Smith v. DataCard Corp.

Decision Date24 June 1998
Docket NumberNo. CIV. 3-96-1015.,CIV. 3-96-1015.
Citation9 F.Supp.2d 1067
PartiesCereatha SMITH, Plaintiff, v. DATACARD CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation, and Jack Reher, an individual, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Jerrod Myron Smith, Kenneth U. Udoibok, Smith & Udoibok, Minneapolis, MN, for Plaintiff.

Barbara Jean D'Aquila, Patrick R. Martin, Cosgrove, Flynn & Gaskins, P.L.L.P., Minneapolis, MN, for Defendants.


MAGNUSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Based on the record and the arguments of the parties, the Court determines that Defendants' motion should be granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff Cereatha Smith is an African-American woman who worked as an evening janitor for Defendant DataCard Corporation ("DataCard") from June 22, 1992, until her termination on June 12, 1996. DataCard is a security company that is incorporated in Delaware and is principally located in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Defendant Jack Reher was Smith's supervisor at DataCard during the entire term of her employment.

From 1993 until her termination, Smith claims that DataCard employees subjected her to continuous sex and racial discrimination and harassment. (See Smith Aff. ¶ 14.) Smith asserts that the harassment intensified after she began complaining to Reher in 1994 about the conduct of three fellow DataCard employees: Scott Lindberg, Tony Case, and Darin Clark. (See id.) Smith makes a variety of allegations concerning these three employees. These allegations are outlined below.

Smith asserts that Lindberg, Case, and Clark smoked and sold marijuana on DataCard premises. (See id. ¶¶ 17, 18.) Smith claims that she reported this activity to Reher in 1995, but that no action was taken. (See id. ¶¶ 19, 20.) Moreover, all three men allegedly threatened Smith and her family after she told Reher about their conduct. (See id. ¶¶ 17-21.) Specifically, Smith alleges that Case and Clark threatened to rig her car so that it would crash. (See id. ¶ 19.) The two men also allegedly vandalized her car, although she admits that she did not witness it. (See Smith Dep. at 683.) Smith further alleges that they told her to keep quiet or else they would hire someone to kill her. (See Smith Aff. ¶ 19.)

On one occasion, Case allegedly brought a handgun to work and fired it inside the building. (See id.) At the time he fired the gun, Smith was walking down the hallway on the opposite side of a closed doorway from the area where Case was standing. (See id.; Smith Dep. at 710, 732) Upon hearing the noise of the gunshot, Smith proceeded to open the door and joined the group in conversation for about ten minutes. (See Smith Dep. 710-11, 731.) Smith further testified that Case could not have seen her prior to firing the gun, that the shot was not fired at the hallway door through which she came, and that Case never pointed the gun at her or threatened her during the conversation. (See id. at 730-33.) On another occasion, in 1996, Case allegedly followed Smith in his truck as Smith was driving home after work. (See Smith Aff. ¶ 21.) Smith claims that she felt threatened and nearly lost control of her car as she sped to get away. (See id.) Smith maintains that "[m]any other incidents of threats occurred" while she was a DataCard employee, but that she "will limit to the above-referenced incidents until trial." (Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n at 5.)

Smith also asserts that she was subject to physical abuse during her employment tenure. She claims that in 1995 Lindberg mixed chemicals in her cleaning bottle several times. (See Smith Aff. ¶ 28; Smith Dep. at 647.) On one occasion, Smith maintains that when she used the bottle it caused a burning irritation to her eyes and skin, and that her nose bled. (See Smith Aff. ¶ 28; Smith Dep. at 652-53.) She admits, however, that she never saw Lindberg mix her chemicals; instead, Smith claims that Clark told her. (See Smith Dep. at 647.)

In addition, on one occasion Smith received an electrical shock from her vacuum cleaner. She claims that the shock resulted from Lindberg purposefully tampering with it. (See id.) Again, there were no eyewitnesses, but Smith claims that she learned the identity of the vandal from Case and Clark. (See id.) Lindberg denies any knowledge of involvement. (See Lindberg Dep. at 47-48.) Moreover, Case and Clark deny relaying this information to Smith, or having any knowledge about the alleged incident. (See Clark Dep. at 66, 67; Case Dep. at 34.) Finally, Smith claims that on at least two occasions, in 1995 and 1996, Lindberg urinated in Smith's workgloves and spat on her cleaning supplies. (See Smith Aff. ¶ 32.) Again, Smith claims that she reported these events to Reher, but that he took no action. (See id.)

