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Godoy-Guzman v. Unified Government of Wyandotte County

United States District Court, D. Kansas

December 18, 2019




         Plaintiff Kemuel Godoy-Guzman brings this action against his former employer, Defendant Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, alleging disparate treatment, hostile work environment, retaliation, and retaliatory harassment[1] in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. Defendant moves for summary judgment on all claims. Doc. 43. For the following reasons, the Court denies Defendant's request for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims for retaliation-to the extent that claim is premised on Plaintiff's termination-and retaliatory harassment. But the Court grants Defendant's request for summary judgment on Plaintiff's disparate treatment and hostile work environment claims, and on his claim for retaliation on all other bases.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         A. Plaintiff's Employment History

         In October 2013, Defendant-a municipality located in Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas-hired Plaintiff as a Fleet Maintenance Worker in its Public Works/Fleet Services Division. Doc. 30 at 2 ¶¶ 1, 3-4. Two months later, Plaintiff was elevated to the position of Fleet Maintenance Technician I. Id. at 2 ¶ 5. During his employment with Defendant, Plaintiff was responsible for performing preventative maintenance on and repairing Defendant's vehicles, including vehicles used by Defendant's Police Department and Sheriff's Department. Doc. 44 at 5 ¶ 13.

         B. September 2015 Harassment Complaint

         Beginning in 2015, Plaintiff-who is Hispanic and was born in Mexico (Doc. 30 at 2 ¶ 2)- was subjected to a number of derogatory race- and national-origin-based remarks by his coworkers. The comments were principally made by Patrick Garrett (initially a Fleet Maintenance Technician II, and then, as of August 27, 2015, Lead Fleet Maintenance Technician), Rita Adams (Clerk II), Steve Stratton (Fleet Maintenance Technician II), and Shawn Vanderwerf (Fleet Maintenance Technician II). Doc. 44 at 10 ¶ 29. The uncontroverted evidence establishes the following comments:

• When Plaintiff spoke English, Plaintiff's coworkers made fun of his accent and told him to “speak English” (even though he was). Id. at 10 ¶ 30.
• When a dispatcher announced crimes such as auto theft over the police radio (which the fleet services employees could hear in the police vehicles they were servicing), Garrett commented to Plaintiff that the thieves were his “cousins.” Id.
• After Garrett's truck was stolen, Garrett commented to Plaintiff that Garrett knew Plaintiff's cousins did it and that Garrett's truck was “probably in Mexico by now.” Id.
• Plaintiff's coworkers called him “KG” instead of his full name because they had difficulty pronouncing it. Id.
• When Plaintiff spoke to his family members on the phone in Spanish, Stratton told Plaintiff to “speak English, this is America.” Id.
• When Plaintiff played Mexican music in the shop his coworkers told him to turn it off, but when other genres of music were played, no one was told to turn off the music. Id.
• Garrett and Stratton asked Plaintiff if he was related to Mexican drug cartel leader El Chapo. Id.
• Garrett told Plaintiff that he looked too “Mexican” without his glasses and that Garrett did not like that. Doc. 52 at 10 ¶ 24.
• Garrett alleged Plaintiff was going to Texas to buy or sell cocaine. 10 ¶ 28.
• After Plaintiff injured his back at work, Vanderwerf accused Plaintiff of faking the injury and “putting down” his Mexican race because Mexicans were supposed to be hard workers. Id. at 10 ¶ 30.
• When Plaintiff showed photos of his baby, who is light-skinned, Vanderwerf asked Plaintiff if he was sure the baby was his and told him he should get a DNA test. Doc. 44 at 10 ¶ 30. This prompted Plaintiff to stop showing pictures of his children to his coworkers. Doc. 52 at 10 ¶ 23.

