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Mahler v. First Dakota Title Limited Partnership

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 31, 2019

Pamela J. Mahler Plaintiff - Appellant
First Dakota Title Limited Partnership, a South Dakota Domestic Limited Partnership; Community Title, LLC, a South Dakota Domestic LLC; Dennis C. Anderson, Individually; Shirley A. Thoelke, Individually; Dean Hoag, Jr., Individually Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: May 15, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Sioux City

          Before BENTON, WOLLMAN, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.

          BENTON, Circuit Judge.

         Pamela J. Mahler sued her former employer-First Dakota Title Limited Partnership and Community Title, LLC-and several of its executives-Dennis C. Anderson, Shirley A. Thoelke, and Dean Hoag, Jr.-under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Iowa Civil Rights Act for retaliation, discrimination, and hostile work environment. The district court[1] granted summary judgment to the defendants. Mahler v. First Dakota Title Ltd. P'ship, 2018 WL 1096838 (N.D. Iowa Feb. 28, 2018). Mahler appeals. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.


         Community Title is a limited liability company with two members-First Dakota Title Limited Partnership and D. Hoag, LLC. Title Resource Network (TRN) is a tag line for First Dakota, Community Title, and their subsidiaries. Community Title hired Mahler in 2012 as vice president of one of the TRN umbrella companies. The next year, she was promoted to regional president, responsible for overseeing eight businesses.

         In March 2014, Mahler reported vice president Charity Archer's complaint of discrimination to Dennis Anderson-First Dakota's Chief Executive Officer. A month later, Mahler reported a sexual harassment complaint to Human Resources Director Clay Rees. Mahler and Rees scheduled a mandatory workshop about the sexual harassment policy for all regional employees.

         At a company conference in April, Anderson told all TRN staff that regional presidents should remain at "50, 000 feet" and stay out of day-to-day office work. That fall, Archer complained that Mahler was too involved in the office's day-to-day activities, making it difficult to do her job. At Archer's request, Mahler was moved to the TRN Settlement Services office.

          In February 2015, Anderson emailed Mahler some off-color jokes, explaining "Hopefully the following will not offend you." Mahler responded, "No offense taken and thank you I did get a good laugh out of it." Around the same time, "a lot of staff" at the TRN Settlement Services office asked to meet with Rees about Mahler. According to Rees, "[t]hey did not like the way Pam [Mahler] managed the office. They said that she micromanaged them, was always in their stuff, and they felt they couldn't do anything." Anderson reminded Mahler in March to stay at 50, 000 feet and out of the day-to-day work. He also told her "to not get dragged into the office drama." Later that month, he authorized Mahler to hire one person to fill an open position. She hired two individuals.

         In April, Mahler contacted a Register of Deeds about its work with a TRN company, Union County Abstract & Title. The Register of Deeds complained about quality issues. Instead of contacting Bobbi Jo Dondelinger-the regional president over the Union County office-Mahler went to one of Dondelinger's employees about these issues. Dondelinger complained to Anderson. He then sent an email to Dondelinger and Chief Technology Officer Shirley Thoelke:

After my conversation with Bobbi Jo today it is possible that Pam may cause more problems than we will want to deal with. While I do not expect a major catastrophe to occur before I return on May 4th, I want each of you to know that you have my confidence and support to handle any issue with the Sioux City office as may be necessary, including termination.

         In mid-May, Mahler reported sexual harassment to Rees on behalf of Archer. Mahler also shared her concerns with Anderson. A few days later, she called Rees to discuss the situation again. Later that month, Mahler complained of age discrimination on behalf of another employee. On June 1, Mahler met with Anderson and Thoelke. They told her to spend more time in her office, keep the door shut to avoid becoming involved in the day-to-day activities, and to follow the chain of command. Mahler claims Anderson also accused her of acting like a tyrant. Explaining that Mahler "tends to embellish," Thoelke called Archer the next day to verify what Mahler said. Shortly after, Thoelke asked Archer to keep an eye on Mahler and let her know if Mahler continued inserting herself.

         On June 8, Mahler told Rees about another sexual harassment complaint by Archer. Two days later, Mahler met with Reese to reiterate Archer's complaints, adding a ...

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