United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE
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.
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.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
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).
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
(Doc. 28-7, p. 82; Laska Dep., p. 216-217).
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
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).
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.). 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,