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Smith v. ISLE of Capri Casinos, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

June 5, 2014

LESHEA SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
ISLE OF CAPRI CASINOS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MICHAEL P. MILLS, District Judge.

This cause comes before the court on the motion of Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc. ("Isle of Capri") seeking summary judgment [51] as to the claims against it. Plaintiff Leshea Smith[1] has responded in opposition to the motion, [2] and the court, having considered the memoranda and submissions of the parties, concludes that Isle of Capri's motion for summary judgment should be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

This is an employment action between Leshea Smith and her former employer Isle of Capri. In July 2011, Isle of Capri's casino in Lula, Mississippi hired Smith as a runner for one of its restaurants, Calypso's Buffet. It is undisputed that Smith was an at-will employee. Smith's daily duties at work consisted of wiping tables, sweeping, and ensuring the buffet was stocked and organized. Smith's duties were later changed to cooking full time, but her official job title of runner never changed.

Around October 2011, issues began to arise for Smith at her workplace. During that month, Smith received an official reprimand, signed and acknowledged by Smith, for missing multiple days of work to take care of her injured daughter. At this time, Smith first began to experience problems with Calypso Buffet's executive chef, DeVeonse Atkins. According to Smith, Atkins first sexually harassed her when he intentionally brushed Smith's buttocks with his hands and pelvic area while the two attempted to pass each other in the kitchen hallway. Atkins allegedly remarked, "Well, excuse me, baby girl, " while Smith made no comment and continued walking. Smith indicates in her deposition that another employee witnessed the event. Other than Smith's own testimony, there is neither evidence in the record indicating a complaint was made nor any testimony given by a witness of the event.

At some point in the ensuing months of 2011, Smith experienced her second alleged instance of harassment by Atkins. Smith stated in her deposition that this incident occurred when she attempted to reach over Atkins to retrieve vegetables from the kitchen refrigerator. Smith, admittedly unaware of the location of the items she needed, avers that Atkins then came behind her and leaned on her with his pelvic area in an phony attempt to help reach the vegetables. While reaching for Smith's needed items, Atkins reportedly said, "I will get it for you." In response, Smith removed Atkins by hand and walked out of the refrigerator.[3] There were no witnesses to the event, and Smith provides no evidence that a complaint was made.

The third alleged incident of sexual harassment between Smith and Atkins occurred in December 2011. Smith alleges that she expressed to Atkins a need to take time off from work to care for her daughter to which Atkins responded by requesting that she come to his office later. Smith stated in response that she could not do so because her boyfriend and fellow employee, Ricky Moore, would not allow her to do so. Atkins then grabbed Smith's hand and stroked his left hand down Smith's back. Smith avers that a fellow employee witnessed the event and objected to Atkins' behavior to which Atkins allegedly responded, "I got it. I'll take good care of her." Smith has provided no evidence in the record indicating a complaint was made or any testimony given by a witness of the event.

The fourth occurrence of sexual harassment is purported by Smith to have taken place in January 2012. Smith claims Atkins stood behind her and grazed her with his pelvic area when she rose from picking something up from the floor. Next, Atkins attempted to help Smith but grazed her breast with his hand while doing so. Smith testified that she complained of this instance to a Chef Deloris and that another employee witnessed the event. Other than Smith's own testimony, there is neither evidence in the record indicating a complaint was made nor any testimony given by a witness of the event.

The fifth occurrence of sexual harassment is averred by Smith to have transpired at the end of January 2012. Smith alleges that Atkins approached her from behind to check on her preparation of pizzas. When Smith rose from her work, Atkins' lips kissed[4] Smith's neck despite an ample of amount of time to avoid contact. Atkins then came to Smith's side, grabbed her hand, and demonstrated how to cut the onions the proper way. Smith claims that a fellow employee witnessed the event but made no statement at the time regarding the events. There is no testimony by the alleged witness present in the record or evidence that a complaint was made.

The sixth and final incident of sexual harassment complained of in this action occurred on February 3, 2012. At some point during Smith's shift, Atkins allegedly said to Smith, "Why are you so quiet? Why are you not talking today? What's going on, baby girl?" After eliciting a response of "Nothing" from Smith, Atkins allegedly returned to her and said, "What's wrong with you, sexy? What's going on? Tell me what's going on, " while rubbing Smith's back. Once again, after eliciting no response, an upset Atkins allegedly stated, "So you're not going to say anything to me at all? I'm your boss. You need to give me some kind of answer. What's going on? You can talk to me." Smith avers that Atkins then began to curse and make derogatory remarks. Smith claims that an individual apparently known to all as Chef Deloris and Ricky Moore witnessed the event, resulting in Chef Deloris transferring Smith to the salad station. There is no testimony in the record from Chef Deloris regarding that event.

The events which led to Smith's suspension and eventual termination also occurred on February 3, 2012. During Smith's shift, Atkins requested that Smith prepare seafood pizzas. According to Smith, Atkins expressed his appreciation for the quality of her work, saying, "They looking good baby girl. That's looking good. Make me more like that, " and later stated, "Keep it going. Keep it going. Because they're loving it." Upon Atkins' request, Smith claims that she retrieved more pizza dough to thaw and subsequently made more pizzas. Later, Smith began making different types of pizza at the request of Chef Deloris and another employee named David Holloman.[5] Atkins eventually returned to Smith's station and allegedly rubbed down her back saying, "What's going on baby girl? Where are my seafood pizzas at?" Atkins told Smith that when she finished with her current work she needed to make the pizzas he wanted.[6] Thereafter, Atkins proceeded to alert David Hobbs, Director of the Food and Beverage Department, of Smith's insubordinate behavior, i.e. Smith's failure to make more seafood pizzas.

According to Atkins' voluntary statement (and with nothing entered into the record by Smith to the contrary), Hobbs then advised Shirley Conway, Manager of the Food and Beverage Department, to suspend Smith pending an investigation. Joseph Oakley, Isle of Capri's Vice President and General Manager, gave a sworn statement that an internal investigation into the dispute was then conducted. Upon completion of the investigation, Oakley avers that Hobbs recommended Smith's termination to Oakley and Charlisa Shelly, Head of Human Resources. Oakley and Shelly concurred with Hobbs' recommendation which culminated in their joint decision to terminate Smith's employment with the Isle of Capri on February 6, 2012.

On February 27, 2013, Smith brought this suit against the Isle of Capri. The action includes claims of sexual harassment and retaliation against Isle of Capri pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended in 1991, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e-et seq. Smith additionally brings the state law claims of ...


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