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Castonguay v. Long Term Care Management Services, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 30, 2014



THOMAS D. SCHROEDER, District Judge.

Before the court in this employment action are motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure filed by all Defendants. Defendants Long Term Care Management Services, LLC ("Long Term Care") and Liberty Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center of Lee County, LLC ("Liberty Commons") (collectively the "corporate Defendants") move for summary judgment on Plaintiff Paul R. Castonguay's claims of sex discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), as well as his state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") and negligent infliction of emotional distress ("NIED"). (Doc. 44.) Defendants Linda Andrews and Cassandra Stephens (the "individual Defendants") move for summary judgment on Castonguay's IIED and NIED claims against them. (Doc. 42.) Castonguay opposes the motions. (Docs. 46, 47.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions for summary judgment will be granted.


The relevant facts, considered in the light most favorable to Castonguay, are as follows:

A. The Parties

Liberty Commons, a subsidiary of Long Term Care, is a healthcare services facility that provides patient care, including rehabilitation, long term care, respite care, and outpatient therapy. (Doc. 43-2 ("Andrews Decl.") ¶ 3.) On February 16, 2007, Liberty Commons hired Castonguay for the position of Maintenance Director. (Id. ¶ 5.) Castonguay's duties included assuring the overall maintenance of the facility, servicing equipment, performing minor repairs, and generally keeping the facility free of hazards. (Doc. 46-2 at 2-3.) One of his primary responsibilities was to maintain the safety of the grounds and facility in the event of a snowfall. (Castonguay Dep. I at 138-40.)[1] This often required him to report to work early to prevent possible accidents at the facility. (Id.) Defendant Andrews held the position of Administrator at Liberty Commons beginning July 8, 2008 (Andrews Decl. ¶ 2; Andrews Dep. at 21), [2] and was Castonguay's direct supervisor (Andrews Dep. at 14). Defendant Stephens was the Director of Nursing at Liberty Commons and also acted as supervisor to the entire staff, including Castonguay, in Andrews' absence. (Id. at 13-14.)

B. The Alleged Harassment

Castonguay submits that beginning in the spring or summer of 2009 he was subjected to several unwelcome acts and comments of a sexual nature by Stephens and Laurie Williamson (who, according to one of Castonguay's response briefs, was "an Administrator from the Whiteville facility [who] occasionally visited Liberty Commons") (Doc. 47 at 5), and that Andrews condoned the conduct and failed to take the necessary actions to thwart the harassment. He particularly relies on the specific instances described below, some of which are corroborated by his co-worker Jack Vestal and by Cynthia Leslie, a department head at Liberty Commons. (See id. at 13-14; Doc. 46 at 2-3; Castonguay Dep. II at 30.)

Castonguay first relies on several comments made by Stephens that he believes were inappropriate. He testified in his deposition[3] that during a meeting, several women including Andrews and Stephens were discussing bra sizes on the opposite end of the room. (Castonguay Dep. II at 226; Castonguay Dep. I at 31; Leslie Dep. at 131.)[4] According to Leslie, this occurred in the spring of 2009. (Leslie Dep. at 129-30.) During this conversation, Stephens asked Castonguay what bra size Castonguay's girlfriend wore. Castonguay did not respond. (Castonguay Dep. I at 31; Leslie Dep. at 132.) Castonguay believed this comment was inappropriate and he felt embarrassed and humiliated, but he did not inform either Andrews or Stephens that he felt this way. (Castonguay Dep. II at 226-27.)

