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Tibodeau v. CDI, LLC

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 21, 2017

BRITNEY TIBODEAU, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CDI, LLC, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Hancock County, Rustin T. Davenport, Judge.

         Defendant appeals from judgment in a claim arising under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code chapter 216 (2013). AFFIRMED AND REMANDED.

          David H. Luginbill and Lindsay A. Vaught of Ahlers & Cooney, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Sarah A. Reindl, of Reindl Law Firm, Mason City, for appellee.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         Plaintiff Brittney Tibodeau sued her former employer, CDI, LLC (hereinafter "CDI"), and her former supervisor at CDI, David Monoit, for sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code chapter 216 (2013). The jury found Tibodeau proved her claims against CDI but did not prove her claims against Monoit. The jury awarded Tibodeau back pay and past and future emotional distress damages. The district court awarded Tibodeau front pay and attorney's fees. CDI timely filed this appeal, raising several claims of error.

         I.

         The jury could have found the following. Tibodeau worked at CDI in Forest City in 2013. During the summer of that year, Tibodeau took leave for a medical issue. While on leave, Tibodeau attempted suicide. She was treated for depression and anxiety and returned to work.

         The workplace was hostile. Tibodeau's coworkers discussed her body in offensive terms, called her derogatory names, started a rumor she was having an affair with another employee, looked at a nude photo of her, displayed provocative photos of women throughout the work area, made phallic shapes out of tape, made humping motions behind her when she bent over, discussed the intimate hygiene practices of a female coworker, made sexually suggestive jokes, discussed pornography, made comments about raping women and children, and threw balled-up tape at Tibodeau's breasts and backside. As a result of this conduct, Tibodeau terminated her employment with CDI after her boyfriend, who also worked at CDI, was fired. The jury found Tibodeau was constructively discharged.

         II.

         A.

         For its first claim of error, CDI contends the district court erred in denying CDI's motion for directed verdict on CDI's statute of limitations defense. Our review is for the correction of legal error. See James v. Burlington N., Inc., 587 N.W.2d 462, 464 (Iowa 1998).

         To prevail on its statute-of-limitations defense, CDI was required to prove the relevant statute of limitations lapsed prior to the initiation of the action and no savings statute applied. See Furnald v. Hughes, 804 N.W.2d 273, 275-76 (Iowa 2011) (discussing the purpose of statutes of limitation and savings statutes).

         The relevant limitation periods are set forth in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. As a prerequisite to pursuing a claim arising under the act, "[a] person claiming to be aggrieved by an unfair or discriminatory practice must initially seek an administrative relief by filing a complaint with the [Iowa Civil Rights Commission] in accordance with section 216.15." Iowa Code § 216.16(1). Section 216.15 provides the complaint must be filed "within three hundred days after the alleged discriminatory or unfair practice occurred." Iowa Code § 216.15(13). The complainant may seek relief in the district court upon receiving an administrative release, commonly called a right-to-sue letter, from the commission. See Iowa Code § 216.16(2). The complainant must commence an action in the district court "within ninety days after issuance by the commission of a release" otherwise the action "is barred." Iowa Code § 216.16(4). In this case, Tibodeau timely filed a complaint with the commission. She received an administrative release on July 31, 2014. She filed her petition in Winnebago County on October 7, 2014, within the ninety-day filing period.

         After Tibodeau filed her action in Winnebago County, CDI filed a motion for a change of venue, contending the proper venue was in Hancock County. On October 31, the district court granted the motion and transferred the case to Hancock County and ordered Tibodeau to pay twenty dollars in costs to CDI. See Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.808(1) ("An action brought in the wrong county may be prosecuted there until termination, unless a defendant, before answer, moves for change to the proper county. Thereupon the court shall order the change at plaintiff's costs, which may include reasonable compensation for defendant's trouble and expense, including attorney's fees, in attending in the wrong county."). The costs were due within twenty days of the district court's order. See Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.808(2) ("If all such costs are not paid within [twenty] days of the transfer order, the action shall be dismissed."). Tibodeau did not pay the costs within twenty days of the district court's order. On December 2, CDI filed a motion to dismiss the action due to Tibodeau's failure to pay the costs within the twenty-day period. On January 30, 2015, the district court granted the motion, dismissed the action in Winnebago County, and immediately reinstated the action in Hancock County because the costs had been paid by that time, although ...


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