. Lajko "did not say that Laura was being laid off so that she wouldn't be stressed and therefore won't have an effect on her pregnancy. . . . If I had heard that, I would have been on my feet and I would have corrected that in a heartbeat." [LeBlanc Dep., p. 80].
Ms. Amy Mello, an employee who was also present at the Friday meeting, was later recorded by Plaintiff during a telephone conversation discussing the meeting. Ms. Mello, in response to Plaintiff's question whether Ms. Lajko had said anything about being fired because of her pregnancy, stated: Yeah, she said, she said out right, you know. "I'd gone to Dr. Greenspan a couple of weeks ago." Laura, she's like "I didn't do this to try to hurt Laura. I didn't do this for any reason like that." She said, "I had...," this was the way she put it to us you know. "I had twins. I was like her working, you know, working like crazy, stressful and all that kind of stuff. And umm, you know I went into labor way early and had to leave my babies in the hospital for three months." And she's like, "I do not want that to happen to Laura. It's not worth it and you know. . . ." [Mello Dep., Plaintiff's Ex. M (some internal punctuation added for clarification)].9 Another employee, Jessica Golemba confirmed Ms. Mello's version of what was said at the Friday meeting in another recorded phone call. [Golemba Dep., p. 85].10 Plaintiff contends that Karen Lajko's statements to Dr. Greenspan and at the staff meeting constitute "direct evidence" of pregnancy discrimination. Defendants counter that Lajko's statements cannot constitute direct evidence of discrimination because Ms. Lajko did not make the decision to lay Plaintiff off nor did she have authority to speak for the Medical Practice with regard to the reasons Ms. Huck was terminated. See Greenspan Affidavit.
The tape recording of the telephone conversation was played at Ms. Mello's deposition and she confirmed that the recording was of her speaking to Plaintiff. She also confirmed what she had said in the phone conversation.
Golemba also authenticated the tape recording of her phone conversation with Plaintiff.
Defendants are correct. Ms. Lajko's comments do not constitute direct evidence of discrimination. "Evidence either of statements made by non-decision makers or of statements made by decision-makers that are not related to the decisional process itself do not satisfy the plaintiff's burden of demonstrating direct evidence of discriminatory animus." Birch v. Cuyahoga County Probate Court, 392 F.3d 151, 165 (6th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted); Wells v. New Cherokee Corp., 58 F.3d 233, 238 (6th Cir. 1995) (intermediate level supervisor must have been "meaningfully involved" in the decisional process for his remarks to constitute direct evidence of discrimination); see also Carter v. University of Toledo, 349 F.3d 269 (6th Cir. 2003) (holding that a non-decisionmaker's statements that the college of education consisted of "a bunch of racists" and that the
dean of the college of education was "trying to whitewash the faculty," even if admissible as non-hearsay, did not constitute direct evidence of racial discrimination because "comments made by individuals who are not involved in the decision-making process regarding the plaintiff's employment do not constitute direct evidence of discrimination." 349 F.3d at 273 (citing Hopson v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 306 F.3d 427, 433 (6th Cir. 2002))
Here, Ms. Lajko was not a decision-maker. She was the sales and marketing director of the occupational medicine division of the Medical Practice. She was not Plaintiff's supervisor. She had no ability to hire or fire Plaintiff or any authority to make hiring or firing recommendations. Though Lajko went to Dr. Greenspan to express her concerns about Plaintiff "causing chaos" in the office and being "stressed" during her
pregnancy, it is undisputed that she did not make the decision to fire her and there is no evidence that she suggested or recommended that Plaintiff be fired. Her remarks to the assembled group of employees, therefore, do not constitute direct evidence of discrimination.11 Plaintiff also appears to suggest that the remarks of Karen Lajko may be attributed to her employer as an "adoptive admission" by virtue of the presence of Defendant LeBlanc at the meeting when the remarks were made and his not having rebutted or disputed the statements. Plaintiff further posits that because LeBlanc was a participant in the decision-making process concerning Plaintiff's firing, this "adoptive admission" Plaintiff also