In a separate incident at around the same time, Stephens asked Castonguay to state his address, to which Castonguay responded "69 Echo Lane." (Id. at 224; Leslie Dep. at 129-30.) Stephens then turned around and asked Andrews if she knew what "69 means, " and when Andrews said she did not, Stephens said that it was "something to do with sex" and that she would explain later. (Castonguay Dep. II at 224-25; Castonguay Dep. I at 233.) In June 2009, Stephens told Castonguay, "look at that" and, "don't that ass look good, " referring to Andrews' buttocks. (Leslie Dep. at 134-35). Castonguay shook his head while Stephens laughed. (Id. at 135.) After making sure that there was nothing work-related that he needed to do, he left the room. (Id.) Stephens also subjected Castonguay to numerous and continuous comments - though Castonguay would not commit to an exact number in his deposition - about his buttocks, insinuating that it looked good in jeans, while Andrews observed and failed to correct the behavior. (Castonguay Dep. II at 230-31.)

Castonguay testified that he was paged to Stephens' office sometime in the late summer of 2009 for the sole purpose of viewing an image of four bare-breasted women on Stephens' computer screen. (Castonguay Dep. I at 222-23.) When Castonguay entered Stephens' office, Andrews was sitting in front of Stephens' desk. (Id. at 222.) Stephens told Castonguay to come behind the desk and look at the computer screen, then asked him which one of the women looked like his girlfriend. (Id. at 223.) Though Andrews could not see the computer screen, Castonguay surmised by her lack of reaction to Stephens' question that she already knew what was on the screen. (Castonguay Dep. II at 76-77.) Castonguay responded: "I ain't answering this. I'm not answering[, ]" and left the office. (Castonguay Dep. I at 223.) Vestal testified that Stephens showed him the same picture on her computer while Castonguay was in the office. (Vestal Dep. at 71.)[5] Vestal found the picture to be unprofessional but not offensive. (Id. at 121.)[6]

Castonguay also relies upon several incidents involving Williamson. Castonguay testified that upon one of Williamson's visits to Liberty Commons in the summer of 2009, she flipped a mannequin/dummy upside down, briefly exposed its buttocks for Castonguay to see while saying, "hey, look at this, " and then flipped it back. (Castonguay Dep. I at 184-85.) During the same visit, Williamson pinched him on the buttocks and made a "hee-ya" sound. (Id. at 173.) Castonguay testified that Vestal and Andrews were present when Williamson touched him and that Andrews told Williamson she should not have done that because she was "going to be an administrator soon out in Whiteville." (Id. at 173-74.) At times when Castonguay and Vestal were working on their knees on the floor, Williamson (on several visits to Liberty Commons in 2009), along with Stephens, repeatedly made comments to the effect of "I like men on their knees." (Id. at 167, 171-72, 174-76, 181-82, 185-88.) Castonguay ascribed a sexual motive to Williamson's comments because she had previously pinched him on the buttocks, but he concedes that she never "propositioned" him for any sexual encounters. (Id. at 174-75.)[7]

According to Castonguay, the harassment escalated to the point that Stephens inappropriately touched him twice in January 2010. (Castonguay Dep. II at 232.) The first incident occurred in a copy room; according to Castonguay, Stephens entered the room and "grabbed ahold of [him] on [his] buttocks." (Id.) Andrews witnessed the touching and told Stephens that she should not have done that because she is married. (Id.) Later in the month, Castonguay was walking down a hallway when Stephens grabbed him on the buttocks and exclaimed "hoo hoo." (Id. at 235.) Leslie testified that she witnessed the second incident and testified that Stephens "smacked" Castonguay and made a "little noise" as she did it. (Leslie Dep. at 152.)[8] At some point after the second incident, either in late January or early February, Castonguay went to Andrews and told her that if the conduct did not stop, he was going to go over her head and "refer it to corporate." (Castonguay Dep. II at 237-38.)

C. The Performance Action Plan and Castonguay's Termination

On February 16, 2010, some weeks after Castonguay's late-January or early-February meeting with Andrews, Andrews placed Castonguay on a Performance Action Plan ("PAP"). (Andrews Dep. at 54; Doc. 46-5.) The PAP described four specific performance issues that led to its implementation. See infra Part II.B.1.d. Among other things, it required Castonguay to report to Andrews upon completion of each project, to be available and exhibit concern for the building, to maintain the safety of the facility during weather emergencies, and to treat all fellow staff members with courtesy and respect. (Doc. 46-5 at 3.)

