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Levins v. Criterion Supply, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

October 22, 2019

ELIZABETH LEVINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CRITERION SUPPLY, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY F. ATLAS SENIOR STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This pregnancy discrimination case is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) [Doc. # 27] filed by Defendant Criterion Supply, Inc. (“Criterion”). Plaintiff Elizabeth Levins filed a Response [Doc. # 30], and Criterion filed a Reply [Doc. # 34]. Having reviewed the record and applicable legal authorities, the Court grants the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working for Golden Creek Carpets, Inc. in August 2002 as a customer service representative. Criterion acquired Golden Creek Carpets, Inc. in June 2009. From January 7, 2014 until February 24, 2014, Plaintiff was on maternity leave. In January 2015, following her return to work from the maternity leave, Plaintiff was promoted to Market Manager in Criterion's Houston office.

         While Plaintiff was in the Market Manager position, Criterion management received complaints regarding Plaintiff's interactions with other employees. Specifically, Criterion's President, Catherine “Cathi” Brock, counseled Plaintiff regarding complaints by a female subordinate who was threatening to leave the company “because of [Plaintiff's] behavior.”[1] See Deposition of Catherine Brock, Exh. 22 to Motion, p. 92. Additionally, Brock was notified by Nicole Strong, Criterion's Houston Branch Manager, that employees working the “order desk” complained that Plaintiff “was not treating them well.” See Id. at 169.

         In May 2017, Plaintiff notified Criterion that she was pregnant. In June 2017, Brock met with Plaintiff to discuss the various complaints that had been reported. Brock at that time placed Plaintiff on an improvement plan.

         On July 14, 2017, Plaintiff attended a scheduled weekly branch meeting. Strong reported that she attempted to discuss some problems with Plaintiff's performance. See Strong Statement, Exh. 23 to Motion. Strong reported that Plaintiff threw a notebook across the table toward Strong, after which Strong threw the notebook and Plaintiff's cell phone out of the conference room. See id.

         On July 21, 2017, a male Criterion employee, Shane Vasquez, informed Criterion Manager Jodi Otten that Plaintiff had made “numerous passes at him.” See Otten Statement, Exh. 24 to Motion. Specifically, Vasquez reported that while Plaintiff was looking over his shoulder at his computer screen, she said “I hope you don't mind if I put my titties on your back.” See id.

         On July 24, 2017, Otten reported Vasquez's statement to Alex Soderlund in Criterion's Human Resources Department. See Soderlund Statement, Exh. 25 to Motion. That same day, Soderlund began an investigation, and he informed Plaintiff by telephone and by letter that she was being placed on paid leave. See Soderlund Letter, Exh. 27 to Motion.

         As part of the investigation, Soderlund obtained a written statement from Vasquez. In the written statement dated July 26, 2017, Vasquez reported several incidents of inappropriate comments to him by Plaintiff beginning in October 2016. See Vasquez Statement, Exh. 26 to Motion. Vasquez described the same incident he had related to Otten where, in February 2017, Plaintiff made a comment to himi about her “tits” while looking over his shoulder. See Id. Vasquez stated that Plaintiff's behavior was uncomfortable for him. See id.

         On August 1, 2017, Criterion terminated Plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff was replaced by Claribel (“Bella”) Vignola. At the time Criterion hired Vignola, Brock had been informed by the recruiter that Vignola was pregnant. See Brock Depo., p. 182.

         On August 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). See Charge of Discrimination, Exh. 19 to Motion. Plaintiff alleged that she was discriminated against because she was pregnant. See id.

         After obtaining a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC on April 5, 2018, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on April 23, 2018. After discovery was completed, Criterion filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. The Motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for decision.

         II. SUMMARY ...


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