attempts to use her transcripts of recorded phone conversations with other employees who were at the meeting where Ms. Lajko spoke to bolster the assertion that Ms. Lajko's comments constituted direct evidence that Plaintiff was fired for discriminatory reasons. These transcriptions present multiple levels of hearsay, and as indicated above, inadmissible hearsay evidence cannot be considered on summary judgment. Jacklyn, supra. However, at the summary judgment stage, the focus is not on the admissibility of the evidence's form. See DeBiasi v. Charter County of Wayne, 537 F. Supp. 903, 911-12 (E.D. Mich. 2008) (citing Celotex v. Cattrett, supra, 477 U.S. at 324; 105 S.Ct. at 2553 (explaining that in requiring the nonmoving party to produce evidence to withstand a motion for summary judgment, "[w]e do not mean that the nonmoving party must produce evidence in a form that would be admissible at trial")); see also Fraser v. Goodale, 342 F.3d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 937 (2004) ("At the summary judgment stage we do not focus on the admissibility of the evidence's form.") Instead, the determining factor is whether the evidence is capable of being converted to non-hearsay evidence at trial. DeBiasi, supra, and cases cited therein. Thus, assuming arguendo that Plaintiff could present the co-worker statements through direct testimony, (i.e., in a form that would be admissible at trial), the Court may consider the evidence here. Nonetheless, as noted, all that Plaintiff's co-workers told her in the tape recorded phone conversations was what Karen Lajko said at the staff meeting and as indicated, because Karen Lajko was not a decision-maker, her statements to the other employees at the staff meeting as to the reason Plaintiff's employment was terminated do not constitute direct evidence of discrimination.
constitutes direct evidence of discrimination on the Medical Practice's part. The Sixth Circuit has discussed adoptive admissions as follows: Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(B) permits a court to allow into evidence a statement as non-hearsay if "[t]he statement is offered against a party and is . . . a statement of which the party has manifested an adoption or belief in its truth." Adoption can be manifested by any appropriate means, such as language, conduct, or silence. . . . If the statements are viewed as the defendant's own, they constitute admissions properly characterized as non-hearsay under Fed. R. Enid. 801(d)(2). When a statement is offered as an adoptive admission, the primary inquiry is whether the statement was such that, under the circumstances, an innocent defendant would normally be induced to respond, and whether there are sufficient foundational facts from which the jury could infer that the defendant heard, understood, and acquiesced in the statement. United States v. Jinadu, 98 F.3d 239, 244 (6th Cir.1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1179 (1997). Thus, the burden is upon the proponent of the statement -- here, the Plaintiff -- to show that the party heard the statement, United States v. Diaz, 936 F.2d 786, 788-89 (5th Cir. 1991); understood the statement, Riccardi v. Childrens Hosp. Med. Center, 811 F.2d 18, 24 (1st Cir. 1987); was able to respond to the statement, United States v. Fortes, 619 F.2d 108, 116-17 (1st Cir. 1980); and had the motive and opportunity to respond -- i.e., the statement was made under circumstances reasonably calling for an answer. Southern Stone Co., Inc. v. Singer, 665 F.2d 698, 703 (5th Cir. 1982); United States v. Moore, 522 F.2d 1068, 1976 (9th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 1049 (1976). Plaintiff cannot meet this burden here. Defendant LeBlanc testified at his deposition that he did not hear Karen Lajko's
remark about Plaintiff needing to be off work so that she would not be stressed during her pregnancy. LeBlanc further testified that had he heard the statement, he would have protested. Plaintiff has not come forward with any evidence contradicting LeBlanc's testimony or from which it might be inferred that LeBlanc did, in fact, hear Lajko's remark. It is fundamental that the proponent of an adoptive admission establish that the party heard the statement. United States v. Diaz, supra; United States v. Jinadu, supra (there must be sufficient foundational facts from which the jury could infer that the defendant heard, understood, and acquiesced in the statement). Plaintiff having failed to come forward with evidence showing that Defendant LeBlanc heard Karen Lajko's statement, the statement cannot be deemed