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Peterson v. Avalon Care Center

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

July 31, 2017

LACIE PETERSON, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
AVALON CARE CENTER - VA PAYSON, LLC, a Utah Limited Liability Company, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Dee Benson United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Avalon Care Center's (“Avalon Payson”) motion for summary judgment on all claims brought by Plaintiff Lacie Peterson in this action. At oral argument on the motion, Avalon Payson was represented by David C. Castleberry. Plaintiff Lacie Peterson was represented by Steven R. Sumsion. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court took the matter under advisement. Now, having further considered the law and facts relating to the motions, the Court renders the following Memorandum Decision and Order.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 10, 2017, Peterson applied on-line for the position of “Director of Housekeeping” with Avalon Payson. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12 & Ex. A.) In the on-line listing, Avalon Payson indicated that it was a “[n]ew 108 bed VA Home in Payson, Utah.” (Id., Ex. A at 2) The job-posting described the housekeeping position as a “housekeeping supervisor” who would be “responsible to supervise the facility's day-to-day housekeeping and related functions including staffing, supply ordering and supervision to ensure facility policy and standards are met, and oversee and manage all aspects of the laundry operations of the facility.” (Id.)

         On June 20, 2017, Peterson interviewed for the position with several Avalon Payson employees, including the facility's Administrator, Shauna Kraus (“Kraus”), and Kelly Lawson (“Lawson”). (Am. Compl. ¶14.) At the time, Peterson believed she was interviewing for the “Lead Director of Housekeeping” position for which she had applied on-line. (See id.; Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 22.) However, as Kurt Anderson, Director of Employee Relations, later acknowledged, the posting's reference to a “Lead Director” of housekeeping position was an error because “Lead Director of Housekeeping” was not a position that existed within the Avalon system. (Dkt. No. 4-2, Anderson Dep. at 36 (stating “we don't have housekeeping directors in any of the facilities”).) Despite Avalon's mistaken posting, Avalon Payson referred to Peterson's position as “housekeeper, ” rather than “Lead Director of Housekeeping, ” and Peterson was the only housekeeper hired and/or employed by Avalon Payson. (Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 88.)

         On June 27, 2013, Avalon Payson hired Peterson. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15.) On that day, Maintenance Supervisor Kelly Lawson sent Peterson a text message to inform her that she had been given the job and stated: “I want you as my lead housekeeper. Work will be M/W/F. Part time until arrangements can be made.” (Id.)

         The next day, on June 28, Lawson and Peterson had the following conversation via text messaging. First, Lawson sent a message to Peterson stating: “Would it be inappropriate to ask u out.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 20 & Ex. B.) Peterson responded, saying, “Lol, wow. So the truths revealed!! That's why you hired me:) not because you think I will be a great addition to Avalon. . . only because you thought I was cute:).” (Id.) Lawson responded a few minutes later saying, “NO wow sorry I shouldn't have opened my mouth. You will be a great addition to Avalon, yes I think u r very sexy but that's not why I hired u!!” (Id.) Peterson responded, “First of all thank you very much for the compliment. I'm at a place in my personal life right now that ‘sexy' wouldn't describe the way I feel. 2ndly, I am very hesitant to get involved with anyone while going through this divorce, especially with the (supervisor of my new job) I haven't even started!” (Id.) Within minutes, Peterson followed up with, “Kelly please don't take it personal. I really am flattered and you are a good looking guy but I am simply not ready.” (Id.) Lawson replied, “Way cool I just asked if it was inappropriate, I didn't actually ask, and I'm not like that I wouldn't hold anything against u, I'm the most laid back guy u will meet.” (Id.)

         Over the course of the next two weeks, between Peterson's hire date and start date, in addition to the text exchange set forth above, Peterson and Lawson exchanged additional text messages related to issues regarding Peterson's employment at Avalon, including Peterson's start date and time, and that Peterson would work “3 days a week in the beginning.” (Am. Compl. Ex. B; Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 38-41.)

         Peterson's employment began on July 15, 2013. Kraus and Lawson filled out an “Employee Action Form” marking the beginning of Peterson's employment, and stating that Peterson's job title was “housekeeping.” (Dkt. No. 40-8, Employee Action Form.) On Peterson's “new hire” paperwork, which she filled out herself, Peterson listed her job title as “housekeeping.” (Dkt. No. 40-9, New Hire Paperwork.) That Peterson was hired as a part-time housekeeper who would transition to full-time was stated in the initial text messages from Lawson and reinforced in Peterson's offer letter, which she received from Avalon Payson on July 24, 2013. (Dkt. No. 40-10, Offer Letter (referring to Peterson as “housekeeper” and stating that her budgeted hours would be “part time, going full time as of July 29, 2013, per pay period”).)

         On July 15, 2013, during Peterson's first day at Avalon Payson, Peterson claims that Lawson “ask[ed] about [Peterson's] sex life” saying, “I bet you are the type of girl who just wants sex once a month.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 24.) Later that same day, while Peterson was assembling a wheelchair, Peterson claims Lawson grabbed her by the hips as he passed her in the hallway. (Am. Compl. ¶ 24; Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 68.)

         That night, after her first day of work, on the evening of July 15, 2013, at 7:22 p.m., Peterson sent Lawson the following text: “Kelly i freaking leaked!! I can't believe you didn't tell me!” (Am. Compl. Ex. B, Text Messages.) Lawson responded, “Honey I can't look at your bod all day, if I would have seen it believe me I would tell u.” (Id.). A few minutes later, Peterson replied saying, “thank God you didn't see! I'm so embarrassed ! And thank God you would of told me:).” (Id.)

