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Rounds-Rheaume v. Dowling

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

August 30, 2017


          OPINION & ORDER


         Pro se plaintiff June E. Rounds-Rheaume is proceeding on retaliation claims under Title VII and the First Amendment. Rounds-Rheaume sent grievances to her union and various government agencies about employment practices of her former employer, the State of Wisconsin Hygiene Lab, which is part of the University of Wisconsin. She alleges that defendants retaliated against her by reprimanding and suspending her in 2004 and that they continued to retaliate even after her resignation by intimidating her and interfering with her job search.

         Both sides move for summary judgment. Dkt. 36 and Dkt. 45. All of Rounds-Rheaume's claims based on events that occurred in 2004 are time-barred because she failed to file a timely charge with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Equal Rights Division (ERD) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). As for her claims based on the events after her resignation, they fail on the merits. Rounds-Rheaume adduces no evidence that any defendant intimidated her or interfered with her job search. I will grant defendants' motion and deny Rounds-Rheaume's motion.


         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         Rounds-Rheaume worked at the State of Wisconsin Hygiene Lab from 1978 to 2004. She held various positions, including the Lab Sample Control and Receiving Technician position. Dkt. 40-17 and Dkt. 40-18. The Lab is part of the University of Wisconsin, and defendants John C. Dowling, Brian D. Vaughan, Sandra Prisbe, Cynda DeMontigny, and Barb Woehrl are all current or former employees of the University. The Lab and the University are not legal persons, so they are not defendants in this case; instead, defendant Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, which governs the University and its programs, is Rounds-Rheaume's former employer. Dkt. 19, at 4.

         In 2004, Rounds-Rheaume was reprimanded and suspended for one day without pay. Dkt. 52, ¶ 7. The parties dispute why. Rounds-Rheaume contends that the University retaliated against her for filing a grievance with her union asking for a non-hostile, non-discriminatory workplace. Dkt. 40, ¶ 11. According to defendants, Rounds-Rheaume was negligent in her duties, failed to exercise good judgment, and was discourteous to her coworkers, students, and the general public. Dkt. 40-11, at 1. Rounds-Rheaume resigned in June 2004.

         Over the years that followed, Rounds-Rheaume sent letters complaining about the Lab to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office, the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Water Division, and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. She adduces only the letters she sent to the Government Accountability Board and the Attorney General's Office. Those letters reported, among other things, Rounds-Rheaume's being unfairly reprimanded by her supervisors, nepotism and inappropriate relationships among her colleagues, and missing items at the Lab. Dkt. 40-24, at 2-3 and Dkt. 29-3, at 1. Rounds-Rheaume also filed four charges with the ERD, claiming sex discrimination, age discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation. Rounds-Rheaume adduces her first, second, and fourth ERD charges. Dkt. 40-1, at 1-3, Dkt. 40-2, at 1-2, Dkt. 40-4, at 1-2. The missing third ERD charge and letters to the government agencies do not affect the analysis in this opinion.

         Rounds-Rheaume contends that, even after she left the Lab, defendants continued to retaliate against her in two ways. First, she contends that Dowling, an attorney at the University of Wisconsin Office of Legal Affairs, wrote her intimidating emails. Dkt. 1, at 2-3. She states that Dowling criticized her ERD charges and told her to direct all matters regarding her employment disputes only to him. According to Rounds-Rheaume, she found Dowling's emails so intimidating that she lost confidence at her job interviews and, as a result, did not get those jobs. Defendants concede that Dowling wrote the emails, but they deny that Dowling's emails intimidated Rounds-Rheaume.

         Second, Rounds-Rheaume contends that defendants retaliated against her by interfering with her job search. In particular, she states that she interviewed for security positions, but she could not get those jobs because defendants failed to provide accurate descriptions of her past positions at the Lab. Rounds-Rheaume adduces copies of her past job descriptions and a reference letter that the University's human resources department prepared after she filed her ERD charges. Dkt. 40-17; Dkt. 40-18; Dkt. 40-20. The job description states, in pertinent part, that Rounds-Rheaume's duties include “signing customers in and preparing the appropriate badge and identifying unusual packages or deliveries.” Dkt. 40-18, at 4. Rounds-Rheaume states that the job description should have included controlling entrance access and checking visitors' IDs. Id.; Dkt. 40, ¶ 7. She also adduces her own, unsworn statements to support the proposition that these documents caused her prospective employers' decision not to hire her. Dkt. 40-6, at 1-2. Defendants deny having sent any job description or reference letter to Rounds-Rheaume's prospective employers. Defendants adduce individual defendants' declarations that they had no contact with Rounds-Rheaume's prospective employers. Dkt. 46, ¶¶ 3-5 (Vaughan); Dkt. 47, ¶ 5 (Dowling); Dkt. 49, ¶ 5 (Prisbe); Dkt. 48, ¶ 6, 7 (DeMontigny); Dkt. 50, ¶ 5 (Woehrl). They also adduce the declaration of DeMontigny, who states that all reference requests at the University are forwarded to her but she received none. Dkt. 48, ¶¶ 6-10.

         This court has subject matter jurisdiction over Rounds-Rheaume's claims because they arise under federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 1331.


         A district court must grant summary judgment when no genuine issue of a material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, but “the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Armato v. Grounds, 766 F.3d 713, 719 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). To withstand summary judgment, “a party may rely only on admissible evidence.” Lewis v. CITGO Petrol. Corp., 561 F.3d 698, 704 (7th Cir. 2009).

         A. Title VII ...

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