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Williams v. Aria Resort & Casino Holdings, LLC

United States District Court, D. Nevada

June 28, 2019



         Presently before the court is Aria Resort & Casino, LLC's (“Aria”) motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 34). No. response has been filed, and the time to do so has passed.

         Also before the court is Aria's amended motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 36). Plaintiff Patricia Williams (“Williams”) filed a response (ECF No. 41), to which Aria replied (ECF No. 42).

         I. Facts

         This civil rights action arises out of alleged instances of race and gender discrimination faced by Williams prior to her termination from Aria in January 2016. (ECF No. 1). Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed[1]:

         Williams, who is a mixed-race black woman, was hired as a cook in Aria's in-room dining department (“IRD”) in November 2009. (ECF No. 36 at 5). Thereafter, between May 2010 and July 2014, Williams was disciplined on seven different occasions for her various violations of Aria's employee code of conduct. See (ECF No. 36-2 at 8-30). These disciplinary actions included verbal warnings, written warnings, a one-day suspension, and one three-day suspension-all pursuant to Aria's practice of imposing “progressive discipline, ” as mandated by its collective bargaining agreement with the culinary union.[2] (ECF No. 36 at 5).

         On or about February 9, 2015, Williams went to speak with Aria's employee relations manager, Todd Owen (“Owen”), to inquire about her seniority and the potential for her to transfer to the new TMobile Arena when it opened. (ECF No. 36-1 at 69). After discussing Williams' seniority, Owen asked her if she was aware of any incidents in IRD that would be considered misconduct. (ECF No. 36-1 at 69). At the time, Owen had been investigating a complaint lodged by one IRD employee against another. Id. at 70.

         While Williams did not have any information to provide regarding the subject of Owen's inquiry, Williams did report that one of her coworkers, George Reed (“Reed”), had been making vulgar and sexualized comments in the workplace. Id. Owen then asked Williams to send him an email detailing the inappropriate behavior. Id. When Williams expressed concern that she did not want to get anyone in trouble, Owen assured her that her statement would be “strictly confidential.” Id.

         On February 10, 2015, Williams sent Owen an email describing incidents in which employees used profanity and engaged in horseplay and sexualized conversations. (ECF No. 36-2 at 33). The email did not describe any incidents regarding Williams' race or ethnicity and did not assert that any of the reported sexualized comments had been made to her or about her. Id. However, the email went on to state: “I have had two different male cooks swipe my derriere as they passed by me as I was working on my station.”[3] Id.

         During the course of his investigation, Owen and his team met with all IRD employees, none of whom corroborated the allegations made by Williams in her February 10, 2015, email. (ECF No. 36-1 at 26). Where violations were confirmed as to other employees, however, disciplinary action was taken. (ECF No. 36-2 at 82). As an additional precaution, Owen held pre-shift meetings in IRD to remind employees of Aria's policies and how to report concerns or inappropriate conduct. (ECF No. 41-15 at 69-70). Aria also conducted in-person training sessions regarding harassment for all IRD employees. Id. (ECF No. 36-1).

         On April 15, 2015, while working their shifts, Williams and Reed engaged in a verbal altercation that resulted in both employees receiving “last and final warnings.”[4] (ECF No. 36-2 at 53-55). Just prior to the altercation, Reed had opened a cooling drawer in the kitchen that was situated directly behind Williams, at which point Williams asked Reed to step to the side, so the two wouldn't “bump and touch each other.” (ECF No. 36-1 at 63). According to post-incident written statements by Reed, Williams, and other employees who were present at the time, Reed and Williams began arguing loudly in the kitchen, which drew the attention of the chef on duty who separated the two by sending Reed to the chef's office. (ECF No. 36-2 at 36, 38-40).