to have been adopted by LeBlanc -- or by Dr. Greenspan and the Practice -- by virtue of his silence and, accordingly, cannot be deemed to constitute "direct evidence" of discrimination. Plaintiff also contends that the temporal proximity of Ms. Lajko's meeting with Dr. Greenspan and Mr. LeBlanc and Plaintiff's firing three days later constitutes direct evidence of discrimination. Plaintiff is mistaken. Timing alone does not constitute direct evidence, because one would have to infer that Dr. Greenspan used the information provided by Lajko about her concerns about Plaintiff's pregnancy in deciding to fire her. "[D]irect evidence of discrimination does not require a factfinder to draw any inferences in order to conclude that the challenged employment action was motivated at least in part by prejudice against members of the protected group." Johnson v. Kroger Co., 319 F.3d 858, 865 (6th Cir. 2003). Therefore, the temporal proximity of Ms. Lajko's meeting with
Dr. Greenspan and the decision to fire Ms. Huck does not constitute direct evidence of discrimination. C. PLAINTIFF HAS NOT OFFERED DIRECT EVIDENCE OF DISCRIMINATION, THEREFORE, THE MCDONNELL DOUGLAS BURDEN SHIFTING PARADIGM APPLIES. Because Plaintiff has failed to come forward with direct evidence of discrimination, she must prove her prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting paradigm. Using the McDonnell Douglas paradigm, to establish a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination, Plaintiff must show "(1) that she was pregnant; (2) that she was qualified for her job; (3) that she was subjected to an adverse employment decision; and (4) that there is a nexus between her pregnancy and the adverse employment decision." Boyd, 88 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 1996). If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981). If the defendant satisfies this burden, the McDonnell Douglas presumption of intentional discrimination "drops out of the picture." St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 2749 (1993). The employee must then prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant intentionally discriminated against her. She may satisfy this burden by showing that the legitimate reasons offered by the employer were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for intentional discrimination. Id. Here, it is undisputed that the Plaintiff meets the first three prima facie factors.
Plaintiff was pregnant, satisfying the first factor. There is no dispute that she was qualified for her job, satisfying the second factor. There is some dispute over what actions qualify as an adverse employment decision, but for this analysis, it is enough that Plaintiff was fired to satisfy the element. The controversy here concerns whether Plaintiff has established a nexus between her pregnancy and the adverse employment decision. Plaintiff contends that there is an inference of illegal discrimination, and primarily bases her contention that she has established a prima facie case based upon the proximity of time between the meeting between Lajko and Dr. Greenspan and the decision to fire her. Though Defendants state at page 14 of their brief that "Plaintiff cannot demonstrate either a nexus between her pregnancy and the alleged averse employment actions or that the Medical Practice's legitimate non-discriminatory explanations are pretexts for pregnancy discrimination," they make no legal argument whatsoever concerning the nexus requirement and, instead, focus almost exclusively on the Plaintiff's inability to prove pretext. The Sixth Circuit Court has established a relatively low bar for establishing pregnancy discrimination in terms of laying the foundation of a prima facie case concerning a nexus between a pregnancy and an adverse employment decision. In Cline v. Catholic Diocese, 206 F.3d 651, 660 (6th Cir. 2000), the court stated, "[t]he prima facie requirement for making a Title VII claim is not onerous, and poses a burden easily met." (citations omitted). In Asmo v. Keane, Inc., 471 F.3d 588 (6th Cir. 2006), the plaintiff worked as a
