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Eaton v. Texas Roadhouse

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 3, 2014

CONTENT EATON, an individual, Plaintiff,


EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Pending before the Court in the above-entitled matter is Defendant Texas Roadhouse, Inc.'s (Roadhouse) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 35) and Plaintiff Content Eaton's Motion to Strike Declaration of Patrick Bradford and Exclude His Testimony at Trial (Dkt.40). Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.


Ms. Eaton began working at the restaurant called Texas Roadhouse in Ammon, ID. She began as a server in October of 2008. Later, she was promoted to Assistant Service Manager. When Ms. Eaton was hired, she acknowledged receiving Roadhouse's employment policies, including a policy prohibiting harassment and discrimination. (Exhibit 4, Dkt. 35-5, p. 15-16.) The policies set forth the ways an employee could report harassment: speaking with a manager, contacting the human resources or legal department at corporate, submitting a complaint electronically or via a telephone hotline.

In the Amended Complaint Ms. Easton states she worked directly under Scott Baird who also started as a server but was promoted to Service Manager. Around February of 2012 (after completing four months of training) Mr. Baird started working as the Service Manager at the Ammon restaurant. In the Amended Complaint and in her deposition, Ms. Eaton states she reported to the Managing Partner or restaurant manager Patrick Bradford. Mr. Baird also reported to Mr. Bradford. Ms. Eaton states Mr. Baird did not have the ability to promote or fire her, but that he did have the ability to control her schedule or assigned tables when she worked or filled in as a server or bartender. However, there is no allegation Mr. Baird took any negative tangible employment action against Ms. Eaton by reducing her schedule or giving her less preferred table assignments when she did work as a server. Her Assistant Service Manager duties caused her to work directly with Mr. Baird, but it appears undisputed Ms. Eaton's supervisor was Mr. Bradford. Mr. Bradford completed Ms. Eaton's job evaluation on August 4, 2012. (Exhibit 9 to Mr. Murphy's Deposition, Dkt. 37-8, p. 2-11.)[1]

Ms. Eaton alleges once she began working with Mr. Baird in February 2012 his continuous comments of a sexual nature created a hostile work environment that ultimately led to her constructive discharge. Ms. Eaton claims she first reported inappropriate sexual comments to Mr. Bradford in May of 2012. After meeting with Mr. Bradford, who said they would meet again, Ms. Easton decided to keep a journal of comments made by Mr. Baird. Ms. Eaton claims the harassment occurred every single day and then she would go home so upset that it disrupted her family life. (Eaton Depo, p.80, lines 4-7, Dkt. 37-4, p. 1.)

Ms. Eaton believes after her report of sexual harassment, Mr. Bradford talked with Mr. Baird and the harassment stopped for two days. Mr. Bradford states in his affidavit that Ms. Eaton complained Mr. Baird "did not respect" her but these complaints did not include allegations of sexual harassment. Mr. Bradford admits at a later date Ms. Eaton made complaints about Mr. Baird's sexual comments to her and that shortly after her notification of the sexual comments he notified Market Partner, Michael Murphy, about the sexual harassment allegations. Mr. Bradford does not give a date for the first conversation or second conversation with Ms. Eaton. Mr. Bradford does not indicate in his affidavit that he talked with Mr. Baird, only that he reported the sexual comments to Mr. Murphy.

Ms. Eaton indicated that in late September 2012, Mr. Murphy came to the Idaho Falls restaurant due to anonymous comments that corporate had received regarding that location. Mr. Murphy met with the employees as a group as well as managers. Ms. Eaton reported the sexual harassment by Mr. Baird to Mr. Murphy and showed him her notebook of comments she had written down from June until September of the type of sexual comments made by Mr. Baird. Mr. Murphy got upset when Ms. Eaton told him of her sexual harassment allegations and showed him her notebook. Based on Mr. Murphy's deposition testimony about being at the restaurant for a reason other than Ms. Eatons' allegations and Mr. Murphy's response to the sexual harassment allegations, it seems unlikely Mr. Murphy had been told of Ms. Eaton's sexual harassment allegations by Mr. Bradford prior to his arrival at the restaurant. Mr. Murphy testified he believed Ms. Eaton's allegations rose to the level of "sexual harassment." After meeting with Ms. Eaton, Mr. Murphy states he spoke with the human resource department and arranged for an investigation.