         This conduct culminated in an incident on September 9, 2015 involving Adams and Garrett. Doc. 44 at 11 ¶ 31. At lunch, Adams, apparently incensed that her food order from a Mexican restaurant was incorrect, complained: “Motherfuckers couldn't get my order right. Bitches. That's why I hate those fucking wetbacks. They need to go back to their fucking country.” Id. Noticing Plaintiff-who was also sitting and eating his lunch-Adams continued: “No offense, but I fucking hate them.” Id. Garrett subsequently walked in and Plaintiff told Garrett about Adams's comment. Id. In response, Garrett took an unopened bottle of water that was sitting on a table, began opening it, and stated, “Hey KG. Turn around and let me pour this down your back.” Id. When Plaintiff asked what Garrett meant, Garrett claimed he was joking. Id.

         That same day, Plaintiff called Defendant's Human Resources Department (“HR”) to report that he had been subject to unwanted comments and treatment by some of his coworkers. Id. at 10 ¶ 27. Plaintiff discussed his complaint with Renee Ramirez (HR Director) and Shakeva Christian (HR Manager) on the phone two days later. Id. at 10 ¶ 29. During the call, Plaintiff told Ramirez and Christian that several employees-including Garrett, Adams, Stratton, and Vanderwerf-had made jokes and remarks regarding his race or national origin. Id.

         Ramirez and Christian investigated Plaintiff's complaints and, at the conclusion of the investigation, recommended that Garrett, Adams, and Stratton be disciplined for violation of Defendant's Harassment in the Workplace policy.[3] Id. at 14 ¶¶ 45-46. Merle McCullough-who, as Fleet Services Supervisor, was in charge of the Fleet Services Division (Id. at 4 ¶ 6)-followed their advice and issued the recommended discipline. Id. at 15 ¶ 47. Stratton was issued a written warning, Adams was suspended without pay for one day, and Garrett was suspended without pay for five days. Id. at 14 ¶ 46. All three employees were also required to attend training aimed at preventing workplace harassment. Id.

         Following Plaintiff's harassment complaint and the resultant discipline, Plaintiff's coworkers no longer made jokes or comments about his race or national origin. Id. at 15 ¶ 53. Indeed, Plaintiff felt that Garrett, Adams, and Stratton limited or avoided interacting with him. Id. at 15 ¶ 51. But, although his coworkers no longer made such remarks, they made other comments regarding Plaintiff's complaint to HR. Id. at 15 ¶ 53. For example, Lawrence “Bubba” Harvey made comments such as “watch out what you're saying because KG is here, he might go to Human Resources and report” and “I don't care if you report me or not.” Id. Other comments by Plaintiff's coworkers included: “Don't say nothing because we have a crybaby here”; “Somebody is going to go to Human Resources”; “That didn't offend you, did it?”; and “Did I say something wrong?” Id. Plaintiff did not report these comments to HR because he did not want to look like he would go to HR “every time for any little thing” and, because the race- and national-origin-based comments had stopped, he thought he could handle “the other stuff.” Id. at 16 ¶ 54.

         Plaintiff also claims that, following his complaint to HR, he received harder and more complicated work. Plaintiff alleges that Vanderwerf would leave the harder repairs for him so that, if the repairs took a long time or didn't get done, Plaintiff would look bad. Id. at 17 ¶ 61. Plaintiff also alleges that Garrett-who, as Lead Fleet Maintenance Technician, had the ability to assign work-related tasks to other technicians (Id. at 13 ¶ 40)-gave him the hardest and most complicated work. Id. at 18 ¶ 64.

         C. Plaintiff's Discipline and Retaliation Complaint

         Around this time, in late 2015, Plaintiff applied for a promotion and, effective November 5, 2015, was elevated to the position of Fleet Maintenance Technician II. Doc. 30 at 3 ¶ 10; Doc. 52 at 15 ¶ 68. McCullough opposed Plaintiff's promotion because he had concerns about Plaintiff's work performance-even though Plaintiff had not been issued any discipline for poor work, or any other reason, in 2015. Doc. 44 at 16 ¶ 56; Doc. 52 at 15 ¶ 69. Because Plaintiff was the highest seniority applicant, he was ultimately awarded the position. Doc. 44 at 16 ¶ 56. Shortly after Plaintiff was promoted, McCullough assigned Plaintiff to repair a bus that other mechanics had been unable to fix. Id. at 18 ΒΆ 66. When Plaintiff was ...

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