Selling, General, and Administrative (SG&A) Recruiter for Keane, Inc., an information technology and business consulting firm. On September 11, 2001, Asmo learned she was pregnant with twins. Sometime in October 2001, Asmo informed the entire SG&A team of the pregnancy during a conference call. Asmo testified that all of the SG&A recruiters congratulated her, except for Scott Santoro, Director of Corporate Recruiting, who remained silent during the congratulations and then moved quickly change the conversation back to business matters. Two months later, on December 4, 2001, Santoro informed Asmo that she was being laid off. Asmo testified that Santoro said "your expenses are a lot more expensive than the other recruiters." Later, it was Santoro's testimony that expenses played no role in his decision. The Asmo court cited DiCarlo v. Potter, 358 F.3d 408, 421 (6th Cir. 2004), a retaliation case, for the proposition that "[t]emporal proximity can establish a causal connection between the protected activity and the unlawful employment action in the retaliation context." In DiCarlo, the court stated that "this Circuit has embraced the premise that in certain distinct cases where the temporal proximity between the protected activity and the adverse employment action is acutely near in time, that close proximity is deemed indirect evidence such as to permit an inference of retaliation to arise." Id. Additionally the court cited Nguyen v. City of Cleveland, 229 F.3d 559, 567 (6th Cir. 2000), and noted "there may be circumstances where evidence of temporal proximity alone would be sufficient to support that inference" of a causal nexus. The Asmo court also relied on Prebilich-Holland v. Gaylord Entm't Co., 297 F.3d
438, 444 (6th Cir. 2002), and commented that "temporal proximity can also satisfy the nexus requirement in the pregnancy discrimination context." Id. Based upon the forgoing authorities, in Asmo, the Court found the two-month period between the time Santoro learned that Asmo was pregnant and the date on which he fired her, was enough to establish a nexus sufficient to establish the fourth prong of the prima facie case for pregnancy discrimination. To be sure, in determining whether there is enough of a nexus to establish a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination, the case law on the relationship between the proximity of time and the adverse employment decision, is muddled and uncertain. The court in Nguyen found that temporal proximity alone is generally insufficient to raise an inference of retaliation, even though the court in Asmo used Nguyen to suggest that there is support for the suggestion that temporal proximity would support a causal nexus in a pregnancy discrimination case. Moreover, DiCarlo set out a narrow rule where temporal proximity would be enough to establish a nexus. The DiCarlo court stated, "in certain distinct cases where temporal proximity between the protected activity and the adverse employment action is acutely near in time, that close proximity is deemed indirect evidence such as to permit an inference of retaliation to arise." DiCarlo, 358 F.3d at 421. From the Court's own research, it appears that Asmo is the first case to adopt the principles relating to a claim of nexus in the retaliation context and apply them to a claim of pregnancy discrimination, particularly the notion that temporal proximity alone can
satisfy the requirement of a nexus between the adverse employment decision and the protected activity. Operating under the principle that a pregnancy discrimination claim is to be analyzed under the same frame-work as a retaliation claim, it is necessary to examine the length of time between the adverse employment action and the notice of pregnancy here so as to determine whether a sufficient nexus is established to satisfy the prima facie case for discrimination. The Court in Leininger v. Reliastar Life Ins. Co., 2007 WL 2875283 (E.D. Mich. 2007) noted "[a]lthough temporal proximity alone can suffice to establish the retaliatory intent, "[t]he cases that accept mere temporal proximity between an employer's knowledge of protected activity and an adverse employment action as sufficient evidence of causality to establish a prima facie case uniformly held that the temporal proximity must be `very close.'" (citing Clark County Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273, 121 S.Ct. 1508 (2001). The Court in Nguyen noted "previous cases that have permitted a prima facie case to be made based on the proximity of time have all been short periods of time, usually less than six months." Id at 567. However, as recognized by Eppes v. Enterprise Rent-ACar Co. of Tennessee, 2007 WL 1170741 (E.D.Tenn. 2007), the court in Cooper v. City of North Olmsted, 795 F.2d 1265, 1272 (6th Cir.1986), held that a temporal nexus of four months was insufficient to raise an inference of retaliation. However, when the temporal nexus was only 21 days, the Sixth Circuit found that temporal proximity alone was sufficient to establish an inference of retaliation. See DiCarlo, supra. In Singfield v.