On October 2, 2012, Ms. Baird received a written reprimand from Mr. Bradford for her "failure to perform the functions of your position appropriately to safeguard the confidential knowledge you have acquired about the management team. Revealing information, regarding management functions to other employees, is a violation of the confidentiality rights of Texas Roadhouse." (Dkt. 39-2, p. 5.)

Kristi Dennis, an HR Director for Roadhouse, came to Ammon on or about October 8, 2012. Ms. Dennis said she had not heard of Ms. Eaton's sexual harassment allegations from Mr. Murphy or anyone else prior to conducting an investigation at the location. She remembers the investigation was prompted by complaints from employees to the hotline about the management of the restaurant. She interviewed numerous employees. She testified in her deposition that she considered comments made by Mr. Baird in the presence of Ms. Eaton and another employee to be sexual harassment. (Dennis Depo., p. 83, lines 10-20, Dkt. 37-9, p.5.) Ms. Dennis testified she did not think Ms. Eaton should work under Mr. Baird but did not take any action to change Ms. Eaton having to work with Mr. Baird on a daily basis. ( Id., p. 84, lines 18-21.)

Ultimately, Ms. Dennis testified her investigation was "inconclusive" because "there was dysfunction in the restaurant regarding the management team, and the individuals I spoke with were not credible because they were picking sides." (Dennis Depo, p. 60, lines 8-14, Dkt. 35-5). Ms. Dennis indicated the results of her investigation were reviewed with Mr. Bradford and Mr. Baird. Ms. Dennis did not discuss the results of the investigation with Ms. Eaton and does not remember if Ms. Eaton contacted her regarding the results. Ms. Eaton testified she left numerous phone messages regarding the status of the investigation with Ms. Dennis that were never returned. Mr. Baird testified he could not recall Ms. Dennis providing him with any coaching or training about how to handle sexual harassment. (Baird Depo, p. 92, lines 18-21, Dkt. 37-6, p.5.)

On October 10, 2012, Mr. Murphy completed a written reprimand of Mr. Baird for "harassment" and the summary of the violation says "sexual harassment." (Exhibit Dkt. 35-5, p.40, Notice of Unsatisfactory Performance.) There is no indication of corrective plan or action but the form does indicate a consequence would be that the "next [violation] will result in termination." Id.

On or about October 12, 2012, Mr. Bradford was fired. Ms. Eaton believes Mr. Baird was gone for some training around this time period. Ms. Eaton does not allege Mr. Baird continued to make sexual comments after his reprimand on October 10, 2012 as Ms. Eaton indicates Mr. Baird stopped speaking with Ms. Eaton completely after his written reprimand. No changes were made in Ms. Eaton's work schedule to keep her from having to work with or under Mr. Baird. Ms. Eaton claims she worked with Mr. Baird a few times after the investigation by Ms. Dennis to know that we weren't going to be able to work together. Shortly thereafter in late October, Ms. Eaton told the new Managing Partner, Christ Duran, she could not continue to work with Mr. Baird and had no choice but to resign.

Ms. Eaton filed her Complaint on May 14, 2013 (Dkt. 1) and her Amended Complaint on June 20, 2014 (Dkt. 33). In the Amended Complaint, Ms. Eaton alleges three causes of action: sexual harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation. The Defendant denies each of these claims and seeks summary judgment.


Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, "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). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims...." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is "not a disfavored procedural shortcut, " but is instead the "principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources." Id. at 327.

"[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. See id. at 248.

The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if that party shows that each issue of material fact is not or cannot be disputed. To show the material facts are not in dispute, a party may cite to particular parts of materials in the record, or show that the materials cited do not establish the presence of a genuine dispute, or that the adverse party is unable to produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (B); see T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322). The Court must consider "the cited materials, " but it may also consider "other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

Material used to support or dispute a fact must be "presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). Affidavits or declarations submitted in support of or opposition to a motion "must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

The Court does not determine the credibility of affiants or weigh the evidence set forth by the non-moving party. All inferences which can be drawn from the evidence must be drawn in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 630-31 (internal citation omitted).

Rule 56(e)(3) authorizes the Court to grant summary judgment for the moving party "if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it." The existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient. Rather, "there must be evidence on which the jury ...

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