United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
ROBERTO A. LANGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Debra-Lyn Clayton (Clayton) sued her former employer
Defendant Sioux Steel Company (Sioux Steel) under Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
et seq. Doc. 1. She asserted claims for racial
discrimination, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and
retaliation. Doc. 1. Sioux Steel has moved for summary
judgment on all claims, Doc. 13, which Clayton opposed, Doc.
18. For the reasons explained below, this Court grants Sioux
Steel's motion for summary judgment.
Fact Not Subject to Genuine Dispute
March 15, 2010, Clayton began employment with Sioux Steel as
a shipping clerk. Doc. 14 at ¶ 1; Doc. 19 at ¶ 1.
Part of Clayton's job duties were to produce internal and
external reports, coordinate operations, and direct support
staff. Doc. 1 at ¶ 8. Clayton's position also
required her to have interactions with co-workers, customers,
and third-party vendors. Doc. 1 at ¶ 8; Doc. 14 at
¶ 2; Doc. 19 at ¶ 2.
identifies several incidents at work to support her claims.
First, in 2013 or 2014, a supervisor made a statement to another
co-worker about Clayton engaging in sexual activities with
men in the woman's restroom at work. Doc. 1 at ¶ 10;
Doc. 15-1 at 26. Clayton confronted the supervisor and the
supervisor stated he would stop making such statements. Doc.
15-1 at 26. Clayton never heard the statement again and did
not to report the incident to Human Resources (HR). Doc. 15-1
during this same period, co-worker Autrie Kimble (Kimble)
told other coworkers that Clayton was having affairs at work.
Doc. 1 at ¶ 10; Doc. 15-1 at 26. Clayton was told by a
co-worker about the statement made by Kimble, and then never
heard the comment again. Doc. 15-1 at 26-27. Clayton's
supervisor knew Clayton was upset for some reason, but
Clayton declined to disclose to the supervisor why she was
upset because Kimble is associated with Clayton's
ex-husband. Doc. 15-1 at 27.
2013 or 2014, during an "in-house" weight loss
challenged designed to improve employee health, co-worker
Sarah Larson (Larson) approached Clayton and asked her if she
cheated by wearing ankle weights during a weigh in. Doc. 1 at
¶ 10; Doc. 15-1 at 27. Clayton stated in her deposition
that Larson approached her and asked her about cheating
"because she got caught, too." Doc. 1 at ¶ 10;
Doc. 15-1 at 27. Clayton reported this conversation to
Supervisor Craig Stein (Stein) who discussed the situation
with HR. Doc. 15-1 at 27. Clayton was required to re-weigh
in, but she did not hear the rumor again. Doc. 15-1 at 27.
Clayton admitted in her deposition that she has "no
idea" how this incident is related to race or sex
discrimination. Doc. 15-1 at 27.
December 16, 2014, co-worker Justin Wulf (Wulf) stated to
Clayton, "I was told you're a lesbian. Are you a
lesbian?" Doc. 1 at ¶ 10; Doc. 15-1 at 28. Wulf
explained that the reason he asked was because co-worker Troy
Brown (Brown) told him that Clayton was a lesbian. Doc. 15-1
at 28. Clayton confronted Brown about his alleged statements,
and Brown then complained to Sioux Steel management about
Clayton because he felt threatened by Clayton. Doc. 14 at
¶ 44; Doc. 19 at ¶ 44. Shipping Manager Dan Lueders
(Lueders) and Director of Human Resources Mi
(Jess) met with Clayton to obtain her account of the
encounter. Doc. 14 at ¶ 45; Doc. 19 at ¶ 45.
Clayton was advised to report this type of conduct to
management should it occur again to allow management to
initiate appropriate review. Doc. 14 at ¶ 45; Doc. 19 at
¶ 45. Wulf received a Final Conduct Corrective action on
December 18, 2014, for sharing rumors and disrupting the
workplace by asking Clayton if she was a lesbian. Doc. 14 at
¶ 47; Doc. 19 at ¶ 47. On December 19, 2014,
Clayton received a Final Conduct Corrective Action for
conducting her own investigation in a threatening manner.
Doc. 14 at ¶ 46; Doc. 19 at ¶ 46.
