Dock v. Des Moines Independent Cmty. School Dist., 4:07-cv-00065-RAW.

Decision Date11 February 2009
Docket NumberNo. 4:07-cv-00065-RAW.,4:07-cv-00065-RAW.
PartiesAllisa DOCK, Plaintiff, v. DES MOINES INDEPENDENT CMTY SCHOOL DISTRICT and Sheila Mason, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

Scott Lyle Bandstra, Bandstra Law Firm, P.C., Des Moines, IA, Mark D. Sherinian, Sherinian & Walker PC, West Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.

Nicholas A. Klinefeldt, Ahlers & Cooney PC, Des Moines, IA, for Defendants.


ROSS A. WALTERS, United States Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court following hearing is defendants' motion for summary judgment [21]. Plaintiff Allisa Dock was terminated from her job as a bus associate for the Des Moines Public School District ("District") as a result of an incident between Ms. Dock and her supervisor, Sheila Mason, on March 2, 2006. Ms. Dock filed a petition in the Iowa District Court for Polk County on January 16, 2007 in which she made claims of gender and race discrimination by defendants in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965, Iowa Code ch. 216, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Defendants removed the petition to this Court on February 14, 2007 on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441(a) and (b). The case was referred to the undersigned for all further proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

At hearing plaintiff abandoned her sex discrimination claims. The motion for summary judgment will be granted on those claims and this ruling deals only with plaintiff's race discrimination claims. The motion is submitted on the motion papers and arguments of counsel.


Defendants are entitled to summary judgment if the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits," Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c), presented to the court, show "`that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Carrington v. City of Des Moines, Iowa, 481 F.3d 1046, 1050 (8th Cir.2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)); see Hervey v. County of Koochiching, 527 F.3d 711, 719 (8th Cir.2008). A genuine issue of material fact exists "if it has a real basis in the record." Hartnagel v. Norman, 953 F.2d 394, 395 (8th Cir.1992) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)). A "genuine issue of fact is material if it `might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).

The court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences which can be drawn from them. See Hervey, 527 F.3d at 719; EEOC v. Liberal R-II Sch. Dist., 314 F.3d 920, 922 (8th Cir.2002). Reasonable inferences are "those inferences that may be drawn without resorting to speculation." Mathes v. Furniture Brands Int'l, Inc., 266 F.3d 884, 885-86 (8th Cir.2001) (citing Sprenger v. Fed. Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, 253 F.3d 1106, 1110 (8th Cir. 2001)); see Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348; Riley v. Lance, Inc., 518 F.3d 996, 1001 (8th Cir.2008); Erenberg v. Methodist Hosp., 357 F.3d 787, 791 (8th Cir.2004).

The moving party must first inform the court of the basis for the motion and identify the portions of the summary judgment record which the movant contends demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Robinson v. White County, Ark., 459 F.3d 900, 902 (8th Cir.2006). The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings and by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact." Rouse v. Benson, 193 F.3d 936, 939 (8th Cir.1999); see In re Patch, 526 F.3d 1176, 1180 (8th Cir.2008); Thomas v. Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 526-27 (8th Cir.2007); Littrell v. City of Kansas City, Mo., 459 F.3d 918, 921 (8th Cir.2006).

Summary judgment should be approached with caution in employment discrimination cases because they are "inherently fact based." Simpson v. Des Moines Water Works, 425 F.3d 538, 542 (8th Cir.2005)(quoting Mayer v. Nextel West Corp., 318 F.3d 803, 806 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 823, 124 S.Ct. 153, 157 L.Ed.2d 43 (2003), quoting in turn Keathley v. Ameritech Corp., 187 F.3d 915, 919 (8th Cir.1999)). However, "no separate summary judgment standard exists for discrimination . . . cases and . . . such cases are not immune from summary judgment." Wallace v. DTG Operations, Inc., 442 F.3d 1112, 1118 (8th Cir.2006)(citing Berg v. Norand Corp., 169 F.3d 1140, 1144 (8th Cir. 1999)).


Plaintiff Allisa Dock is an African American woman who had worked with the District since 1987. (Def. App. at 49). In 2005 she was working as a bus associate. (Id.) A bus associate rides school buses with a driver to assist students with disabilities. (Id. at 1). Her mother and sister, Katherine Burrage and Jessie Burrage, also worked as bus associates for the District. (Id. at 2).