Smith further claims that she was subjected to continual harassment and discriminatory conduct because of her race and gender. Smith contends that Lindberg, Case, and Clark regularly used foul language when addressing her. (See id. ¶ 15.) Specifically, Smith claims that Lindberg referred to her as "bitch" throughout their employment relationship. (See id.) However, in her deposition, Smith states that Lindberg called her "bitch" on three occasions. (See Smith Dep. at 580-81.) Each time she reported the event to Reher. (See id. at 580-603.) After the third time, Lindberg never addressed her in that manner again. (See Smith Dep. at 603.)

Smith also claims that she was often called "nigger" by fellow employees. (See Smith Aff. ¶ 15.) Again, in her deposition, Smith stated that Case and Lindberg used the word only on particular occasions. (See Smith Dep. at 841-43, 845, 855, 861.) Specifically, Smith testified that Case used the word "three or four times." (Id. at 843, 861.) As for Lindberg, Smith stated that he used the word to address her "at least two times." (Id.) Moreover, she testified that Lindberg called her a "nigger bitch" several times in the course of one evening in 1995. (See id. at 855.) Smith spoke with Reher on three or four occasions, complaining about the language. (See id. 878-79.) Reher called a meeting of the night cleaning crew and informed them that the name-calling and racial slurs needed to stop. (See id. at 880.) He also shifted the schedule of a co-worker, Jim Benimon, so that he could attend to any issues that might arise. (See id. at 871-72, 880.) After that point, Lindberg and Case did not use racial epithets. (See id. at 877.)

Lindberg, Case, and Clark allegedly talked about sexual matters "all the time." (See id. at 957.) These comments included persistent references to engaging in sex, asking Smith about her sexual activity, and commenting about Smith's bust size. (See id. at 954-59.) In addition, the men allegedly touched their private parts through their clothing in Smith's presence. (See id. at 959-60.) Smith discussed this conduct with Reher. (See id. at 963, 966.) At a staff meeting, Reher told the three men to stop their conduct. (See id. at 966.) Thereafter, the men did not talk about sexual matters with Smith. (See id. at 967.)

Lindberg also allegedly engaged in other conduct that Smith found offensive. Specifically, Lindberg allegedly: once told Smith to "kiss his big white ass"; took food from Smith's lunch pail without her permission; and discussed Smith's menstrual cycle. (See id. at 654-55, 663-73, 954-56.) Lindberg moved to the day shift on March 17, 1995. (See Lindberg Dep. 29, 100.)

In addition, Smith alleges that Lindberg, Case, and Clark grabbed her breasts "on many occasions." (See Smith Aff. ¶ 22.) Moreover, she claims that these men would simulate sexual acts in her presence. (See id.) Smith asserts that she reported these lewd acts to Reher, but that he did nothing. (See id.)

Smith maintains that she developed pain in her wrists and hands in the spring of 1996. (See id. ¶ 9.) Smith alleges that she asked Reher to accommodate her condition by placing weight restrictions on the amount she could lift, but that he refused to act. (See id.) At one point, when Smith complained to Reher about her condition, he allegedly responded by stating: "If you can't cut the mustard, leave." (Id.) Smith claims that the only help she received was the voluntary assistance of a co-workers, Jim Benimon and Georgia Jensen. (See id.; Smith Dep. at 976-77.)

In May 1996, Smith informed Reher and DataCard that she would be undergoing surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome in her right wrist. She requested short-term disability and Family and Medical Leave, which DataCard approved. (See id. at 923.) Smith's last day of work was on June 4, 1996, and she underwent surgery the following day. (See id.)

Around that same time, information about Smith's alleged alcohol use on the job came to the attention of Lynnette Phenix, a human resources employee at DataCard. Phenix learned about the situation in late May 1996 from Sharon White. (See Phenix Aff. at ¶ 6.) White, who is African-American, worked as a night computer operator for DataCard. (See id. ¶ 5; White Dep. at 47.) White had reported to her supervisor that she suspected five employees from the night cleaning crew drank while on the job, including: Smith, Benimon, Case, Clark, and Tony Wolfe. (See White Dep. at 47.) Of those, Smith and Benimon were the only employees that White eye-witnessed with alcohol while inside the DataCard building. (See id. at 48.) During Phenix's investigation, the information about Smith and Benimon was corroborated by another night crew employee, Georgia Jensen. (See Phenix Aff. ¶ 11.) No other employees interviewed during the investigation had first-hand knowledge of alcohol or drug use on DataCard premises. (See id. ¶¶ 10-12 16.) During the initial phase of Phenix's investigation, Reher was not contacted because it was unknown...

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