In Denmark v. RPM, Inc., Tina Denmark, an African American woman, worked for TCI Powder Coatings as a quality control technician through an agency, The Staffing People, Inc., from 2008 until 2009. During that time, Denmark claimed to have suffered from gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After she filed her lawsuit against both TCI and The Staffing People, TCI filed a motion for summary judgment. It argued that Denmark failed to satisfy the administrative prerequisite to filing a suit under Title VII, that her claims did not establish a prima facie case for gender discrimination, sexual harassment, or retaliation, and that Denmark failed to meet the burden of raising a dispute as to whether TCI’s reasons for terminating her were just a pretext.
The court examined whether TCI’s claims had merit. Denmark worked through The Staffing People at TCI’s small batch plant in Ellaville, Georgia, before being promoted to work in the main plant. Although Denmark’s job duties were assigned by TCI, she was required to execute a checklist before starting her position that acknowledged The Staffing People’s policies and procedures. Among other things, The Staffing People required Denmark to contact both TCI and The Staffing People if she was ever going to be late for work. The Staffing People permitted one instance of tardiness and one absence in the first 90-day period and each 90-day period thereafter. Should Denmark be terminated from TCI, she would also be terminated from The Staffing People.
During Denmark’s term of employment, she worked 40-hour weeks, sometimes working overtime. She was one of seven quality control technicians, six of whom were female. Denmark’s shift began at 6 am and ended at 2 pm, and she was required to clock in (via a scanning device) before her shift began. Denmark was reported late during four of the final five days she worked for TCI, more so than the other quality control technicians on her shift. Denmark never contacted The Staffing People when she was tardy. In addition to Denmark, 23 other workers were terminated from TCI due to tardiness over the course of the year.
Denmark alleged that one TCI employee, Larry Taylor, made sexual advances and gave her his phone number. Denmark allegedly called Taylor and twice visited his home. On a later occasion, Taylor allegedly became angry when Denmark told another female employee that they had been spending time together outside of work, but he did not act violently. Denmark eventually went to Human Resources and stated that she thought she was being harassed but did not provide details. She then learned that she was being terminated from TCI, allegedly due to her tardiness.
The court found that Denmark’s claims that TCI’s defenses were pretexts lacked merit. Denmark had argued that a male coworker with whom she carpooled was not fired, even though he always allowed her to clock in first. The court noted that the coworker had not carpooled with her the week she was tardy, for which she was terminated from the position, so it was not a good comparison. Denmark could not otherwise prove that TCI had terminated her for reasons other than repeatedly violating company policy. Denmark had reportedly been tardy at least 31 times, sometimes as much an hour late.
The court also found that Denmark could not support her claim of sexual harassment, since there was nothing to suggest that she was subject to harassment on a regular basis. Finally, the court found that Denmark did not meet the burden of proof that she was terminated for reporting sexual harassment to Human Resources, noting that Denmark admitted that Human Resources had already informed The Staffing People of her termination prior to their meeting.
As such, the court granted TCI’s motion for summary judgment on all claims.
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