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Laska v. Kelley Manufacturing Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

September 26, 2019

DEBRA LASKA, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Debra Laska worked for Defendant Kelley Manufacturing Co. d/b/a KMC Manufacturing Company (“Kelley Manufacturing Co.” or “KMC”) for approximately seven years. During the last six months or so of Plaintiff’s employment, Defendant hired Plaintiff’s husband James Laska as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Both Plaintiff and her husband were suspended by Defendant on July 24, 2017 and terminated on August 7, 2017. In a separate lawsuit filed in this Court, James Laska v. Kelley Manufacturing Co. d/b/a KMC Manufacturing Company, No. 7:17-CV-212, James Laska alleged that Defendant terminated his employment in retaliation for opposing unlawful employment practices in violation Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”). In this case, Plaintiff contends that she, too, was terminated in retaliation for her husband engaging in statutorily protected conduct.

         Now before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 28). After reviewing the pleadings, briefs, depositions, and other evidentiary materials presented, the Court concludes that there is no genuine dispute of the material facts and finds that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.


         Kelly Manufacturing Co. hired Plaintiff as a receptionist and switchboard operator on November 8, 2010. (D. Laska Dep., p. 70). Plaintiff worked in that position for approximately three years before she became the Human Resources (“HR”) Assistant. (Id.). After working in that position for about two years, the HR Director under whom she worked retired, and Plaintiff was promoted to HR Director. (Id. at p. 72). Plaintiff was also a member of KMC’s Board of Directors. (Doc. 1, ¶ 9).

         Toward the end of 2016, KMC’s long-time Vice President of Sales and Marketing announced his retirement. (Laska Dep., p. 107). As the company began its search for a replacement, Plaintiff discussed with Lanier Carson, KMC’s Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”), the possibility of her husband James Laska applying for the position. (Id.). Laska submitted his resumé in December 2016. (Id. at p. 108). On January 5, 2017, KMC extended a formal written offer to Laska. (Doc. 28-11, p. 29). Per the terms of the offer, Laska would be hired as the Director of Sales and Marketing. (Id.). Additionally, after an opportunity to acclimate to the equipment and culture of the business, KMC would promote Laska to Vice President of Sales and Marketing and offer him a seat on the Board of Directors. (Id.). Laska accepted the terms of employment on January 9, 2017, and began working for KMC on February 1, 2017. (Doc. 28-11, p. 30). Laska’s title changed from Director to Vice President some time shortly thereafter. (Laska Dep., p. 120; Carson Dep., p. 35).

         As the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Laska was accountable for a number of responsibilities. (Doc. 28-11, p. 31). He coordinated and managed the activities of KMC’s Territory Managers, Field Service Representatives, Distributers, and Advertising Manager. (Id.). He was responsible for determining staffing needs, including the hiring and firing of new personnel, with the approval of the company’s President. (Id.). Additionally, Laska’s job entailed developing, editing, and publishing price lists and updates; disseminating marketing and sales information; accounting for lost sales; monitoring margins on all products; providing adequate and timely availability of finished goods; and other related tasks. (Id.).

         Kelly Peele, who first began working for KMC as the Advertising Manager in 2011, resigned her position on June 30, 2017. (Peele Dep., p. 7-8; Laska Dep., p. 184). Prior to her resignation, Peele received an e-mail from a woman named Erica Thrift, who worked for Black Crow Media. (Peele Dep., p. 46-47; Doc. 28-5, p. 86-87, 89). Thrift expressed an interest in meeting with Peele to discuss potential advertising opportunities. (Id.). Peele scheduled a meeting with Thrift but resigned prior to the meeting taking place. (Id. p. 48-49; Laska Dep., p. 214).

         About a week following Peele’s resignation, Thrift contacted Laska and asked if he would keep the appointment Thrift previously scheduled with Peele. (Laska Dep., p. 214). Thrift also inquired whether KMC intended to fill the Advertising Manager position. (Id.). Laska set an appointment with Thrift for July 10, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. (Id.). He met with Thrift and another male salesperson from Black Crow Media on July 10 to discuss agriculture-related advertising programs. (Id. at p. 215, 217). At the conclusion of the meeting, Thrift again asked about the Advertising Manager position. (Id. at p. 218). Laska suggested that Thrift e-mail her resumé. (Id.).

         Thrift e-mailed Laska at 10:33 a.m. on July 10, once more expressing an interest in the marketing position and asking whether she could send him her resumé. (Doc. 28-11, p. 63). Laska responded to Thrift at 11:19 a.m., directing her to send her resumé to Plaintiff in Human Resources. (Id.). Thrift then emailed Plaintiff at 2:54 p.m. (Id. at p. 64-67). Plaintiff testified that after receiving Thrift’s resumé, she provided a copy to her husband. (D. Laska Dep., p. 158). She also printed a copy and placed it in Lanier Carson’s box, along with numerous other resumés for various positions open throughout the company. (Id. at p. 158-160).

         In later correspondence with the Department of Labor, Laska described Thrift’s physical appearance on the day of their meeting in great detail:

I must admit that when I turned the corner I was a bit surprised as I was greeted by an attractive dark tanned tall brunette in very fit condition wearing a snakeskin print pair of pants and very revealing tight black sleeveless shirt exposing quite a bit of cleavage. I also noticed there was a script tattoo on her left shoulder and arm that read “love me for who I am” and some other tattoo on her right arm. My first thought was this did not appear to be appropriate business wear for a woman to be calling on advertising clients.

(Doc. 28-7, p. 82; Laska Dep., p. 216-217).

         Laska provided a similar description to Rhonda Pearman, Lanier Carson’s Executive Administrative Assistant, immediately after his meeting with Thrift. (Laska Dep., p. 200; Pearman Dep., p. 30-31). On the way back to his office, Laska stopped by Pearman’s office and engaged in the following interchange:

I asked her, I said, “Did you happen to see that lady and man that just came by here with me?” And she said no. I said, “Yeah, well, ” I said, “in my opinion she wasn’t dressed correctly for a business engagement or business meeting.”
And she said, “Well, what do you mean by that?”
And I explained what I just did, a tube top, you know, she was a very fit, attractive young lady, very bosomy, and she had on this small tube top with the tattoos. Rhonda immediately blurted out, “What a whore.”

(Laska Dep., p. 220).

         Laska testified that he promptly chastised Pearman, saying, “Rhonda, you cannot call people whore. You don’t know anything about this woman.” (Id. at p. 220-221). He further stated, “Now, she might have been just a visitor when she came in, but now she’s a job applicant.” (Id.).[2] Pearman responded, “Well, I’m telling you right now the old man [Carson] ain’t going to never let no bombshell like that work up in here.” (Id.). Laska then reiterated, “You can’t discriminate against this woman, and you can’t prejudge her. . . . She’s got two kids, she’s struggling to make ends meet. And, you ...

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