Akron Metro. Hous. Auth., 389 F.3d 555, 563 (6th Cir.2004), the court held that temporal proximity of three months was sufficient to establish an inference of retaliation. As previously mentioned, the Court in Asmo found that a temporal proximity of two months was sufficient to establish a link between the protected activity and termination for the purposes of setting forth a Title VII prima facie claim of discrimination. It is apparent that in order for temporal proximity alone to satisfy the nexus requirement the period of time must be shorter than six months, although the court in Cooper held that four months is insufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The grey area, thus, appears to lie in between three months and sixth months, which is exactly where the instant action falls. Plaintiff told Dr. Greenspan she was pregnant on February 8, 2005, and was ultimately fired on May 13, 2005, a period of just over three months. Furthermore, Plaintiff's pregnancy was discussed by Dr. Greenspan and Mr. LeBlanc -- the decisionmakers with regard to Plaintiff's termination -less than a week before Plaintiff was terminated, in the same meeting where the firing decision was made. In light of the above-discussed case law and the premise that a prima facie case should not be difficult to make out, the Court finds that Plaintiff here has established that a causal nexus exists, and, therefore, has established a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination. D. DEFENDANTS HAVE ARTICULATED A LEGITIMATE, NONDISCRIMINATORY REASON FOR FIRING PLAINTIFF. Having concluded that Plaintiff has made out a prima facie case, the Court turns to
the question of whether Defendants have articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for deciding to terminate Laura Huck on May 13, 2005. Defendants' burden is one only of production, not of persuasion. Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254-56, 101 S. Ct. 1089, 1094-95 (1981); St. Mary's Honor Ctr. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507-508, 113 S.Ct 2742, 2747-48 (1993); Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 113, 142, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2106 (2000). The Court finds that the Defendants have satisfied their burden in this regard. Defendants' proffered reason for firing plaintiff was to reduce the number of employees at the Medical Practice in an effort to cut costs. Additionally, Defendants assert that Plaintiff was selected for the RIF "because of the behavior [of Huck] that others were reporting to [Greenspan] and because [Greenspan] believed that strife in the Wixom office was being fueled by her conduct." [See Greenspan Affidavit.] E. PLAINTIFF HAS FAILED TO ESTABLISH THAT DEFENDANTS' PROFFERED REASON FOR FIRING PLAINTIFF WAS PRETEXT FOR A DISCRIMINATORY ANIMUS. Because Defendants have satisfied their burden of production by offering a nondiscriminatory reason for firing Plaintiff, the burden shifts back to the Plaintiff to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendants' proffered reason is a pretext for intentional discrimination. E.E.O.C. v. Avery Dennison Corp., 104 F.3d 858, 862 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-53, 101 S.Ct. at 1093). To make a submissible case on the credibility of the employer's explanation, the plaintiff is required to show by a preponderance of the evidence either (1) that the
proffered reasons had no basis in fact, (2) that the proffered reasons did not actually motivate her discharge, or (3) that they were insufficient to motivate the discharge. Manzer v. Diamond Shamrock Chem. Co., 29 F.3d 1078, 1084 (6th Cir. 1994); see also Gray v. Toshiba Am. Consumer Prod., 263 F.3d 595, 600 (6th Cir. 2001). A showing that a proffered reason had "no basis in fact" consists of evidence establishing that the proffered reasons for the employer's decision never happened, or are factually false. Manzer, 29 F.3d at 1084. To make a showing that the proffered reasons "did not actually motivate the employer's conduct," the plaintiff must present evidence "which tend[s] to prove that an illegal motivation was more likely than that offered by the defendant." Id. Finally, a showing that the proffered reasons were "insufficient to motivate the employer" consists of evidence that other employees, particularly employees not in the protected class, were not treated the same way, even though they engaged in substantially identical conduct. Manzer, 29 F.3d at 1084. According to the Manzer court, the first and third types of rebuttals -- that the reason offered by the employer has no basis in fact or was insufficient to warrant the employer's decision -- "are direct attacks on the credibility of the employer's proffered motivation for firing the plaintiff, and if shown, provide an evidentiary basis for what the Supreme Court has termed a `suspicion of mendacity,' " sufficient to withstand summary judgment. Id.12 As for the second Manzer option -- that the employer's articulated reason Michigan's law regarding pretext law differs from federal law in this regard in that it requires in all instances "pretext plus." Under Michigan law, "disproof of an employer's articulated reason for an adverse employment decision defeats summary disposition only
