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Thompson v. Elkhart Lakes Road America, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 15, 2016

VICTORIA M. THOMPSON and JACLYN K. WADKINS, Plaintiffs,
v.
ELKHART LAKE’S ROAD AMERICA, INC., Defendant.

ORDER

J.P. STADTMUELLER, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

In this civil suit, Plaintiffs Victoria Thompson and Jaclyn Wadkins allege discrimination on the basis of sex and retaliation for opposing unlawful employment practices against Defendant Elkhart Lake’s Road America, Inc. (“Road America”), in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Docket #1 at 3-6). This matter comes before the Count on Road America’s motion for summary judgment filed on January 15, 2016. (Docket #16). On February 18, 2016, the plaintiffs filed their opposition (Docket #28), and, on March 3, 2016, Road America filed its reply (Docket #34). The motion is now fully briefed and ready for disposition. As discussed in detail below, the Court will deny Road America’s motion for summary judgment, and this matter will proceed to trial.

1. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

1.1

The Parties

Road America operates a racing facility in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, which includes a four-mile, 14-turn road race circuit. (DPFF ¶ 1). During the 2007 racing season, Road America employed Ms. Wadkins as part of its security personnel. (PPFF ¶ 2).[2] Ms. Wadkins’ mother, Ms. Thompson, began working for Road America in 2007 as a “tent sitter.” (PPFF ¶ 1). In 2008, Ms. Thompson applied for a security position with Road America and was hired. (PPFF ¶ 3). Road America subsequently hired Ms. Thompson’s other daughter, Jenny Reineking, into the security department at some point in the 2008 season. In approximately 2011, Ms. Thompson received a promotion to security supervisor. (PPFF ¶ 7). Following this promotion, Ms. Thompson served as a supervisor over both her daughters, Ms. Wadkins and Ms. Reineking, whenever they worked together. (PPFF ¶ 8).

Due to the nature of its business, Road America employs many seasonal workers. (DPFF ¶ 2). With the exception of the Director of Security, Dawn Klister, who oversees security functions, security employees are employed on a seasonal basis and do not work year round. (PPFF ¶ 4).

1.2 2013 Racing Season

During the 2013 racing season, Road America employed Ms. Thompson and Ms. Wadkins as seasonal employees on the its security team.[3]Ms. Thompson was a supervisor on the security team’s night shift and Ms. Wadkins worked as a non-supervisory employee on the night shift. (PPFF ¶ 8). On August 7, 2013, Ms. Klister learned of an incident regarding a race competitor’s package missing from one of the Road America buildings. (See DPFF ¶ 12).[4] After investigating the matter, Ms. Klister learned that, during the night shift on August 6 and August 7, 2013, Ms. Thompson and Ms. Wadkins took the race competitor's package and used the package to move and transport a wild raccoon. (DPFF ¶ 13).

Ms. Klister discussed this incident with Road America President, George Bruggenthies. (DPFF ¶ 14). During this discussion, Mr. Bruggenthies learned that Ms. Thompson was the mother of Ms. Wadkins and that Ms. Thompson supervised Ms. Wadkins on the night shift. (DPFF ¶ 15).

On June 22, 2013, Ms. Thompson was working as a security supervisor on the second shift. Ms. Klister called her to the security office and told her that Roger Jones, a new security supervisor, would be doing a ride-along with Ms. Thompson. (PPFF ¶ 14). The parties dispute the remaining facts in regards to Mr. Jones and the alleged sexual harassment, and thus the Court will not describe them at length. In sum, Ms. Thompson and Ms. Wadkins allege several incidents where Mr. Jones sexually harassed them; Road America disputes that Mr. Jones sexually harassed Ms. Thompson and Ms. Wadkins. (See PPFF ¶¶ 15-42). On July 1, 2013, Ms. Thompson met with Ms. Klister regarding some of the incidents, however, the parties dispute the exact nature of this discussion and any results from the discussion. (See PPFF ¶¶ 27-29). It is undisputed, however, that Ms. Klister worked with Mr. Jones at a previous employer and had known him for years before she hired him to work at Road America. (PPFF ¶ 30).

On the morning of August 9, 2013, Ms. Thompson, Ms. Wadkins, and several members of the security team’s night shift met with Ms. Klister to discuss the alleged sexual harassment incidents in regards to Mr. Jones. (See PPFF 43); (DPFF ¶¶ 19-20). The parties dispute the exact nature of this discussion, however, do not dispute that at some point during the discussion Ms. Klister spoke with Ms. Thompson in private. (See PPFF ¶ 46 (plaintiffs allege that Ms. Klister spoke alone with Ms. Wadkins as well, but Road America disputes this fact)). Following the August 9, 2013 meeting, Ms. Klister contacted Mr. Jones, advised Mr. Jones that he was suspended pending an investigation, and conducted an investigation. (DPFF ¶ 21).

On August 20, 2013, Ms. Klister sent an email message to all security department employees advising them that effective immediately, “Members of the same immediate family will not work together at the same time in the same department at Road America.” (DPFF ¶ 17). The first time that security employees ever received a copy of the Employee Handbook was when it was attached to Ms. Klister's August 20, 2013 email message restricting immediate family members from working together (PPFF ¶ 49). Ms. Thompson, Ms. Wadkins and Ms. Reineking regularly worked together on the same shift as security employees despite their family relationship throughout each of the seasons they worked for Road America until the August 20, 2013 email. (PPFF ¶ 51). Throughout their employment, Ms. Klister was aware that Ms. Thompson, Ms. Wadkins and Ms. Reineking were mother and daughters. (PPFF ¶ 52). Greg Wieser, Director of Operations for Road America, was also aware that Ms. Thompson and Ms. Wadkins were mother and daughter. (PPFF ¶ 53).

Following the August 20, 2013 email, Ms. Klister reached out to Ms. Thompson and Ms. Wadkins to work with them to adjust their schedules to be consistent with the policy; Ms. Thompson and Ms. Wadkins did not respond to Ms. Klister. (DPFF ¶ 18). On August 28, 2013, Mr. Wieser and Mr. Bruggenthies met with Ms. Thompson and both her daughters. (PPFF ¶ 73). The plaintiffs allege that they discussed the policy prohibiting family members from working together at this meeting, however, Road America disputes this allegation. (Response to PPFF ¶ 73).

After receiving Ms. Klister’s email message, Ms. Thompson asked for clarification as to whether she and her daughters would be permitted to work together if she stepped down from her position as supervisor. (PPFF ¶ 58). On September 3, 2013, Mr. Wieser responded to Ms. Thompson in order to clarify Road America’s interpretation of the policy regarding family members working together. Mr. Wieser responded that, if Ms. Thompson stepped down as supervisor, then: if one to three guards were scheduled, one family member could work; if four to seven guards were scheduled, two family members could work; and, if eight or more guards were scheduled, all three family members could work. (PPFF ¶ 59).

On August 29, 2013, Road America concluded its investigation regarding the allegations related to Mr. Jones. (DPFF ¶ 22).

1.3 Medical Leave Requests

On August 28, 2013, Ms. Thompson was a part of a meeting with Mr. Bruggenthies and Mr. Wieser. (DPFF ¶ 24). In this meeting, Ms. Thompson requested a medical leave of absence. (DPFF ¶ 25). The parties dispute, however, whether Road America granted the leave of absence. Mr. Wieser responded, “okay, ” to Ms. Thompson’s request, however, Ms. Thompson maintains she did not understand this verbal interaction to formally grant her a medical leave of absence. (Response to ...


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