United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Marshall Division
KIMBERLY L. COX, Plaintiff,
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Postmaster General of the United States, U.S. Postal Service, Defendant.
GILSTRAP, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is the Report and Recommendation filed by
Magistrate Judge Roy Payne on March 6, 2017 (Dkt. No. 55)
recommending that Defendant Megan J. Brennan's
(“Brennan” or “Defendant”) Motion for
Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 35) be denied. Having considered
the objections (Dkt. No. 64), the Recommendation is ADOPTED
and the objections are OVERRULED for the reasons set forth
2011, Plaintiff Kimberly L. Cox (“Ms. Cox” or
“Plaintiff) worked in the Kilgore Post Office along
with Joe McQuiston, then Kilgore postmaster, and Cynthia
Freeman, then a Customer Service Supervisor. (Dkt. No. 42 at
3-5.) Ms. Cox now alleges that Ms. Freeman created a hostile
work environment, in violation of Title VII, and that Mr.
McQuiston fired her in retaliation for reporting this claim.
(Dkt. No. 35 at 6-7.)
January 1, 2017, Brennan filed a Motion for Summary Judgment
on both claims. (Dkt. No. 35.) Magistrate Judge Payne granted
said motion with regard to the hostile work environment claim
and denied with regard to the retaliation claim. The issue
before the Court here is whether summary judgment is
appropriate on the retaliation claim.
motion for summary judgment is appropriate where “there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the
moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of
law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A genuine issue remains if
there is competent evidence that a reasonable jury could rely
on to find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Such evidence
must be construed in the light most favorable to the
nonmovant. Id. at 255.
Court's analysis is further guided by the burden-shifting
framework established by McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). Under this framework,
there are three crucial steps. First, a plaintiff must
establish a prima facie case of retaliation. See Cooper
v. Dallas Police Ass'n, 278 F.App'x 318, 320
(5th Cir. 2008). Next, the defendant employer must provide a
“‘legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for the
adverse employment action.'” Id. (quoting
Hockman v. Westward Commc'n LLC, 407 F.3d 317,
330 (5th Cir.2004)). “If the employer asserts a
nonretaliatory explanation . . . [then] the plaintiff must
show that the given reason is merely a pretext for
retaliation.” Id. (citing McDonnell
Douglas, 411 U.S. at 804).
Prima Facie Case of Retaliation
retaliation claim has three elements: (1) the employee
engaged in activity protected by Title VII; (2) the employer
took adverse employment action against the employee; and (3)
a causal connection exists between that protected activity
and the adverse employment action.” Brazoria Cty.,
Tex. v. E.E.O.C., 391 F.3d 685, 692 (5th Cir. 2004). The
central question here is whether Plaintiff has provided
sufficient evidence of a “causal connection”
between her complaints to Mr. McQuiston and her
termination. The Court concludes that a reasonable jury
could find such a connection. Cf. Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 255 (“[T]he drawing of legitimate inferences from
the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.”).
argues that no reasonable jury could draw the necessary
connection here because “timing is all that Cox has,
” which alone cannot establish causation under Title
VII. (Dkt. No. 64 at 6 (citing Kopszywa v. Home Depot
USA, Inc., 620 F.App'x 275, 280 (5th Cir. 2015).)
However, a close proximity between protected activity and an
adverse employment action can help establish causation
together with other probative evidence. See, e.g.,
Kopszywa, 620 F. App'x at 280 (“Temporal
proximity may . . . create a genuine dispute of material fact
on the issue of but-for causation if the employee also
introduces other probative evidence of pretext.”) The
Court is persuaded that sufficient evidence, beyond
proximity, exists in this case. For example, a jury could
conclude that Mr. McQuiston's conduct on August 30, 2012
- the day of the estate sale - was motivated by a desire to
retaliate against Ms. Cox. See, e.g., (Dkt. No. 42
at 19 (Mr. McQuiston cancelling a yearly route inspection and
driving thirty minutes to observe Ms. Cox); id. (Mr.
McQuiston calling the Office of Inspector General during this
drive); id. (Mr. McQuiston following Ms. Cox to her
home to continue observing her).) Therefore, a reasonable
jury could consider these acts, together with the temporal
proximity, and find that Plaintiff has established a prima
facie case of retaliation.
Nonretaliatory Reason for Termination
has provided a nonretaliatory justification for terminating
Ms. Cox. (Dkt. No. 35 at 19.) The stated reason for her
termination - violations of medical leave conditions - was
also supported by a report from the ...