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Middleton v. City of Tucson

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 31, 2018

Andrea Middleton, Plaintiff,
City of Tucson, Defendant.


          Honorable Jennifer G. Zipps United States District Judge

         On July 18, 2017, Magistrate Judge Bruce G. Macdonald issued a Report (R&R) (Doc. 69) recommending that the Court grant Defendant City of Tucson's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 53). Judge Macdonald concluded that Plaintiff Andrea Middleton's hostile work environment claim is barred by the statute of limitations and that no reasonable juror could find from the facts that Middleton's resignation was a result of discrimination.

         On August 16, 2017, Middleton filed objections to the R&R. (Doc. 72.) Middleton asserts that her harassment claim is timely because Tucson Police Department (TPD) employee Frank Greene's texts to Plaintiff during her paid administrative leave were part of a continuing pattern of harassment, which brought all of her harassment claims within the statute of limitations under the continuing violation theory. (Doc. 72 at 3.) As to her constructive discharge claim, Middleton asserts Judge Macdonald improperly resolved a factual dispute regarding her motivation to resign. (Doc. 72 at 9.) Defendant filed its response on September 5, 2017. (Doc. 75.)

         After an independent review of the record, the Court will adopt the R&R and grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment.


         A. Review of Report & Recommendation

         When reviewing a Magistrate Judge's R&R, this Court conducts “a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made, ” and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see also Baxter v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1391, 1394 (9th Cir. 1991) (citing Britt v. Simi Valley Unified Sch. Dist., 708 F.2d 452, 454 (9th Cir. 1983)). Failure to object to a Magistrate Judge's recommendation relieves the Court of conducting de novo review of the Magistrate Judge's factual findings; the Court then may decide the dispositive motion on the applicable law. Orand v. United States, 602 F.2d 207, 208 (9th Cir. 1979) (citing Campbell v. United States Dist. Ct., 501 F.2d 196 (9th Cir. 1974)).

         B. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and [ ] the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and a dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Factual disputes that have no bearing on the outcome of a suit are irrelevant to the consideration of a motion for summary judgment. Id.

         Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on an issue at trial, summary judgment is proper where the moving party shows an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In order to withstand a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must present “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. “[A] mere scintilla of evidence” does not preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Moreover, “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         C. Hostile Work Environment Claim

         A hostile work environment claim involves a workplace atmosphere so discriminatory and abusive that it unreasonably interferes with the job performance of those harassed. Brooks v. City of San Mateo, 229 F.3d 917, 923 (9th Cir. 2000). To establish a prima facie case of hostile work environment, a plaintiff must show that: “(1) she was subjected to verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, (2) the conduct was unwelcome, and (3) the conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment.” Craig v. M & O Agencies, Inc., 496 F.3d 1047, 1055 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Fuller v. City of Oakland, 47 F.3d 1522, 1527 (9th Cir. 1995)). The plaintiff must demonstrate that her work environment was both subjectively and objectively hostile; that is, she must show that she perceived her work environment to be hostile, and that a reasonable person in her position would perceive it to be so. Dominguez-Curry v. Nevada Transp. Dep't, 424 F.3d 1027, 1034 (9th Cir. 2005). “Objective hostility is determined by examining the totality of the circumstances and whether a reasonable person with the same characteristics as the victim would perceive the workplace as hostile.” Craig, 496 F.3d at 1055 (citations omitted). Whether the alleged conduct created an objectively hostile work environment requires assessment of all of the circumstances, “including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance.” Clark Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 270-71 (2001).


         The parties do not challenge the Magistrate Judge's factual findings. (Doc. 72, at 10; Doc. 75.) Middleton objects to the R&R's characterization of the facts, arguing that it downplays the abusive nature of her relationship with Greene. (Doc. 72 at 1.) Middleton further objects that the R&R fails to identify the November 2009 incident as work-related harassment.[1] (Doc. 72 at 2.) No other objections were raised as to the remainder of the R&R's factual findings, and hence the factual findings are adopted as supplemented herein. (Doc. 69.)

         III. ...

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