Wyatt v. Nissan N. Am., Inc.

Decision Date06 December 2019
Docket NumberNO. 3:17-cv-1545,3:17-cv-1545
PartiesLATANYA L. WYATT Plaintiffs, v. NISSAN NORTH AMERICA, INC. Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee



Pending before the Court is Defendant Nissan North America, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 54). Plaintiff has filed a Response (Doc. No. 68), and Defendant has filed a Reply (Doc. No. 73).


Plaintiff Wyatt is an African-American female who began working for Defendant Nissan in August 2012 as a contractor and then as a project manager in the Information Systems ("IS") Application Department. Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Defendant subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her gender, race, and disability, and retaliated against her (including subjecting her to retaliatory harassment) for her protected activity, all in violation of Title VII (42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.), Section 1981 (42 U.S.C. § 1981), and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") (29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.).

In 2013, 2014 and 2015, Plaintiff's supervisors (known as "IS Managers") notified Plaintiff, through performance evaluations and a 2015 "Career Vision" document, that she needed to work more on her role as a project manager and spend less time on technical tasks. (Doc. No. 69 at ¶¶ 4-6). On October 1, 2015, Plaintiff's supervisor removed her as project manager for the project to which she was assigned because he believed she was not appropriately engaged in the project. (Id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff received a "below expectations" performance rating for 2015, and in explaining this rating her supervisor stated, among other things: "Tanya is very technically skilled but she must remain clearly focused on only her specific Project Management responsibilities and not allow herself to become more involved in or distracted by activities and tasks for which she is not responsible." (Id. at ¶ 10). In June 2016, believing that Plaintiff still was not meeting expectations in her project manager role, Plaintiff's supervisor started a performance improvement process with her by issuing her what is known as a "Manager's Performance Improvement Expectations" ("MPIE") and, later, a 90-Day Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"). (Id. at ¶¶ 12-15).

Plaintiff alleges that one of Defendant's senior managers, Walter Mullen, sexually harassed her. Plaintiff claims that Mullen's discriminatory conduct toward her began with his making inappropriate sexual and racial comments to and about her and others. (Doc. No. 74 at ¶ 3). She claims that Mullen's conduct escalated into his "continuously touching her, rubbing her shoulders and back down to her buttocks, and making her uncomfortable." (Id. at ¶ 6). She alleges that on September 2, 2015, Mullen invited her to lunch and, on a false premise, insisted that she visit his hotel room, where he sexually harassed and assaulted her and would not allow her to leave theroom. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-9).2 Plaintiff testified that once Mullen let her leave the hotel room, she rode back to the office with him after a lot of coercing and apologizing and crying. (Doc. No. 70-3 at 70 (Dep. at 333)). Plaintiff claims that after she rebuffed his advances, Mullen had her removed from a large project at work and continued his sexual harassment of her, despite her opposition. (Doc. No. 70-2 at 44-45 (Dep. R 214-15); see also Doc. No. 70-8 at 72).

On December 3, 2015, Plaintiff reported, to two of Defendant's Human Resources ("HR") representatives, the alleged September 2, 2015 sexual harassment by Mullen. (Doc. No. 69 at ¶ 24-26). HR investigated Plaintiff's allegations and determined that Mullen should be fired. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-29). Mullen resigned on December 13, 2015, ten days after Plaintiff's report to HR and before HR could notify him of its decision. (Id. at ¶ 31). Plaintiff took medical leave for back surgery beginning December 8, 2015, five days after she reported Mullen's alleged behavior to HR. (Doc. No. 70-1 at 17). Despite being on medical leave at the time, Plaintiff complains that Defendant did not inform her that it had investigated her complaint or that it had taken remedial action. (Doc. No. 74 at ¶¶ 30 and 38).

Plaintiff asserts that in May 2016, when she was approved to return to work with restrictions after having back surgery, Defendant retaliated against her for having opposed sexual harassment, for having exercised medical leave, and for having requested reasonable accommodations by demanding additional documentation of her need for accommodations. (Doc. No. 74 at ¶¶ 50 and 52). She also claims that throughout 2016, her supervisor and one of Defendant's HR employees harassed her about her medical conditions and her requested accommodations. (Id. at ¶ 51). She contends that Defendant said it could no longer accept hermedical restrictions and arbitrarily refused to accommodate her physician's request for her to have a 40-hour workweek. (Id. at ¶ 63).

Plaintiff testified that two managers at Nissan made "highly offensive racial remarks" in the workplace and that she reported those remarks to her IS Manager. (Doc. No. 70-3 at 44-46, 55, 59-60 (Dep. at 307-09, 318, 322-23); Doc. No. 74 at ¶ 4).3 Plaintiff asserts that Mullen made comments about her "chocolate skin" and called her his "brownie bite." (Id. at ¶ 5).

In February of 2017, Plaintiff took a leave of absence, citing medical reasons. (Doc. No. 69 at ¶ 16). Prior to the February 2017 leave, Plaintiff had taken medical leave three other times, and at the conclusion of each of her prior leaves, Defendant restored Plaintiff to her position as a project manager. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-18). As Plaintiff agreed in response to Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, as of February 26, 2019 (the date her response was filed) she remained on medical leave from her employment with Nissan. (Id. at ¶ 16).


Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported 307-09, 318, 322-23 motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). In other words, even if genuine, a factual dispute that is irrelevant or unnecessary under applicable law is of no value in defeating a motion for summaryjudgment. See id. at 248. On the other hand, "summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is 'genuine[.]'" Id.

A fact is "material" within the meaning of Rule 56(c) "if its proof or disproof might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A genuine dispute of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Harris v. Klare, 902 F.3d 630, 634-35 (6th Cir. 2018).

The party bringing the summary judgment motion has the initial burden of identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute over material facts. Pittman v. Experian Info. Sols., Inc., 901 F.3d 619, 627-28 (6th Cir. 2018). If the summary judgment movant meets that burden, then in response the non-moving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 628. A party asserting that a fact cannot be or genuinely is disputed—i.e., a party seeking summary judgment and a party opposing summary judgment, respectively—must support the assertion by citing to materials in the record, including, but not limited to, depositions, documents, affidavits or declarations. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A).

The court should view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Pittman, 901 F.3d at 628. Credibility judgments and weighing of evidence are improper. Hostettler v. College of Wooster, 895 F.3d 844, 852 (6th Cir. 2018). As noted above, where there is a genuine dispute as to any material fact, summary judgment is not appropriate. Id. The court determines whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper jury question. Id. The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position will be insufficient to survive summary judgment; rather, there must be evidenceupon which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).


"Title VII affords employees the right to work in an environment free from discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult." Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 66 (1986). A plaintiff may establish a violation of Title VII by proving that discrimination based on gender or race has created a hostile or abusive work environment. Id. To establish a claim of hostile work environment, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was subjected to unwelcomed harassment; (3) the harassment was based on race or gender; (4) the harassment created a hostile work environment; and (5) employer liability exists for such harassment. Ladd v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., Inc., 552 F.3d 495, 500 (6th Cir. 2009); Myrick v. Publix Super Mkts., Inc., Civil No. 3:16-cv-690, 2017 WL 2362491, at * 6 (M.D. Tenn. May 31, 2017). The last element, employer liability, entails a showing that "the defendant knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to act." Shoap v. City of Crossville, 321 F. Supp. 3d 839, 847 (M.D. Tenn. 2018).

Defendant takes aim at element four, arguing that Plaintiff has not shown the alleged harassment to be...

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