         The next day, around noon on July 16, 2013, Peterson sent the following text message to Lawson: “Okay, thinking about the response you sent back to me last night in regards to my personal female issue, Lol . . . I would much rather you not check my body out at all! That text you sent me made me feel uncomfortable. I will be a great right hand man but as far as a personal, physical relationship. I won't be going there with you. Your my supervisor:).” (Id.)

         Within the first few days of working at Payson Avalon, Peterson approached Michelle Stanley, the assistant to Avalon Payson's Administrator Shauna Kraus, and told Stanley that she felt uncomfortable working around Lawson given their prior text exchanges and Lawson's conduct at work. (Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 51-52.) Stanley suggested that Peterson make an appointment with Kraus. (Id. at 52.)

         On or about July 19, 2013, approximately four days after she started working at Avalon Payson, Peterson scheduled a meeting with the facility's Administrator, Shauna Kraus, to discuss Lawson's conduct and to “get it straight in [her] mind once and for all what exactly [she] was hired on as.” (Dkt. No. 40-4, Peterson Journal; Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 102-03.) During the meeting, Kraus explained that she did not hire Peterson to be a “director” of housekeeping, and that Peterson was hired as a housekeeper with Lawson as her supervisor. (Dkt. No. 40-4, Peterson Journal.) Peterson told Kraus that she “wasn't comfortable with the situation” with Lawson, and that Lawson had “asked [her] out, pryed into [her] personal life, and now was treating [her] differently.” (Id.). Peterson claims that Kraus did not seem to take Peterson's concerns about Lawson seriously and told her that “being called ‘sexy' was a compliment.” (Id.) Peterson also felt that Kraus did not like her and was “extremely rude.” (Id.)

         After meeting with Kraus, Peterson says that she “took it upon [herself] to stop using the office she previously shared with Lawson.” (Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 72.) Peterson used the facility's break room instead of the office “so [she] didn't have to be in the office with [Lawson] and feel uncomfortable.” (Id.)

         On July 24, five days after Peterson's meeting with Kraus, Lawson provided Peterson with a new written schedule requiring Peterson to work full time. (Dkt. No. 40-4, Peterson Journal; Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 102-03). This new schedule was consistent with Lawson's prior text and Peterson's Offer Letter, which she received that same day, indicating she would be part time “in the beginning” then shift to full time. (Am. Compl. Ex. B, Text Messages; Dkt. No. 40-10, Offer Letter.)

         The next day, on July 25, 2013, Director of Employee Relations Kurt Anderson visited Avalon Payson and met with Peterson regarding several concerns, one of which was Lawson's conduct. Anderson's notes from the meeting document that at the end of the meeting he asked Peterson whether she felt she had been illegally harassed during her employment at Avalon Payson. (Dkt. No. 40-2, Anderson Dep. at 19; Dkt. No. 40-3, K. Anderson Handwritten Notes, dated July 25, 2013.) Anderson explained what constituted harassment, and Peterson responded that she did not believe she had been harassed. (Id.) Anderson then asked Peterson if she could continue to work with Lawson, to which Peterson answered, “yes.” (Id.) Peterson said, about the meeting with Anderson, that she “felt for the first time somebody had listened to what [she] was trying to say.” (Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 63.)

         Approximately one week later, on August 1, 2013, Peterson spilled a bucket of water and asked Lawson for help with the carpet cleaner. (Dkt. No. 40-4, Peterson Journal; Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 102-03.) Lawson helped Peterson assemble the carpet cleaner, and as he got up and turned away from Peterson, Peterson heard Lawson say the word “bitch.” (Id.) Peterson reported the incident to Kurt Anderson, and a few days later reported the incident to John L. Walters, an Avalon Payson social worker. (Dkt. No. 40-5, Witness Statement of John L. Walters, dated Aug. 5, 2013; Dkt. No. 40-2, Anderson Dep. at 83-84.) Walters noted in his statement (and Peterson agreed during her deposition) that Lawson's words may not have been directed at Peterson and he may have simply been frustrated with ongoing construction issues at the facility. (Id.; Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 74 (testifying that she “do[es] remember thinking that” Lawson may have been complaining about something else when he used the word “bitch”).)

         By early August 2013, Peterson felt like she was being “isolated” by Lawson, Kraus and others at Avalon Payson. Peterson claims that she was not invited to luncheons and work meetings, or that Lawson would tell Peterson the wrong time to attend such meetings. (Am Compl. ¶76; Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 165.)

         On August 13, 2013, after approximately one month of working at Avalon Payson, Lawson issued Peterson a non-disciplinary warning for failing to lock her housekeeping cart in accordance with state and federal regulations. (Dkt. No. 40-13, Performance Documentation Form.) In the written warning, Lawson noted that it is a “Federal and State requirement” to lock up housekeeping carts, the violation of which “could result in citations to the facility which could result in liability to bill for services or civil money penalties.” (Id.) Peterson refused to sign her warning.

         Peterson refused to sign the written warning form because she felt like she was not required to lock the cart given that there were no veterans in the facility at the time. (Dkt. No. 40-1, Peterson Dep. at 81.) According to a witness statement signed by Michelle Stanley, Shauna Kraus and Kelly Lawson after the incident, Peterson admitted that Lawson had told her ...


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