Lewis v. Heartland Inns of America, L.L.C.

Decision Date13 November 2008
Docket NumberNo. 4:07-cv-00287.,4:07-cv-00287.
Citation585 F.Supp.2d 1046
PartiesBrenna LEWIS, Plaintiff, v. HEARTLAND INNS OF AMERICA, L.L.C., d/b/a Heartland Inn, Ankeny, Barbara Cullinan, and Kristi Nosbisch, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

David J. Dutton, Dutton Braun Staack Hellman Iversen, Erin P. Lyons, Dutton Braun Staack Hellman PLC, Waterloo, IA, for Defendants.

Andrew L. LeGrant, Mark D. Sherinian, Sherinian & Walker PC, West Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.


ROBERT W. PRATT, Chief Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants', Heartland Inns of America, L.L.C. ("Heartland Inns"), Barbara Cullinan ("Cullinan"), and Kristi Nosbisch ("Nosbisch") (collectively "Heartland"), Motion for Summary Judgment and Request for Oral Argument, filed on June 5, 2008. Clerk's No. 14. Plaintiff, Brenna Lewis ("Lewis"), filed a Resistance and Request for Oral Argument on July 14, 2008. Clerk's No. 21. Heartland filed a reply on August 1, 2008. Clerk's No. 28. The Court does not believe that a hearing would materially aid resolution of the issues, and the matter is fully submitted.


Heartland Inns is a domestic limited liability company with its home office in Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa. Compl. at ¶ 5; Answer at ¶ 5. Heartland provides lodging accommodations in eighteen locations throughout Iowa. Heartland Inns website, http://www.heartlandinns. com/ (last visited November 2, 2008).

Lewis worked at the Heartland Inn Waterloo-Crossroads location as a Night Auditor from July 6, 2005 until approximately November 20, 2006. Pl.'s App. at 82. The Night Auditor is a front desk position at the hotel scheduled between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶¶ 7, 17. The Night Auditor is responsible for checking customers in and out, setting up breakfast, and book work. Pl.'s App. at 72, 80. Lewis left her position at the Waterloo-Crossroads location because of a move from the Waterloo area to the Ankeny/Des Moines area. Id. at 66, 81-82. After tendering her resignation and engaging in a brief job search for positions other than available Heartland Inns positions, Lewis, with the assistance of Lisa Gowdy ("Gowdy"), her former General Manager at the Waterloo-Crossroads Heartland Inn, inquired into available positions with Heartland Inns in the Des Moines area. Id.

In December 2006, Lewis started working part-time at both the Altoona and Ankeny Heartland Inn locations and began to train for the Night Auditor position on a part-time basis at the Ankeny location. Id. at 25-26, 39, 84-85, 135. Lewis was offered a fulltime position as a Guest Service Representative ("GSR") by the General Manager of the Ankeny Heartland Inn, Lisa Stifel ("Stifel"), after the morning shift ("A shift") GSR, Morgan Hammer ("Hammer"), tendered her resignation on December 15, 2006.2 Id. at 39.

The A shift GSR position is scheduled between 7:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Id. at 71. The GSR job description states:

[c]reates a warm, inviting atmosphere with helpful, professional services, by discerning, anticipating and providing for the needs of our guests; relays information about accommodations and services available; encourages and receives reservations and performs all related activities. Accurately records changes, conducts cash transactions and related reports.

Defs.' App. at 36. The qualifications for the GSR position listed in the Heartland Inns Personnel Manual [hereinafter "Personnel Manual"] are:

[m]inimum High School or equivalent plus 1 year experience in field which demanded good public relations and sound communication skills. Experience in or the ability to learn operation of cash register, PBX/phone systems, progressive office equipment; pc/software knowledge helpful. Successful retail or commission sales experience helpful.

Id. at 37.

Lewis began to work full-time as the A shift GSR at the Ankeny Heartland Inn following the departure of Hammer on December 29, 2006. Pl.'s App. at 39. The parties dispute, however, the sequence, dates, and content of the interactions between Cullinan, the Director of Operations for Heartland Inns (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶ 1 (hereinafter "Pl.'s Resp. to Facts")) and Lewis, as well as the details of several interactions between Cullinan and Stifel. From Lewis's account, Cullinan first observed Lewis at the Ankeny Heartland Inn in early January 2007. Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 33. Stifel testified that Cullinan, immediately after observing Lewis at the front desk of the Ankeny Heartland Inn, spoke to Stifel in her office about Lewis's appearance. Id. at ¶¶ 34-36; Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶¶ 34-36.3 (hereinafter "Defs.' Resp. to Facts"). Stifel also states that after observing Lewis's appearance, Cullinan expressed concern about Lewis as an A shift GSR, stating she had a "gut feeling" about Lewis, and she asked Stifel to speak to Lewis about dressing more professionally. Pl.'s App. at 39-40, 134. Both parties agree that in the days shortly following these first observations of Lewis, Cullinan also called Stifel to discuss Lewis's appearance and interaction with guests. Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶¶ 39-41, 45, 48; Defs.' Resp. to Facts ¶¶ 39-41, 45, 48. In this phone conversation, Cullinan expressed her unhappiness with the loss of the previous GSR and stated that Lewis lacked the "Midwestern girl look." Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 40. Stifel states that, based on what Cullinan told her, she believed "[Lewis's] appearance, [Lewis's] looks or whatever, was not what Barb wanted on the front desk." Pl.'s App. at 134; Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 45.