Ms. Dock reported to Transportation Supervisor Todd Liston. Mr. Liston reported to either defendant Sheila Mason or Deputy Director of Management Support Services Jerry Weiss. Mr. Liston usually worked with Ms. Mason directly. (Def. App. at 2). Ms. Mason was the Executive Director of Management Support Services for the District. (Id. at 1). In that capacity she supervised the Transportation, Food and Nutrition, Custodial, Purchasing, and Central Stores departments. (Id.) She began employment with the District in August 2005. (Id.) Ms. Mason is Caucasian. She has been involved in a long-term domestic relationship with an African-American male. (Id. at 6).

Ms. Mason's and Mr. Liston's offices are located on the first floor of the District "bus garage." (Def. App. at 2). The bus associates are based out of this building and report to it prior to each route and end their route there. A break room used by the bus associates is also located in the building. (Id.)

The parties dispute how their work relationship began and progressed. Ms. Dock says the relationship initially was friendly. Ms. Mason says Ms. Dock would not respond to her greetings, gave her dirty looks and would leave the room when Ms. Mason entered. Each accuses the other of rolling their eyes at them, giving angry and hostile looks, and making faces during the course of their work relationship.

In October 2005 Ms. Dock approached Ms. Mason to discuss an incident which had occurred before Ms. Mason joined the District. (Def. App. at 3). Ms. Mason says she asked Ms. Dock if she had discussed the incident with Jerry Weiss. Mr. Weiss uses a wheelchair. She says Ms. Dock referred to Mr. Weiss as "Ironside," leading Ms. Mason to tell Ms. Dock the comment was inappropriate. She says at this time she also told Ms. Dock that Ms. Dock was making comments in the workplace about "hat[ing] everybody here" which could not be allowed because they scared people. (Id.) Ms. Dock does not recall referring to Mr. Weiss as "Ironside" or that she ever had a conversation with Ms. Mason on the subject. (Id. at 59). She says any other comments were probably made in a joking manner. (Id.)

The parties had another encounter in November or December 2005 in the break room. Ms. Mason says she was in a meeting when Duane Van Hemert, the Executive Director of Facilities, came and told her "someone [was] causing a commotion in the break room." (Def. App. at 3). When Ms. Mason entered the room, she heard Ms. Dock talking "loudly about how she hated `this place' and how she hated everybody." (Id.) Ms. Mason says she asked Ms. Dock what the problem was and asked her to come back to her office. (Id.) According to Ms. Mason, "Ms. Dock told me that she could do anything she wanted to in there, and refused to come back to my office." (Id.) Ms. Mason left the room.

Apparently referring to this incident, Ms. Dock has testified that prior to Ms Mason entering the break room, a number of people, including her mother, were "joking and laughing, having fun," (Def. App. at 60), and "being loud." (Id. at 58; see also id. at 21). Ms. Dock says that upon entering the room Ms. Mason yelled at Ms. Dock and her mother "[w]hat are you troublemakers doing." (Id. at 58). Ms. Dock responded that she was not a troublemaker and she and her mother left the room. (Id.) She denies that Ms. Mason asked her to come to her office. Ms. Dock says Ms. Mason started rolling her eyes and making faces at her after this incident. (Id. at 60).

According to Ms. Mason after Christmas 2005 she discovered that some 25 years before she had been to the home of another employee in the company of an African-American man she was dating, Kevin Brown. (Def. App. at 3). Ms. Mason said that later Ms. Dock came to her and said she had also dated Mr. Brown and they made a joke about the connection. (Id.) In her deposition Ms. Dock denied that she dated Brown, saying she was a friend of his. (Id. at 64). It was after this discovery, Ms. Dock says, that her relationship with Ms. Mason changed and Ms. Mason started rolling her eyes and making faces at Ms. Dock. (Id. at 76).1

At about the same time the District learned that Ms. Dock's sister, Jessie Burrage,2 had not been reporting to the bus garage at the start of her work day but to the first stop of her bus. (Def. App. at 4). The District made Ms. Burrage report to the bus garage from then on. (Id.) Afterward Ms. Mason saw Ms. Burrage walk in with Ms. Dock and Ms. Dock gave Mason more dirty looks. (Id. at 4).

In her affidavit Ms. Mason describes what she says is another example of the kind of workplace comment Ms. Dock made. An employee was wearing...

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    ...poor attendance record would be considered cause for discipline up to and including termination. See Dock v. Des Moines Ind. Comm'n Sch. Dist., 604 F. Supp. 2d 1230, 1243 (S.D. Iowa 2009) (collecting cases for the proposition that where "the employer's policies provide that the employer may......

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