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Aguirre v. Vital Marketing, Inc.

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

February 3, 2017




         Maria Aguirre filed her Complaint [1] against her former employer on September 23, 2015. Aguirre alleges that Terry Jackson, the owner of Vital Marketing, Inc., wrongly fired her after she rejected his sexual advances. Now before the Court is the Defendants' Motion [37] for Partial Summary Judgment in their favor on two specific issues. Aguirre responded [41] and the Defendants replied [43] making this motion ripe for review.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The following facts are taken from the Plaintiff's version of events, and for purposes of the instant motion are largely undisputed by the Defendants. Factual controversies are resolved in favor of the Plaintiff when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc).

         Early in the week of September 22, 2014, Aguirre requested to have the coming Thursday afternoon off. Aguirre wanted the time off so that she could take her daughter, a member of the high school band, to perform in a parade and pep rally. After verifying that there was no one else available to transport the daughter, Aguirre's supervisor told her that she could have Thursday afternoon off.

         When Aguirre arrived at work on Thursday morning there was a note from her supervisor instructing her that they were shorthanded that day and that Aguirre could take her daughter to the parade, but that she needed to return to work after doing so to complete the orders due that day. The note also stated, incorrectly, that the parade would be over at 4:15 and that the school was providing transportation for the band.[1] Vital Marketing's chief operating officer, Aguirre's supervisors, and other members of her department were absent that day.

         Aguirre was upset by the note, and did not think that she would have enough time to take her daughter to and from the parade and then return to work. Because there were no supervisors in her department that day, Aguirre took her concern directly to Kathy Jackson who is a part owner of the company, the chief financial officer, and the wife of Vital Marketing co-owner Defendant Terry Jackson. Kathy Jackson told Aguirre that she did not think it would be a problem, that she would talk to Terry Jackson about the issue and that they would get back with her. Aguirre returned to her work area.

         Kathy Jackson explained the issue to Terry Jackson, and he went to Aguirre's work area to talk to her. Terry Jackson and Aguirre went into the adjacent warehouse to talk. Once they were alone in the warehouse, Jackson began to yell and scream at Aguirre “like a dog.” Jackson told the Plaintiff that he could not “close the place down” just because she needed to leave, and continued to scream at her. Jackson then “got close” to Aguirre and said, “Well, you want to go out? Will you go out with me? If you go out with me I'll go ahead and let you do it.” Aguirre told Jackson “I'm not going to do that.” Jackson then told Aguirre that he was going to go look at his emails and that he would be right back. Aguirre again returned to her work area.

         A short time later Terry Jackson returned to Aguirre's work area and asked her “So what?” Aguirre responded “No” and Jackson replied, “Okay, you're fired. Okay, if you leave, you're fired.” As Jackson opened the door to leave Aguirre said, “That's bullshit.” Jackson told Aguirre that she was fired for insubordination. Aguirre again said, “That's bullshit, ” and Jackson escorted her from the premises. While walking Aguirre to her vehicle, Jackson told her not to bother applying for unemployment because he would fight it.

         Aguirre did apply for unemployment and after a hearing, an administrative law judge found that Aguirre was discharged for misconduct. The administrative law judge also found that Aguirre's “refusal to accept the reasonable option offered to her by the employer and the sustained use of vulgarity toward the employer qualifies as misconduct.”[2]

         In her complaint, Aguirre alleges claims under Title VII for sexual harassment and discrimination, and a claim under Mississippi law for malicious interference with employment. In the instant motion, the Defendants argue that the Plaintiff is collaterally estopped from asserting an interference claim by the previous findings of an administrative law judge in an unemployment hearing. The Defendants request dismissal with prejudice of the Plaintiff's interference claim. The Defendants also request that the Court limit any potential recovery by the Plaintiff for back pay relative to all her claims, arguing that she failed to mitigate her damages.

         Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         The moving party “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. When such contradictory ...

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