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Evans v. Strayer University

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

March 14, 2018

STACIE ELAINE EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
STRAYER UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 30.) The present action concerns allegations by Plaintiff of sexual discrimination and retaliation by Defendant in violation of Title VII. Because Plaintiff has failed to present sufficient evidence to support her claims, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant is a private higher education institution with campuses located throughout the country. In February 2014, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a part-time Academic Assistant for its Augusta, Georgia campus location. As an Academic Assistant, Plaintiff would report directly to the campus dean, Dr. Culver. Plaintiff began work on March 3, 2014.

         On June 9, 2014, Plaintiff emailed Stacy Reeder-Decker, Defendant's Employee Relations Specialist, to complain that Dr. Culver was harassing her and discriminating against her. Plaintiff claimed that "Dr. Culver: 1) expected her to perform her job duties without proper training and reprimanded her in front of staff and students; 2) waited for her outside of the restroom; 3) told her that she looked nice one day; 4) discussed her private life with other staff members; 5) counseled her on following the dress code and 6) asked her to look him in the eyes when he spoke to her." (Doc. 30-2, ¶ 14.) Ms. Reeder-Decker investigated Plaintiff's allegations but ultimately could not substantiate them.

         On August 12, 2014, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant terminated her in retaliation for her complaints to Ms. Reeder-Decker. But Defendant counters that Plaintiff's termination was part of a 2013 company-wide restructuring plan developed prior to Plaintiff's employment. As part of this plan "the Academic Assistant and the Admissions Coordinator positions would be consolidated into a new Campus Coordinator position, " and "[t]he Academic Assistant position was to be phased out." (Doc. 30-2, ¶ 4.) Defendant notes that "[b]etween January 2014 and March 2015, each of [Defendant's] 52 Academic Assistant positions were eliminated." (Id. ¶ 5.) According to Defendant, "[i]n Georgia, the Part-Time Academic Assistant position was eliminated on August 12, 2014" and "[t]he Full-Time Academic Assistant position was eliminated on . . . January 9, 2015." (Id. ¶ 6.)

         On December 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court asserting claims of hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Defendant challenges both claims.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "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). Facts are "material" if they could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law, and a dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court must view factual disputes in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), and must draw "all justifiable inferences in [the non-moving party's] favor." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (internal punctuation and citations omitted). The Court should not weigh the evidence or determine credibility. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         The moving party has the initial burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials on file, the basis for the motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Because the standard for summary judgment mirrors that of a directed verdict, the initial burden of proof required by either party depends on who carries the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 323. When the movant does not carry the burden of proof at trial, it may satisfy its initial burden in one of two ways - by negating an essential element of the non-movant's case or by showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the non-movant's case. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 606-08 (11th Cir. 1991) (explaining Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970) and Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. 317). The movant cannot meet its initial burden by merely declaring that the non-moving party cannot meet its burden at trial. Clark, 929 F.2d at 608.

         If - and only if - the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant must "demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Id. When the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant must tailor its response to the method by which the movant carried its initial burden. If the movant presented evidence affirmatively negating a material fact, the non-movant "must respond with evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial on the material fact sought to be negated." Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993) . If the movant shows an absence of evidence on a material fact, the non-movant must either show that the record contains evidence that was "overlooked or ignored" by the movant or "come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency." Id. at 1117. The non-movant cannot carry its burden by relying on the pleadings or by repeating conclusory allegations contained in the complaint. See Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1033-34 (11th Cir. 1981). Rather, the non-movant must respond with affidavits or as otherwise provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

         In this action, the Clerk of Court gave Plaintiff notice of the motion for summary judgment and informed her of the summary judgment rules, the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Doc. 31.) Therefore, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), are satisfied. The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, and the motion is now ripe for consideration.

         III. DISCUSSION

         1. Hostile ...


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