did not actually motivate the employer's actions -- the Sixth Circuit has held If the bare bones elements of plaintiff's prima facie case were sufficient to make this showing, ... the entire "burden shifting" analysis of McDonnell Douglas and its successors would be illusory.... Accordingly, we hold that, in order to make this type of rebuttal showing, the plaintiff may not rely simply upon his prima facie evidence, but must, instead, introduce additional evidence of [prohibited] discrimination. Gray v. Toshiba Am. Consumer Prods., supra, 263 F.3d at 600 (quoting Manzer, 29 F.3d at 1084) (emphasis added). Regardless of which rebuttal method is employed, the plaintiff retains the ultimate burden of producing "sufficient evidence from which the jury could reasonably reject [the defendant's] explanation and infer that the defendant intentionally discriminated against him." Johnson v. Kroger Co., supra, 319 F.3d at 866. Plaintiff in this case challenges as pretext Defendants' stated reason that she was laid off to reduce the number of employees at the Medical Practice in order to lower the Practice's expense ratio. Additionally, Plaintiff challenge as pretext the Defendants' assertion that Plaintiff was selected for "reduction because of the behavior that others were reporting to Dr. Greenspan and because he [Greenspan] believed that strife in the if such proof also raises a triable issue that discriminatory animus was a motivating factor underlying the employer's adverse action. In other words, plaintiff must not merely raise a triable issue that the employer's proffered reason was pretextual, but that it was a pretext for...discrimination. Therefore,...in the context of summary disposition, a plaintiff must prove discrimination with admissible evidence, either direct or circumstantial, sufficient to permit a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that discrimination was a motivating factor for the adverse action taken by the employer toward the plaintiff. Malady v. Lytle, 458 Mich. 153, 579 N.W.2d 906, 916 (1998)(footnotes omitted); see also Town v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co., 455 Mich. 688, 568 N.W. 2d 65, 68-69 (1997).
Wixom office was being fueled by her conduct." Plaintiff alleges that "[d]efendant's frequently fluctuating, uncredible [sic] reasons, especially in light of timing and direct evidence in this case, clearly raise an issue of pretext." Plaintiff's brief at 27. "An employer's changing rationale for making an adverse employment decision can be evidence of pretext." Thurman v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 90 F.3d 1160, 1167 (6th Cir.), amended on other grounds, 97 F.3d 833 (6th Cir. 1996). However, contrary to Plaintiff's allegations, the Court finds that Defendants have maintained a consistent rationale for firing Plaintiff, and that Plaintiff has failed to provide a basis sufficient to satisfy her burden in proving that Defendants' stated reasons for firing her were pretextual. Plaintiff alleges that "[d]espite spending a lot of time chastising Plaintiff's job performance in their motion, Defendants conceded that Plaintiff's performance, including the allegations of disruptiveness, would not have justified her termination." In Mark LeBlanc's deposition, Mr. LeBlanc acknowledged that Plaintiff's performance issue alone was not the reason that she was laid off. See LeBlanc Dep. at 86. However, Defendants do not argue that her layoff was needed only because of Plaintiff's outbursts. Instead, Defendants assert that an effort to reduce costs and expenses drove the layoff, and Plaintiff was selected for the RIF because her outbursts and her duplicative position (with that of Theresa Duncan) made her vulnerable. Dr. Greenspan testified, We were losing money in that the extent that the expense ratio versus what