January 2015, co-worker Ibrahim Ibrahim (Ibrahim) was
speaking Arabic on the phone to his mother overseas. Doc. 14
at ¶ 49; Doc. 15-1 at 35. After Ibrahim ended the
conversation, Clayton said: "Why can't you just talk
English so we can understand?" Doc. 15-1 at 35. On February
10, 2015, following an investigation into this incident,
Clayton received a Final Conduct Corrective Action for making
inappropriate statements. Doc. 14 at ¶ 50; Doc. 19 at
in her brief in opposition to summary judgment, pointed to
three other incidents she discussed in her deposition to
support her claims. Doc. 20 at 2-3, 4. As to the first
incident, Clayton asserts "Employer generated (Randy
Iverson) (false) accusation of breaking the leg of a Plains
Express driver." Doc. 1 at ¶ 10; Doc. 15-1 at 28.
Clayton testified in her deposition that someone asked her if
she broke a driver's leg because Iverson said she did.
Doc. 15-1 at 28. Clayton confronted Iverson, and he said it
was a joke. Clayton stated that she did not find the comment
funny. Doc. 15-1 at 28. Iverson apologized, and Clayton never
heard the accusation again. Doc. 15-1 at 28.
Clayton testified in her deposition that co-workers were
tampering with her work area. Doc. 15-1 at 29. Clayton stated
that co-workers would unplug wires to her computer and take
candy out of her desk when she was away from her desk. Doc.
15-1 at 29. Clayton did not report any such incidents to HR
because she considered them to be minor. Doc. 15-1 at 30.
Clayton asserts she was accused of performing surveillance
operations directed against co-workers Greg Pina (Pina) and
Kristen Grout (Grout). Doc. 1 at ¶ 10; Doc. 15-1 at
28-30. Clayton said she timed Pina when he went outside to
see how long it took him to perform a task because she
believed he was smoking outside. Doc. 15-1 at 30. Clayton
also took a picture of Pina breaking into a different
co-worker's desk as a joke. Doc. 15-1 at 29. Clayton did
not bring this picture to HR but instead posted it on
Facebook. Doc. 15-1 at 29. Regarding the accusation from
Grout, Grout approached Clayton and accused her of taking
pictures of her, which Clayton denied. Doc. 15-1 at 28.
However, Clayton took pictures of cigarette butts, gave the
pictures to HR, and reported different co-workers for smoking
on the premises. Doc. 15-1 at 28.
early 2015, Sioux Steel assigned Clayton and three other
co-workers to different positions. Doc. 14 at ¶ 3; Doc.
19 at ¶ 3. Clayton was moved to an administrative
position with the warranty and transportation department.
Doc. 14 at ¶ 4; Doc. 19 at ¶ 4. On February 23,
2015, Jean Simonton (Simonton) was moved from Sioux
Steel's Lennox, South Dakota facility to take over
Clayton's shipping clerk position in the Sioux Falls,
South Dakota facility. Doc. 14 at ¶¶ 5-6. Clayton
was assigned to train Simonton on her new position. Doc. 14
at ¶ 7; Doc. 19 at ¶ 7. Clayton stated that she was
not going to let Simonton mess up the process she had in
place. Doc. 15-1 at 12.
morning of March 26, 2015, Clayton and Simonton had an
altercation. Doc. 14 at ¶ 11; Doc. 15-1 at 16; Doc. 19
at ¶ 11. Clayton entered Simonton's office to tell
her she "messed up the schedule." Doc. 15-1 at 16;
Doc. 16-1 at 1. As Clayton entered the office, she approached
Simonton who was sitting at her desk. Doc. 15-1 at 17.
Clayton came around the desk to look at Simonton's screen
and asked her to pull up the schedule. Doc. 15-1 at 17.
Clayton asked her three times what was wrong with the
schedule and then explained to Simonton what was wrong. Doc.
16-1 at 1; Doc. 15-1 at 17. At the end of the encounter,
Clayton told Simonton to stop telling people that she was not
training her. Doc. 15-1 at 16. Clayton was angry with
Simonton because she had heard that Simonton was complaining
to other co-workers about her training. Doc. 14 at ¶ 14;
Doc. 19 at ¶ 14. Simonton felt that Clayton's words
and conduct were threatening and sent out a facility-wide
page asking for help from HR or the chief operating officer.
Doc. 14 at ¶ 13; Doc. 15-1 at 18. Simonton reported that
she felt unsafe after the conversation with Clayton
escalated. Doc. 14 at ¶¶ 11-12; Doc. 16-1 at 1.
immediately began an investigation into the incident. Doc.
14at¶15;Doc. 16at¶2. Jess first met with Simonton
and Clayton separately so they could both explain their side
of the encounter. Doc. 14 at ¶ 16; Doc. 16-1 at 1-2.
