United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
HUGH LAWSON, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 28). After reviewing the pleadings, briefs, affidavits, and other evidentiary materials presented, and determining that there is no genuine dispute of the material facts, the Court finds that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and grants Defendant's motion.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A. Local Rule 56
In compliance with Local Rule 56, Defendant filed a separate statement of material facts in which Defendant contends there is no genuine issue to be tried. (Doc. 29). Defendant properly numbered each factual statement and provided the support of a specific citation to the record. See M.D. Ga. L.R. 56.
Both Local Rule 56 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) require Plaintiff as the non-moving party to respond to each of the movant's numbered material facts. "All material facts contained in the moving party's statement which are not specifically controverted by specific citation to the record shall be deemed to have been admitted, unless otherwise appropriate." M.D. Ga. L.R. 56. Plaintiff here filed a three paragraph Statement of Disputed Material Facts that does not explicitly reply to a single one of the seventy-six enumerated paragraphs set forth by Defendant. (Doc. 32-1). Plaintiff's counter-statement does nothing more than provide a generalized denial of some of the conduct in which Defendant alleges Plaintiff engaged with no evidentiary support. Accordingly, as provided by Local Rule 56, the facts outlined by Defendant in its Statement of Undisputed Material Facts are deemed admitted.
Even though the Court deems Defendant's submitted facts admitted, Defendant "continues to shoulder the initial burden of production in demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, and the court must satisfy itself that the burden has been satisfactorily discharged." Reese v. Herbert , 527 F.3d 1253, 1268 (11th Cir. 2008). The Court must "review the movant's citations to the record to determine if there is, indeed, no genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 1269 (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court has so reviewed the record, and viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, finds the facts for purposes of summary judgment to be as follows.
B. Plaintiffs' Employment at National Beef
Defendant National Beef Packing Company, LLC ("National Beef") is a beef processor headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. (DSOMF ¶ 1). The company processes and packages beef and beef products in eight different plants throughout the United States, including Case Ready Packaging in Moultrie, Georgia ("Moultrie Plant"), where Plaintiff worked. (DSOMF ¶ 2). Defendant hired Plaintiff to work as a tray packer at the Moultrie Plant on June 27, 2012. (DSOMF ¶ 15). Plaintiff remained in the tray packing position until October 3, 2012, when Defendant transferred Plaintiff to the box trim department after receiving multiple complaints about Plaintiff's inability to get along with her co-workers. (DSOMF ¶¶ 21, 23; Sifuentes Dep., p. 205; Doc 31-1, p. 21-23). Defendant transferred Plaintiff again on December 17, 2012, to the scanning station. (DSOMF ¶ 24). The purpose of the transfer was to minimize Plaintiff's interactions with other employees. (DSOMF ¶ 25). Plaintiff testified during her deposition that she wanted to be by herself and that she asked to be moved. (Sifuentes Dep., p. 208). Plaintiff remained in this position until her termination on January 22, 2013.
C. Defendant's No Harassment Policy and Work Rules
During new employee orientation, Plaintiff, along with all other new hires, attended a training session covering a multitude of topics, including equal employment and anti-harassment policies maintained by Defendant. (DSOMF ¶ 13; Sifuentes Dep., p. 56-58). Plaintiff completed the anti-harassment training on June 27, 2012. (DSOMF ¶ 17). At the conclusion of the training, Plaintiff certified that she understood Defendant's "zero tolerance policy" regarding harassment as well as "the importance of professional conduct" in the workplace. (DSOMF ¶ 18). Plaintiff additionally received a copy of Defendant's employee handbook and signed an acknowledgment form, confirming that Defendant issued her the handbook and that she understood the contents thereof. (DSOMF ¶¶ 12, 16, 18).
Defendant's No Harassment Policy as outlined in the employee handbook defines "harassment" as
Verbal or physical conduct by an Employee or any individual (including a client, customer, vendor or supplier) that degrades or shows hostility or aversion toward an Employee because of his or her race, color, religion, age, national origin, ancestry, sex, gender, disability, handicap, pregnancy status, veteran or other military status, or other status protected by law, and that: (1) has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, abusive or offensive work environment; or (2) has the purpose or effect or unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance; or (3) otherwise adversely affects any term or condition of an individual's employment.
(DSOMF ¶ 5). The handbook further explains that sexual harassment encompasses acts intended to be "jokes" or "pranks" that "could be construed as hostile or demeaning, " including, for example, "[o]ffensive sexual flirtations; [s]exually degrading or vulgar words; [u]nwelcome touching or physical contact; [w]histling in a sexually suggestive manner; [u]nwarranted sexual compliments, innuendos, suggestions or jokes." (Doc. 31-1, p. 9). Violation of Defendant's no harassment policy constitutes a major work rule violation "which will subject Employees to immediate disciplinary action, up to and including termination." (DSOMF ¶ 8-9).
In the event that an employee experiences sexual harassment, the handbook provides instructions on how to report the allegations:
Any employee who has a complaint of discrimination, including harassment based on race, color, religion, age, national origin, ancestry, sex, gender, disability, handicap, pregnancy status, veteran or other military status, or other legally protected status shall bring the matter to the immediate attention of his or her immediate supervisor, the next higher level of management above the immediate supervisor, the general manager, or by calling the Kansas City office at (800) 449-2333 and speaking with the Employee Relations Manager.
(DSOMF ¶ 6). Defendant also maintains a non-retaliation policy that prohibits retaliation against anyone who reports harassment or who cooperates in the investigation of an allegation of harassment. (DSOMF ¶ 7).
D. Plaintiff's Sexual Harassment Complaint
While in the box trim and scanning departments, Plaintiff worked in close proximity to Barry Arnold, who served as a lead, or "red hat, " for multiple work stations. (DSOMF ¶ 29). Leads are not supervisors. They have no authority to discharge employees, demote employees, dock an employee's pay, or otherwise discipline or impact the employment status of any employee. (DSOMF ¶ 31). Rather, the ...