we were taking in was way too high. An office practice shouldn't have as high expenses as we had. There was too much money being spent on supplies, personnel, and people standing around, just as Laura had testified in her deposition. So the expense ratio is what you look at when you are assessing a practice in terms of its viability. [Greenspan Dep. at 102.] Indeed, Dr. Greenspan's comment in his deposition reflects what Plaintiff had previously written in her personal notes that Dr. Greenspan was concerned with too many people standing around. Mark LeBlanc testified, One method that I use for practice management is I seek constant improvement. Particularly with respect to the performance of the business as it relates to the revenue stream, the expense outflow. Regardless of whether the practice is doing great or doing poorly, I will always seek to reduce expenses if I can do so without affecting revenue, and if I can do so without affecting the quality of the care and the satisfaction that is delivered to the patients. [LeBlanc Dep. at 42.] Regarding the particular choice of Plaintiff for layoff instead of Theresa Duncan, LeBlanc testified, I felt from a standpoint of experience and professionalism, the ability to control emotions, that Theresa had better abilities in those areas. And I also felt that Theresa had a better ability to motivate employees to do things that were positive. [LeBlanc Dep. at 45.] Finally, Plaintiff argues that the billing position that Defendants claim Plaintiff asked for in February of 2005 was available in May of 2005. While it is true that
Defendants hired at least one employee in the months of May, August, October, and December of 2005,13 Plaintiff has presented no evidence as to what particular positions were filled. Neither is there any evidence of record -- other than the Plaintiff's bare allegations -- that the position Plaintiff claims to have sought in February of 2005 was still available in May of 2005. In sum, Plaintiff's assertion that Defendants have continually changed their story regarding the motivations for firing Huck is simply not supported by the record. Plaintiff has failed to show (1) that the proffered reasons for her discharge had no basis in fact, (2) that the proffered reasons did not actually motivate her discharge, or (3) that they were insufficient to motivate the discharge. The Court, therefore, finds that Plaintiff has not met her burden in proving that Defendants' proffered reasons for laying her off were merely pretext for a pregnancy-based discriminatory animus. Plaintiff's Title VII and ELCRA pregnancy discrimination claims, accordingly, will be dismissed.14 Plaintiff merely cites Defendants' Responses to Requests to Admit in which Defendants admitted that the Practice "hired one or more employee in August, ...September,...October,...[and] November of 2005." [See Defendants' Responses to Request to Admit, Plaintiff's Ex. R.] 14 The Court's decision dismissing Plaintiff's discrimination claims makes it unnecessary for the Court to address Defendants' separate argument that Mark LeBlanc should not be held liable on Plaintiff's ELCRA claims because he was not Plaintiff's employer nor an "agent" of the employer because he was not delegated supervisory authority and did not have the authority to hire, fire or discipline employees. However, the Court notes that Defendants' assertions are not supported by the record. In fact, Dr. Greenspan testified in his deposition that he left LeBlanc in charge of the office for the several months that was recovering from his heart attack and that LeBlanc handled management of the office, and that he [Greenspan] left it entirely up to LeBlanc "and his expertise" to lay off Plaintiff. [Greenspan Dep., pp. 49, 51, 131.] He cannot now contradict that testimony with an after-the-fact affidavit and claim that LeBlanc was not his agent. See Reid v. Sears,
PLAINTIFF HAS FAILED TO ESTABLISH A PRIMA FACIE CASE OF RETALIATION OR THAT THE MEDICAL PRACTICE'S EXPLANATION IS A PRETEXT FOR RETALIATION. To establish a prima facie case of unlawful retaliation Plaintiff must show: (1) that
she engaged in a protected activity; (2) that this was known by the Defendants; (3) that Defendants took an adverse employment action against Plaintiff; and (4) that there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. DeFlaviis v. Lord & Taylor, Inc, 223 Mich. App. 432, 436, 566 N.W. 2d 661 (1997) (ELCRA); Niswander v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 529 F.3d 714, 720 (6th Cir. 2008) (Title VII). In claiming retaliation in violation of Title VII and ELCRA, Plaintiff asserts that she complained about illegal harassment and discrimination to Defendant Greenspan on February 8, 2005, and Human Resource Director Christine Hiipakka on February 11, 2005. However in her deposition concerning the meeting with Dr. Greenspan on February 8, 2005, Plaintiff never testified about complaining of illegal harassment or discrimination to either of these individuals. At no time during her deposition did Plaintiff say that she complained to Dr. Greenspan about illegal harassment and discrimination during that meeting on February 8, 2005. Plaintiff said only that they had a conversation about her being pregnant and Dr. Greenspan congratulated her. See Plaintiff's Dep. at 311. Additionally, Plaintiff described how she was upset at the way Dr. Greenspan was handling the dispute between her and Theresa Duncan, and how Dr. Greenspan told her duties would be changing. Id. Roebuck & Co., 790 F.2d 453, 460 (6th Cir. 1986) .
