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Garcia v. State, Department of Health & Welfare

United States District Court, D. Idaho

November 7, 2014

STATE OF IDAHO, Department of Health & Welfare, Defendant.


WILLIAM B. SHUBB, District Judge.

Plaintiff filed this action against defendant State of Idaho Department of Health & Welfare ("Department"), alleging the Department discriminated against her because of her race, sex, and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C § 623(a)(1), and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Presently before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff, a fifty-six-year-old Hispanic woman, (Compl. ¶ 2 (Docket No. 1)), was terminated by defendant after thirty-two years of employment, (Garcia Aff. ¶ 5 (Docket No. 16-2)). For the ten years leading up to her termination, plaintiff held the position of Electronic Benefit Transfer ("EBT") Operations Supervisor, in which she oversaw the transfer of food, cash, and child support benefits. (Garcia Aff. ¶ 3.) Her duties included participating in the oversight of the Department's contractual relationships with financial institutions involved in administering such transfers. (Id.) Prior to March 2012, the Department never gave plaintiff a formal write-up for poor performance or subjected her to any disciplinary action. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) In a performance review of plaintiff's work in the 2011 calendar year, plaintiff's supervisor Michael Pearson gave her the rating of "solid, sustained performance." (Id. ¶ 6; Garcia Aff. Ex. A.)

Prior to her discharge, plaintiff obtained outside employment as a real estate agent. Because the Department had a policy requiring employees to seek its approval before beginning outside employment, plaintiff applied for approval and the Department granted it. (Garcia Aff. ¶ 9.) The Department sent plaintiff an information packet containing its policies on outside employment, (Pearson Aff. Ex. A), but the parties dispute whether plaintiff was specifically instructed not to perform real estate work during work hours or that she was prohibited from sending personal emails from her work account, (Pearson Aff. ¶ 10; Garcia Aff. ¶ 14.)

On March 8, 2012, plaintiff's supervisor, Michael Pearson, and a human resources specialist, Maria Gamet, met with plaintiff to address the way plaintiff had handled a contract between the Department and JP Morgan. (Garcia Aff. ¶ 18.) At the meeting, Pearson directed plaintiff not to disclose or otherwise communicate with anyone information regarding the review. (Gamet Aff. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 16 (Docket No. 16-1).)[1]

Parties dispute the purpose of the March 8 meeting. Gamet and Pearson state they met with plaintiff to understand what communications were made between Department employees and JP Morgan. (Gamet Aff. ¶ 4 (Docket No. 14-13); Taylor Aff. ¶ 5 (Docket No. 14-5).) According to plaintiff, Pearson and Gamet told plaintiff that Paul Spannknebel, the Administrator of the Division of Operational Services, (Young Aff. ¶ 4 (Docket No. 14-4)), had met with Deputy Director Paul Taylor and expressed his concerns about the way plaintiff was handling the contract, particularly due to a potential conflict of interest that could cause the Department to lose its authority with the Department of Purchasing. (Id. ¶ 18.)

Plaintiff stated in her deposition that in 2010, Spannknebel had made several inappropriate sexual advances toward her, which she rejected. (Garcia Dep. at 19:11-34:25.) She alleges these encounters with Spannknebel are connected to her discharge. (Compl. ¶¶ 14-15.)

Following the meeting, Deputy Director Taylor requested a review of plaintiff's email and internet use. (Taylor Aff. ¶ 5.) Information Technology retrieved emails sent from Garcia's work account. (Id.) The emails, which defendant attaches in support of its motion, revealed that 1) plaintiff had been sending emails relating to her outside real estate business from her work account during work hours, [2] and 2) she divulged details regarding the March 8 meeting to Department employee Tonia Walgamott. (Taylor Aff. Ex. A; Gamet Aff. Exs. G-J.)

On March 15, 2012, Gamet and Pearson met with plaintiff to discuss her use of her Department email account to perform work as a real estate agent and her emails to Walgamott regarding the March 8 meeting. (Taylor Aff. ¶ 9; Garcia Dep. at 67:9-69:2.) Gamet and Pearson also expressed concern over what they believed were disparaging comments plaintiff made in her emails regarding other employees. (Garcia Dep. 68:8-10.)[3]

On April 12, 2012, Deputy Director Taylor served plaintiff with a Notice of Contemplated Disciplinary Action. (Gamet Aff. Ex. D.) According to the notice, the Department was considering dismissing plaintiff because she demonstrated insubordination by speaking with other employees regarding the Department's review of a sensitive matter; used her work computer for her outside employment during work hours; sent an excessive amount of personal email from her work computer; and failed to treat other employees with courtesy, dignity, and respect. (Id. at 548.) Gamet and Taylor met with plaintiff on April 17 to further discuss these charges. (Gamet Aff. ¶ 11.) On April 25, 2012, plaintiff was dismissed. (Taylor Aff. Ex. A at 623.)[4] At that time, she was fifty-five years old. (Garcia Dep. at 102:17.) Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed her termination, contesting the charges against her and alleging that her rejection of Spannknebel's advances were a motive for her termination. (Young Aff. Ex. A.) Plaintiff's position remained vacant from April 25, 2012 until January 7, 2013, (Young Rebuttal Aff. ¶ 2 (Docket No. 17-1)), when the Department replaced plaintiff with Alice Porter, a white female in her early thirties, (id.; Garcia Aff. ¶ 21).

Plaintiff filed this action, alleging that Spannknebel blamed the JP Morgan contract problems on plaintiff because she rebuffed his sexual advances, (Compl. ¶ 15), and that the Department terminated her because of her sex, race, and age, whereas it treated other white male employees who engaged in similar conduct with more leniency, (id. ¶ 23). Defendants now move for summary judgment, contending that plaintiff's termination was not a result of discrimination in violation of anti-discrimination law or the contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing. (Docket No. 14.)

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that 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). A material fact is one that could affect the outcome of the suit, and a genuine dispute is one that could permit a reasonable jury to enter a verdict in the non-moving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and can satisfy this burden by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Alternatively, the moving party can demonstrate that the non-moving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element upon which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id.

In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury ...

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