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Bowles v. Romulus Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 20, 2016

Bobby L. Bowles, Plaintiff,
Romulus Incorporated. Defendant.


David G. Campbell United States District Judge

Pro se Plaintiff Bobby L. Bowles asserts claims against Defendant Romulus Incorporated for a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Docs. 30, 40. The motions are fully briefed (Docs. 41, 43, 44, 46), and no party has requested oral argument. The Court will grant Defendant’s motion and deny Plaintiff’s motion.

I. Background.

Romulus is a franchisee of IHOP Restaurants. Doc. 31, ¶ 1. Bowles began working as a line cook at a Romulus IHOP on April 9, 2013. Id., ¶ 2. On January 4, 2014, Bowles was working with his coworker Andres Guerro when Guerro became upset about the fact that Bowles was preparing to leave for his second job. Id., ¶ 4. Guerro pulled aside the manager, Angel Wallace, to discuss the matter. Id., ¶¶ 5-6. Moments later, Bowles overheard Wallace reprimanding Guerro for using the N-word. Id., ¶ 7. Bowles acknowledged in his deposition that he did not hear Guerro utter the word, and is unsure of the context in which it was used. Id., ¶ 8. Immediately after Guerro’s remark, Wallace informed Guerro that racially derogatory language was not permitted in the workplace and that future use of this language would result in Guerro’s automatic termination. Id., ¶ 10. The same day, Wallace gave Guerro a written notice labeled “FINAL WARNING, ” which stated that Guerro would be automatically terminated in the event he made any further derogatory remarks. Id., ¶ 12. Guerro assured the company that he understood its policies and would never use this language again. Id., ¶ 13.

On January 15, 2014, Bowles sent a letter to Romulus’s Human Resources Department. Doc. 31-1 at 72-74. The letter offered Bowles’s account of the January 4th incident and expressed his belief that the company’s response was inadequate. Id. The letter further stated that “since the incident . . . Bowles no longer feels comfortable and[] has los[t] his desire [to stay] with this company.” Id. at 73.

Romulus responded to the letter the day it was received, initiating a conversation between Bowles and Cevyn Hall, an employee with Romulus’s Human Resources Department. Doc. 31, ¶ 24. During the conversation, Bowles again described the January 4th incident and expressed his belief that Guerro should be fired. Id., ¶ 25. After assuring Bowles that Romulus took his report seriously and would not tolerate discrimination, Hall arranged for Bowles to meet with Romulus’s District Manager, Sherry Lowary. Id., ¶ 28. At this meeting, Lowary informed Bowles that the company had given Guerro a final warning in response to the incident, and that the company would terminate Guerro immediately if he engaged in any further inappropriate behavior. Id., ¶¶ 31, 34.

Bowles did not raise any additional concerns at the meeting or at any other time during his tenure at Romulus. Id., ¶ 37. Bowles did not report to work on February 15, 2014, and was deemed to have voluntarily resigned his job. Id., ¶ 3.

II. Legal Standard.

A party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, 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 also appropriate against a party who “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

III. Analysis.

A. Hostile Work Environment.

To survive a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff in a hostile work environment case must show a genuine dispute of material fact as to (1) whether a reasonable person of the plaintiff’s background would find the workplace to be a hostile environment, and (2) whether the defendant failed to take adequate remedial and disciplinary action. McGinest v. GTE Serv. Corp., 360 F.3d 1103, 1112 (9th Cir. 2004). Romulus argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because the undisputed facts show that there was no hostile work environment and that the company took adequate remedial and disciplinary action in response to the single instance of racial hostility that occurred during Bowles’s employment at the restaurant. Doc. 30 at 7-13. Bowles counters that he was subjected to daily harassment and intimidation while employed at Romulus, and that Romulus’s response to this hostility was inadequate as a matter of law. Doc. 41 at 8.

1. Work Environment.

Title VII provides that it is “an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). An employer violates this provision by maintaining a hostile work environment. See McGinest, 360 F.3d at 1112. A hostile work environment is one “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult . . . sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment.” Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Whether workplace conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to give rise to a claim for hostile work environment is a question of law. See Fuller v. City of Oakland, 47 F.3d 1522, 1527 (9th Cir. 1995). In evaluating the severity of workplace conduct, courts must take “the perspective of a reasonable person belonging to the racial or ethnic group of the plaintiff.” McGinest, 360 F.3d at ...

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