at 312-13. In response to defense counsel's question, "Did you make any request of him at this meeting with regard to your job?" Plaintiff answered that she asked Dr. Greenspan to help her and Theresa's working relationship. Id. at 314. Again, when defense counsel asked her, "Did you make any other requests to him about your job, did you ask him for any other things to help, change or do anything?" Plaintiff responded, "I just wanted help with Theresa." Id. at 315. Indeed, Plaintiff had plenty of opportunities to state that she complained to Dr. Greenspan of her perceived illegal discrimination and harassment, but failed to do so. Plaintiff also alleges that she also complained to Christine Hiipakka, Human Resource Director, about illegal harassment and discrimination on February 11, 2005. In her January 2008 affidavit Plaintiff states, "On February 11, 2005, I lodged a complaint of illegal harassment and discrimination, based on pregnancy and protected FMLA activity with Defendants Greenspans' Human Resource Director, Christine Hiipakka." However, no such complaint was ever mentioned in her deposition. The only reference to Plaintiff complaining of discrimination to Christy Hiipakka is in her post-deposition/postsummary judgment motion affidavit. During Plaintiff's deposition, Defendants' counsel asked Plaintiff about her meetings and discussions with Ms. Hiipakka and specifically asked, "[W]hat did you tell her?" [Plaintiff's Dep., p. 342.] Plaintiff responded, "I called and had a conversation with Kristy that I was upset, I felt like I was being badgered, I felt like I was being mistreated." Id. She never said, however, that such alleged badgering or mistreatment was based on
her sex or her pregnancy or that she made any complaint of sex or pregnancy discrimination to anyone at the Practice.15 In evaluating Plaintiff's prima facie case, it is necessary to examine each element to determine whether Plaintiff has met her burden of production. With regard to the first prima facie retaliation element, "engaging in protected activity," Plaintiff has failed to meet her burden. The protected activity in this case would be Plaintiff complaining to Hiipakka and/or Dr. Greenspan of illegal harassment and discrimination. However, there is no admissible evidence of record -- other than Plaintiff's post-deposition affidavit prepared long after her deposition and after Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment in which Defendants pointed out the absence of evidentiary support for her retaliation allegations -- that Plaintiff ever complained to either Hiipakka or Dr. Greenspan of sexual or pregnancy discrimination or mistreatment.16 Because Plaintiff has That Plaintiff never mentioned sex or pregnancy related harassment or discrimination when she complained to Christy Hiipakka is further borne out by other evidence Plaintiff herself has proffered in opposing Defendants' summary judgment motion. Plaintiff's Exhibit L consists of Christy Hiipakka's summary memo of her 2/11/05 conversation with Plaintiff. According to Ms. Hiipakka's summary with regard to Ms. Huck's complaints of mistreatment, Ms. Huck stated only "that she felt harassed and pushed around by Dr. Greenspan." [Plaintiff's Ex. L.] No allegation of sexual or pregnancy discrimination or harassment is noted. A party may not create a factual issue by filing an affidavit, after a motion for summary judgment has been made, which contradicts her earlier deposition testimony. See Reid v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., supra, 790 F.2d at 463; see also Aerel S.R.L. v. PCC Airfoils, L.L.C., 448 F.3d 899, 908 (6th Cir. 2006) (district court may disregard post summary judgment affidavit if it directly contradicts the non-moving party's prior sworn testimony or, if not directly contradictory, the court determines that the affidavit "constitutes an attempt to create a sham fact issue." (quoting Franks v. Nimmo, 796 F.2d 1230, 1237 (10th Cir.1986)).
failed to satisfy the first element of retaliation, she has failed to make out a prima facie case of retaliation. However, even assuming arguendo, that Plaintiff has met her burden regarding a pri
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