         The day after the incident with Reed, on April 16, 2015, Williams was called to the office of Human Resources Business Partner Frank Quezada (“Quezada”) to discuss the incident. (ECF No. 36-1 at 51). At this meeting, Williams disclosed to Quezada a separate incident involving co-workers Reed, Guadalupe Jiminez (“Jiminez”), Jeffrey Baptista (“Baptista”), and Fanghao Tian (“Tian”). (ECF No. 36-1 at 51). According to Williams, she overheard these co-workers discussing her skin and eye color and questioning how she could be black if her skin is so light. Id. Baptista is alleged to have responded that her skin was light because she was a “mutt.” Id.

         Following the April 15, 2015, incident, Williams was not scheduled to work the same shift as Reed, and the two never had any further interactions. (ECF No. 36-1 at 104-105).

         Thereafter, on December 1, 2015, Williams engaged in another verbal altercation with a different co-worker, Jiminez. Williams had picked up a ticket for a food order off the printer, and when she realized that the order was for Jiminez, she hung the ticket on Jiminez's station. (ECF No. 36-1 at 96-99). The parties dispute what happened next. Williams alleges that Jiminez got angry and began yelling at her for touching his ticket. Id. at 98. Other employees who were present at the time reported, via written statements to management, that Williams began to yell at Jiminez and told him to “shut up” and instructed him not to talk to her. (ECF No. 36-2 at 62, 66).

         On December 4, 2015, Williams was placed on suspension pending investigation. (ECF No. 36-2 at 70). Thereafter, on December 10, 2015, Williams was given a “due process meeting, ” which Aria extends to its employees after certain disciplinary matters to allow employees to tell their side of the story. (ECF No. 36-2 at 70). The meeting was facilitated by Quezada, and was attended by Williams, Executive Room Chef Brendan Arenth, and a shop steward. (ECF No. 36 at 10). At that meeting, Williams admitted that she told Jiminez to “shut up” and “don't talk to me.” (ECF No. 36-2 at 73).

         Following the hearing, and considering all employee statements and testimony, Aria terminated Williams' employment on January 12, 2016. (ECF No. 36-2 at 76). The “Separation PAN” prepared by Aria, which details the basis upon which Williams was terminated, cites

Misconduct; specifically, engaging in high unprofessional, rude and discourteous behavior, where [she was] loud and demeaning in nature as well [as] engag[ed] in behavior that is in direct violation of the final warning issued on 4/24/15.

(ECF No. 36-2 at 76).

         On January 23, 2017, Williams submitted a charge of discrimination (the “charge”) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (ECF No. 36-2 at 79). In her charge, Williams contends she was discriminated against based on her gender and race and that she was retaliated against for participating in a human resources investigation. Id. She also claims she was subjected to harassment by co-workers Reed, Tian, Baptista, and Jimenez. Id. She claims each of these co-workers made racially and sexually offensive comments about her, threatened her, and made fun of her. Id. On February 24, 2017, the EEOC issued a “dismissal and notice of rights, ” stating that it was “unable to conclude the information obtained established violations of the statutes.” Id. at 80.

         Thereafter, Williams filed the instant suit on May 24, 2017, alleging six causes of action for: (1) unlawful retaliation under Title VII; (2) unlawful gender discrimination under Title VII; (3) unlawful race discrimination under Title VII; (4) § 1981 civil rights violation; (5) assault and battery; and (6) negligent supervision.[5] (ECF No. 1). Aria now moves for summary judgment as to all of Williams' claims. (ECF No. 36).

         II. Legal Standard

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow summary judgment when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A principal purpose of summary judgment is “to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

         For purposes of summary judgment, disputed factual issues should be construed in favor of the non-moving party. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed., 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). However, to be entitled to a denial of summary judgment, the nonmoving party must “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id.

         In determining summary judgment, a court applies a burden-shifting analysis. The moving party must first satisfy its initial burden. “When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact on each issue material to its case.” C.A.R. Transp. Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).

         By contrast, when the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense, the moving party can meet its burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of the non-moving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-24. If the moving party fails to meet its initial burden, summary judgment must be denied, and the court need not consider the nonmoving party's evidence. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159- 60 (1970).

         If the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). To establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that “the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing ...

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