Gunning v. Runyon

Decision Date17 April 1998
Docket NumberNo. 96-0452-Civ.,96-0452-Civ.
Citation3 F.Supp.2d 1423
PartiesPaul Samuel GUNNING, for himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff, v. Marvin T. RUNYON, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida

Austin Carr, Coral Gables, FL, for Plaintiff.

Teresa Davenport, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Miami, FL, for Defendant.

ORDER

MIDDLEBROOKS, District Judge.

THIS CAUSE came before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (DE #52) and upon review of the pending motions in this case. The Court has reviewed the pertinent portions of the record and is otherwise fully advised in the premises.

Introduction

This case involves a claim of religious discrimination and free speech arising out of a United States Postal Office's failure to play a Christian radio station, WMCU, over the station loudspeakers after the employees so chose. In an election in June, 1994, the postal employees conducted an election to determine which radio station would be played on the public address system in the Quail Heights Post Office. The top three radio stations, including WMCU, were played. After complaints, in October of 1994 a second election was conducted to select only one station. WMCU, a Christian radio station, was chosen. Upon the results of the second election, due to the previous complaints over WMCU, the post office turned off the station radio and allowed employees to wear headsets or have small radios at their workplace.

On February 23, 1996, the initial Complaint in this matter was filed, alleging constitutional and statutory violations arising out of the above. On May 22, 1996, Plaintiff moved to certify the initial class of all 170 workers who were employees at the Quail Heights Radio Station since August of 1994, as they comprised the class of the electorate which was given the right to chose the radio station to be played over the public address system. On March 6, 1997, the Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation in this matter and denied without prejudice the initial motion to certify this matter as a class action. On August 30, 1996, an Amended Class Action Complaint was filed, alleging violations of Title VII (Count I); infringement of his constitutional rights to freedom of religion (Count II) and freedom of speech (Count III); and violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (Count IV). On September 16, 1997, Plaintiff filed a Second Motion to Certify the Class Action, and on April 14, 1998, we denied this motion as to the classes proposed by Plaintiff. We now consider the motion by Defendant for summary judgment, filed on September 9, 1997.

Standard of Review

The standard to be applied in reviewing summary judgment motions is contained in Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

Summary judgment may be entered only where there is no genuine issue of material fact. The moving party bears the burden of meeting this standard. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). As the Eleventh Circuit has explained:

In assessing whether the movant has met [its] burden, the courts should view the evidence and all factual inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Adickes, 398 U.S. at 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598; Marsh, 651 F.2d at 991. All reasonable doubts about the facts should be resolved in favor of the non-movant. Casey Enterprises v. Am. Hardware Mutual Ins. Co., 655 F.2d 598 (5th Cir.1981). If the record presents factual issues, the court must not decide them; it must deny the motion and proceed to trial. Marsh, 651 F.2d at 991; Lighting Fixture & Elec. Supply Co. v. Continental Ins. Co., 420 F.2d 1211 (5th Cir.1969). Summary judgment may be inappropriate even where the parties agree on the basic facts, but disagree about the inferences that should be drawn from these facts. Lighting Fixture & Elec. Supply Co., 420 F.2d at 1213. If reasonable minds might differ on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then the court should deny summary judgment. Impossible Electronic, 669 F.2d at 1031; Croley v. Matson Navigation Co., 434 F.2d 73 (5th Cir.1970).

Moreover, the party opposing a motion for summary judgment need not respond to it with any affidavits or other evidence unless and until the movant has properly supported the motion with sufficient evidence. Adickes, 398 U.S. at 160, 90 S.Ct. 1598; Marsh, 651 F.2d at 991. The moving party must demonstrate that the facts underlying all the relevant legal questions raised by the pleadings or otherwise are not in dispute, or else summary judgment will be denied notwithstanding that the non-moving party has introduced no evidence whatsoever. Brunswick Corp. v. Vineberg, 370 F.2d 605, 611-12 (5th Cir.1967). See Dalke v. Upjohn Co., 555 F.2d 245, 248-49 (9th Cir.1977).

Clemons v. Dougherty County, 684 F.2d 1365, 1368-69 (11th Cir.1982); see also Amey, Inc. v. Gulf Abstract & Title, Inc., 758 F.2d 1486 (11th Cir.1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1107, 106 S.Ct. 1513, 89 L.Ed.2d 912 (1986). The United States Supreme Court has provided significant additional guidance as to the evidentiary standard which district courts should apply when ruling on a motion for summary judgment:

[The summary judgment] standard mirrors the standard for a directed verdict under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(a), which is that the trial judge must direct a verdict if, under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict. Brady v. Southern R. Co., 320 U.S. 476, 479-80, 64 S.Ct. 232, 88 L.Ed. 239 (1943).

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The Court in Anderson further acknowledged that "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Id. at 243, 106 S.Ct. 2505. If the non-movant in a summary judgment action fails to adduce evidence which would be sufficient, when viewed in a light most favorable to the non-movant, to support a jury finding in his favor, summary judgment may be granted. Id. at 254-55.

In a companion case, the Supreme Court declared that a non-moving party's failure to prove an essential element of its claim renders all factual disputes as to that claim immaterial and requires the granting of summary judgment:

In our view, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment ... 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. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is "entitled to judgment as a matter of law" because the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-33, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). We measure the motion for summary judgment against these standards.

Analysis

Defendant bases the motion for summary judgment upon four arguments. First, Defendant contends that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his union remedies. Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim under Title VII, as Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case and Defendant has provided a reasonable accommodation. Third, Defendant states that Plaintiff has failed to establish a cause of action under RFRA. Fourth, Defendant suggests that Title VII is Plaintiff's exclusive remedy and accordingly the constitutional claims should be dismissed on summary judgment. We will address each argument as it pertains to each of the Counts in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

I. Count I: The VII Claim

In Count I of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the policies and practices as outlined violate Title VII and, as a result, "Plaintiff and all members of the class have been deprived of the valuable rights and in particular the freedom of religion and Plaintiff and all others similarly situated are entitled to the relief set forth below." (Amended Complaint, ¶ 14).

Religious discrimination claims under Title VII are analyzed under two legal theories: "disparate treatment" and/or "failure to accommodate." It is not clear upon review of the Amended Complaint under which legal theory Plaintiff is proceeding. Plaintiff's Title VII case rests on the allegation that failure to play the radio station deprived him and all others similarly situated of the freedom of religion to listen to a chosen Christian radio station. For the purposes of this summary judgment motion, we will broadly construe Plaintiff's Amended Complaint so as to analyze Plaintiff's claims under both legal theories.

To prevail under a Title VII theory of disparate treatment, Plaintiff must show that he is, or was, treated less favorably than other employees because of his religious beliefs. International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 335 n. 15, 97 S.Ct. 1843, 1854 n. 15, 52 L.Ed.2d 396 (1977); Mann v. Frank, 7 F.3d 1365, 1370 (8th Cir.1993); 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from discrimination on the basis of, inter alia, religion. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) provides:

It shall be an unlawful employment...

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