On March 3, 2010, an unexpected snowstorm struck the area. (Castonguay Dep. II at 283-84; Andrews Dep. at 132.) Unaware that it had snowed in the early morning hours, Castonguay arrived at work at his normal time of 8:00 a.m. (Castonguay Dep. II at 283.) He testified that he was not notified that a snow emergency existed and was unaware of it until he awoke that morning. (Id. at 284.) Castonguay submits that he had no duty to report to work until he was called or he had actual notice of the weather conditions.[9] (Id.) He described the conditions at Liberty Commons upon his arrival as "lots of snow, lots of ice." (Castonguay Dep. II at 283.) Upon arrival, he immediately began shoveling the back entranceway, although other Liberty Commons employees had already been shoveling snow before he arrived. (Id. at 283-84.) He soon encountered fellow employee Vickie Pimkin, who was responsible for transporting patients to and from medical appointments in the facility's van. (Id. at 284; Andrews Dep. at 136.) Pimkin asked Castonguay whether he would accompany her on the route because the road conditions were dangerous.[10] (Pimkin Dep. at 17.)[11] Castonguay then asked Pimkin to run the idea by Andrews. (Castonguay Dep. II at 285.) When Pimkin returned, she told Castonguay that Andrews wanted him to drive the van. (Pimkin Dep. at 17.)[12] According to Andrews, Pimkin and Castonguay were the only employees on staff who could drive the van. (Andrews Dep. at 144.)

Upon hearing that Andrews wanted him to drive the van, Castonguay went to see Andrews. (Castonguay Dep. II at 286.) He told her that he would drive the van as long as she would take responsibility in the event that something happened. (Id.) Because he was subject to the PAP, he was worried that if anything happened to the patients in the van while he was driving, he was certain to be fired. (Id.) Additionally, he worried that the van was "top-heavy" and he lacked the necessary training to drive it in the adverse weather conditions. (Id. at 287, 290.) Castonguay says he never outright refused to drive the van, but he concedes he conditioned his driving on Andrews' acceptance of responsibility. (Id. at 286-92.) In response to Castonguay's conditional acceptance, Andrews simply walked away. (Id. at 292.) Ten to fifteen minutes later, Andrews paged Castonguay to her office and terminated him. (Id.) Castonguay maintains that he did not threaten Andrews or use profanity when he was terminated. (Id. at 291-92; Castonguay Decl. ¶ 123.) Andrews' contemporaneous written account of the morning's events generally supports this account.[13] As a result of Castonguay's response and termination, Andrews drove the van on March 3. (Castonguay Dep. II at 293.)

D. Post-Termination Events

On March 8, 2010, Castonguay applied for unemployment benefits with the North Carolina Department of Employment Security ("DES"). (Doc. 43-16 at 2.) Castonguay told DES that he was terminated because he would not drive the van unless Andrews took responsibility for his actions. (Id.) There was no mention on his application of any sexual harassment allegation. On May 27, 2010, Castonguay filed a charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), stating that Andrews did not provide a reason for discharging him. (Doc. 43-17 at 5.) He stated: "I believe I have been discriminated against because of my sex, male, and in retaliation for complaining of a protected activity, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended." (Id.) His amended EEOC charge, filed on February 3, 2011, alleged sexual harassment beginning in June 2009. (Doc. 43-18 at 2.)

After the EEOC dismissed Castonguay's charge, it issued a right-to-sue letter on April 27, 2011. (Doc. 4-1.) Castonguay subsequently initiated this suit in the Superior Court for Lee County, North Carolina, on July 19, 2011, and Defendants timely removed it to this court. (Docs. 1, 4.) On July 31, 2012, this court dismissed some of Castonguay's claims against Defendants. (Doc. 22.) The remaining claims against the corporate Defendants are for sex discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII; IIED; ...

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