On January 9, 2007, Cullinan asked Stifel for her resignation from the position of General Manager at Heartland Inn Ankeny. Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶¶ 58-59. After Stifel's resignation, Stifel told Lewis that Cullinan had said Lewis lacked the "Midwestern girl look." Id. ¶¶ 61-62. Approximately two weeks later, on January 23, 2007, Cullinan met with Lewis in the manager's office at the Ankeny Heartland Inn. Id. ¶ 63. The parties agree that Cullinan told Lewis that she would have to interview for her A shift GSR position. Id. ¶ 64. Beyond this initial agreement, Plaintiff and Defendants describe the tone of this meeting in vastly different terms. Lewis states that she challenged the interview requirement by pointing out that other staff members had not been required to interview under similar circumstances. Id. ¶ 68. She stated that she thought that Cullinan was requiring her to interview because she purportedly did not have the "Midwestern girl look" and alleged "unlawful employment practices." Id. ¶¶ 67-69, 105, 109. Lewis asserts that even though she felt the interview requirement was discriminatory, she neither refused nor agreed to the interview. Id. ¶ 91. Lewis also described her perspectives on several new Heartland Inns' policies, during which Lewis suggested that the new policies were responsible for lower revenues. Id. ¶ 73. Lewis reports that she was upset and cried throughout most of the meeting because she believed that Cullinan wanted her to move back to the Night Auditor position. Id. ¶ 89. Defendants dispute Lewis's characterization of her statements in the meeting and assert that Lewis was argumentative throughout the meeting. Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶ 13. Lewis denies displaying hostility to Cullinan in the January 23, 2007 meeting and asserts that she did not refuse to abide by or express opposition to Heartland Inns' policies, nor did she refuse to be interviewed for the A shift GSR position. Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶¶ 87, 90-92.

Shortly following this encounter, on either January 24 or 25, 2007, Cullinan discussed the January 23 meeting with several of Heartland's human resources and management personnel, namely: Nosbisch, the Human Resource Director for Heartland; Jean Orwig ("Orwig"), a personnel consultant and former Director of Human Resources for Heartland; and Sandy Minard ("Minard"), advisor to the general operations for Heartland. Pl.'s Resp. to Facts ¶¶ 2, 23. Cullinan, Nosbisch, Orwig, and Minard discussed and mutually agreed on the termination of Lewis in this meeting. Id. ¶¶ 24-25; Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶¶ 93-97; Pl.'s App. at 13, 58-59, 113, 120; Defs.' App. at 57. They were primarily concerned about Lewis's confrontational attitude toward Cullinan. Pl.'s App. at 13, 37, 114.

In accordance with Cullinan, Nosbisch, Orwig, and Minard's mutual decision, Lewis's employment was terminated on January 26, 2007. Pl.'s Resp. to Facts ¶ 25; Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 82. Nosbisch and Orwig drafted the Status Change Report that was Lewis's termination notice. See Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 150; Defs.' App. at 58, 159-61. The Status Change Report stated:

Ms. Lewis was advised that a second interview would be necessary to confirm/endorse Ms. Lewis's shift assignment. Ms. Lewis became argumentative and refused the procedure defined, and said Heartland cannot require her to interview for the position. Further discussion of Heartland's rights in scheduling employees to meet the needs of the hotel and explanation of Heartland's policies/procedures to train employees to meet these needs did not bring any visible understanding or acceptance from Ms. Lewis; [sic] She remained argumentative, refusing to accept Heartland's itinerary in processing and developing staff to meet guest needs.

What Ms. Lewis did instead was to voice disagreement with Heartland's most recent policies establishing the Heartland Inns as smoke free, with no pets allowed, and that credit cards are required with guest registrations. Ms. Lewis identified these as the reasons for low hotel occupancy, citing that employees were not a problem, herself included.

Ms. Lewis is openly hostile toward...

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3 cases
  • Lewis v. Heartland Inns of Am.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa
    • February 10, 2011
    ...significantly increased when the Court granted summary judgment to Defendants on all of Lewis' claims. See Lewis v. Heartland Inns of Am., L.L.C., 585 F.Supp.2d 1046 (S.D.Iowa 2008). Yet, despite this setback, Lewis' counsel continued to zealously prosecute her claims and ultimately obtaine......
  • Lewis v. Heartland Inns of America, L.L.C.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • January 21, 2010
    ...The district court recognized that sex stereotyping comments may be evidence of discrimination. Lewis v. Heartland Inns of Am., LLC, 585 F.Supp.2d 1046, 1059 (S.D.Iowa 2008). The focus of its decision was the mistaken view that a Title VII plaintiff must produce evidence that she was treate......
  • Turner v. Kansas City Southern Ry. Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
    • May 19, 2009
    ...to be applied by all of the Circuit Court of Appeals except for the District of Columbia. See Lewis v. Heartland Inns of America, L.L.C., 585 F.Supp.2d 1046, 1062 (S.D.Iowa, 2008); see also, Hinds v. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co., 523 F.3d 1187 (10th Cir.2008) (Tenth Circuit expressly standard ap......

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