Next, Jess, Sioux Steel Chief Operation Officer Mike Steele
(Steele), and Operations Manager Shane Weber (Weber)
interviewed two employees who witnessed the encounter. Doc.
14 at ¶ 17. Doc. 16-1 at 2-3. One employee reported
during the interview that he perceived Clayton as being
"out of line" with Simonton based on her tone and
interaction with Simonton, and at one point, it appeared
Clayton took steps towards Simonton which prompted Simonton
to send out the facility-wide page. Doc. 14 at ¶ 19; Doc.
16-1 at 2. The other employee reported that Clayton was
"pissed" and "she was very rude when working
with Jean [Simonton]." Doc. 21 at¶ 19. Doc. 16-1 at
same day, Clayton, Simonton, Steele, Weber, Production
Supervisor Terry Luden (Luden), and Jess met to discuss the
incident. Doc. 14 at ¶ 22; Doc. 16-1 at 3; Doc. 15-1 at
.19-20. Simonton expressed during the meeting how she did not
feel safe around Clayton based on how the encounter that
morning escalated. Doc. 14 at ¶ 22; Doc. 16-1 at 3.
Simonton added that the encounter was not the first time
Clayton raised her voice or had shown anger or rage towards
her. Doc. 14 at ¶ 24; Doc. 16-1 at 3. Clayton responded
that she used her normal voice and did not think others would
perceive it as being loud. Doc. 14 at ¶ 25; Doc. 16-1 at
end of the meeting, Steele told Simonton and Clayton not to
communicate with each other while the investigation continued
into the matter. Doc. 15-1 at 20; Doc. 16-1 at 4. Clayton
specifically recounted that Steele stated, "if we saw
each other in the hallway, one is supposed to go the other
way." Doc. 14 at ¶ 27; Doc. 19 at ¶ 27. Later
that same day and on the following day of March 27, 2015,
Clayton sent several emails to Simonton. Doc. 14 at ¶
28; Doc. 15-1 at ¶ 28; Doc. 19 at ¶ 5. Clayton
admits that she contacted and communicated with Simonton even
though Steele told her not to. Doc. 14 at ¶ 29; Doc. 19
at ¶ 29. Simonton reported to HR and management that
Clayton continued to contact her through email. Doc. 14 at
¶ 30; Doc. 16-2 at 5.
March 27, 2015, Jess, Weber, and Shipping Supervisor Travis
Finn (Finn) met with Clayton. Doc. 14 at ¶ 31; Doc. 19
at ¶ 31. They told Clayton that they finished their
investigation and had decided to terminate her employment.
Doc. 14 at ¶ 32; Doc. 19 at ¶ 32. Sioux Steel
decided to terminate Clayton's employment for
insubordination due to Clayton violating a directive not to
communicate with Simonton, as well as for having multiple
incidents where co- workers felt threatened or uncomfortable
by her comments. Doc. 14at¶33;Doc. 15-2at9;Doc. 19 at
¶ 33. Before the incident with Simonton, Clayton had a
series of write-ups and warnings for behavioral issues at
Sioux Steel. Doc. 14 at ¶ 41; Doc. 19 at ¶ 41.
Sioux Steel had previously warned Clayton about
unprofessional conduct and violating workplace policies. Doc.
14 at ¶ 41; Doc. 19 at ¶ 41. The same day Clayton
was terminated, Simonton's employment also was terminated
as part of a reduction in force based on a decision made
before the March 26, 2017 incident. Doc. 14 at ¶ 35;
Doc. 19 at ¶ 35.
29, 2015, Clayton filed a Charge of Discrimination with the
Sioux Falls Human Relations Commissions alleging sexual
discrimination against Sioux Steel. Doc. 1 at ¶ 5; Doc.
14 at ¶ 51; Doc. 19 at ¶ 51. Clayton claimed that
she had been subject to sexual harassment while employed at
Sioux Steel, but made no mention of racial discrimination or
harassment. Doc. 14 at ¶ 52; Doc. 19 at ¶ 52. The
Human Relations Commission made a no-probable-cause finding.
Doc. 14 at ¶ 53; Doc. 19 at ¶ 53. On September 30,
2016, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC)
issued Clayton a notice of the right to file suit within 90
days. Doc. 14 at ¶ 53; Doc. 19 at ¶ 53.
then filed this suit against Sioux Steel under Title VII,
asserting claims for racial discrimination, sex
discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. Doc. 1.
Clayton sought compensatory damages, all damages allowed
under Title VII, punitive and exemplary damages, as well as
attorney fees ...