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Mahler v. First Dakota Title Limited Partnership

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

February 28, 2018

PAMELA J. MAHLER, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST DAKOTA TITLE LIMITED PARTNERSHIP et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          LINDA R. READE, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION .......................................2

         II. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY ........................2

         III. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION .........................3

         IV. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD .........................3

         V. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND .......................5

         A. The Parties ....................................... 5

         B. Mahler's Employment ............................... 5

         1. 2014 protected activities ..........................6

         2. Mahler's performance ...........................6

         3. 2015 protected activities ..........................8

         4. Mahler's termination ............................9

         VI. ANALYSIS ........................................... 9

         A. Count I: Hostile Work Environment .....................10

         1 Parties' arguments ............................10

         2. Applicable law ...............................10

         3. Application .................................11

         a. Protected activity .........................11

         b. Prima facie case .........................13

         i. Protected class ......................13

         ii. Unwelcome harassment ................13

         B. McDonnell Douglas Burden-Shifting .....................18

         C. Count I: Sex Discrimination ..........................19

         1. Parties' arguments ............................19

         2. Applicable law ...............................19

         3. Application .................................20

         a. Prima facie case .........................20

         i. Inference of discrimination ..............20

         b. Pretext ................................22

         D. Count II: Retaliation ...............................24

         1. Direct evidence ...............................24

         2. Parties' arguments ............................27

         3. Applicable Law ...............................27

         4. Application .................................28

         a. Prima facie case .........................28

         i. Causal connection ....................28

         b. Pretext ................................30

         VII. CONCLUSION ....................................... 31

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The matter before the court is Defendants First Dakota Title Limited Partnership (“First Dakota”), Community Title, LLC (“Community Title”), Dennis C. Anderson, Shirley A. Thoelke and Dean Hoag, Jr.'s (collectively, “Defendants”) “Motion for Summary Judgment” (“Motion”) (docket no. 23).

         II. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 10, 2016, Plaintiff Pamela J. Mahler filed a Complaint (docket no. 1) against Defendants. In Count I of the Complaint, Mahler alleges that Defendants violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and the Iowa Civil Rights Act (“ICRA”), Iowa Code § 216.6, by “requir[ing] Mahler to work in a hostile and pervasive atmosphere of discrimination and harassment due to retaliation for engaging in protected activity, and due to sex.” Complaint ¶ 57. In Count II of the Complaint, Mahler alleges that Defendants retaliated against her in violation of Title VII and the ICRA. Id. ¶¶ 61-62. On January 13, 2017, Defendants filed an Answer (docket no. 12) denying liability and asserting several affirmative defenses.

         On November 13, 2017, Defendants filed the Motion. On December 15, 2017, Mahler filed a Resistance (docket no. 26). On December 22, 2017, Defendants filed a Reply (docket no. 27). No party has requested oral argument and the court finds that oral argument is unnecessary. The matter is fully submitted and ready for decision.

         III. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

         The court has original jurisdiction of the Title VII claims because they arise under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”). The district court has supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims because they are so related to the claims within the court's original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (“[T]he district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy . . . .”). In other words, “the federal-law claims and state-law claims in the case ‘derive from a common nucleus of operative fact' and are ‘such that [a plaintiff] would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial proceeding.'” Kan. Pub. Emps. Ret. Sys. v. Reimer & Koger Assocs., Inc., 77 F.3d 1063, 1067 (8th Cir. 1996) (second alteration in original) (quotation marks omitted) (quoting Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 349 (1988)).

         IV. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). “Summary judgment is proper ‘if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show'” an absence of a genuine dispute as to a material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2)). “A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the case.” Amini v. City of Minneapolis, 643 F.3d 1068, 1074 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252 (1986)). “The movant ‘bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ' and must identify ‘those portions of [the record] . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.'” Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042 (alterations in original) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). Once the movant has done so, “the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. (quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).

         On a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts “in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. (quoting Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009)). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial, ” and summary judgment is appropriate. Ricci, 557 U.S. at 586 (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). “The nonmovant ‘must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts' . . . .” Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042 (quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586). Instead, “[t]o survive a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must substantiate [her] allegations with sufficient probative evidence [that] would permit a finding in [her] favor based on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy.” Barber v. C1 Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 801 (8th Cir. 2011) (second alteration in ...


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