United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Kenneth M. Hoyt, United States District Judge.
before the Court is the defendant's, Education Affiliates
Inc. (“EAI”), motion for summary judgment (Dkt.
No. 20). The plaintiff, Lawanda Beasley Jones
(“Jones”), has filed a response in opposition to
the motion (Dkt. No. 23) and EAI has filed a reply (Dkt. No.
25). EAI has also objected to certain facts contained in
Jones' response (Dkt. No. 26). After having carefully
considered the motion, response, reply, the record and the
applicable law, the Court determines that the defendant's
motion for summary judgment should be
an employment case in which Jones, a former employee, alleges
that EAI terminated her employment in violation of the
anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”). In September 2013, Jones began
employment with EAI as Director of Admissions of the Houston
North campus. (Dkt. No. 23, Ex. 4 ¶4). Glen Tharp,
Regional Vice President for EAI (“Tharp”),
recommended Jones for the job. Id. Jones was hired
by and reported to Arturo Cervantes, Campus President of the
Houston North campus (“Cervantes”). Id.
As Director of Admissions, Jones managed the entire
Admissions Department, which consisted of eight employees.
(Dkt. No. 23, Ex. 3 at 210).
contends that on February 24, 2014, two of her non-Hispanic
subordinates, Carrin Wenzel (“Wenzel”) and
Jennifer Rollie (“Rollie”), communicated to her
that they felt discriminated against by Cervantes. (Dkt. No.
23, at 3). On February 27, 2014, two anonymous Houston-North
campus employees called EAI's employee hotline. (Dkt. No.
20, Ex. 3 at ¶9). The first caller claimed that she felt
bullied by some of the Hispanic employees. Id. The
second caller alleged that Cervantes gave preferential
treatment to Hispanic employees in the Admissions Department.
Id. It is undisputed that Jones never personally
called the employee hotline.
thereafter, EAI selected Sidney Carey, Texas Area Manager and
President of the Houston-South campus (“Carey”),
to investigate the anonymous phone calls. Id. As
part of his investigation, Carey interviewed 14 employees,
including the plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 20, Ex. 1). At the
conclusion of his investigation, Carey compiled an
investigation report. (Dkt. No. 20, Ex. 3-B). Carey's
report found that the allegations made on the phone calls
were without merit. Id. In a subsequent
conversation, Jones contends that Cervantes informed her that
he was aware of the identity of the anonymous callers. (Dkt.
No. 23, Ex. 1 at 215). On February 26, 2014, Cervantes
suggested that Jones encourage all employees not to speak
Spanish at work unless necessary for business reasons.
Id. at 320-21.
claims that from March 5-10, 2014, Cervantes began to treat
her negatively as a direct result of Carey's
investigation. Id. at 216. Jones cites to instances
of Cervantes yelling at her and slamming her office door as
examples of the negative treatment. Id. at 218-19.
Jones further alleges that Cervantes turned the Spanish
speaking employees against her, which undermined her
authority. Furthermore, she believes that her subordinates
began to disrespect her and treat her negatively after she
requested that they refrain from speaking Spanish.
Id. at 224.
March 18, 2014, Shaterrell Adkins, an Instructor at the
Houston-North campus (“Adkins”), reported to her
supervisor that Jones had made some inappropriate remarks to
her while at work. (Dkt. No. 20, Ex. 4 at ¶5). On that
same day, Adkins sent an email to upper management, including
Cervantes, advising them of Jones' comments and
summarizing the entire conversation. Id. Cervantes then
forwarded the email to Carey and Tharp. Id. Adkins
was asked to provide a signed statement swearing to the
truthfulness and accuracy of the purported remarks and she
complied. Id. at ¶6.
claims that upon conducting an independent review of the
statement provided by Adkins, Tharp decided to terminate
Jones. (Dkt. No. 20, Ex. 4 at ¶7). Tharp provides four
reasons for his decision: “(1) he
honestly believed Beasley had made racially inappropriate and
divisive comments to Adkins; (2) her
comments were unacceptable, especially for someone in a
leadership role; (3) her comments were
insubordinate, as they indicated she had an intentional and
deliberate desire to undercut Cervantes's authority; and
(4) her comments indicated she wanted to use
an unlawful and discriminatory factor (race) when making
hiring and employment decisions in the Admissions
Department.” Id. Tharp then provided the
evidence and his findings to Tom Kartelius, Vice President of
Admissions (“Kartelius”) and Penny Hosey,
Director of Human Resources (“Hosey”).
Id. Upon their independent review, Kartelius and
Hosey agreed that Jones' statements warranted her
termination. Id. On March 20, 2014, Tharp and Carey
met with Jones and informed her that her employment had been
terminated. (Dkt. No. 23, Ex. 1 at 235).
9, 2014, Jones filed a Charge of Discrimination with the
EEOC. (Dkt. No. 20, Ex. 8). In it, she alleges that EAI
terminated her “for being a witness in an internal
discrimination complaint against Cervantes.”
Id. On April 4, 2016, Jones commenced this lawsuit
against EAI in state court alleging a claim for retaliation
under the FLSA. The case was removed to this Court on June
24, 2016, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. EAI now
moves for summary judgment on Jones' claim.
CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES
argues that Jones was discharged as a result of her divisive
and racial comments made to a co-worker. In addition, she was
insubordinate and her comments indicated a desire to undercut
the campus president's authority. As such, EAI asserts
that Jones' retaliation claim fails because she is unable
to demonstrate that she engaged in “protected
activity” within the meaning of the FLSA. EAI also
contends that Jones cannot establish a “but for”
causal connection between her alleged protected activity and
termination. Further, EAI avers that Jones is unable to
demonstrate that EAI's legitimate, ...