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Daniel Lalowski v. Corinthian Schools

January 26, 2012

DANIEL LALOWSKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORINTHIAN SCHOOLS, INC. AND CORINTHIAN COLLEGES, INC. (A.K.A. EVEREST COLLEGE), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Corinthian Schools, Inc. and Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (hereinafter, collectively, the "Defendants"). For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants summary judgment to Defendants as to Plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim and Title IX claim for punitive damages, but denies summary judgment as to Plaintiff's Title IX retaliation claim.

I. BACKGROUND

According to Plaintiff, he was a high-performing admissions and recruiting officer for Corinthian College's Everest College campus. At various times in 2008, he received complaints about inappropriate conduct by his supervisor, Stanley Lofton ("Lofton"). Two of those complaints involved students who alleged that Lofton had inappropriately hugged them, kissed their cheeks, asked for their phone numbers, or all three. The third involved Lofton putting a co-worker, Cynthia Thomas ("Thomas"), in a headlock and giving her a "noogie" (by rubbing his knuckles on her head). Plaintiff claims that Thomas was bothered by the conduct, but did not wish to report it lest she lose her job. Similarly, the allegedly harassed student to whom Plaintiff spoke chose not to press a formal complaint.

However, in late 2008, Campus President Jeffrey Jarmes ("Jarmes") told Plaintiff that Lofton was being investigated, at which point Plaintiff told Jarmes about the three incidents of misconduct. In December 2008, Plaintiff wrote to Michelle McCormack ("McCormack"), a human resources representative, offering to help with the investigation into Lofton. McCormack replied that the investigation was into "an issue" on the Chicago campus, not into Lofton, and cautioned Plaintiff not to discuss the issue without firsthand knowledge. Unbeknownst to Plaintiff at the time, Lofton sent an e-mail to Human Resources in December 2008, claiming that Plaintiff was sowing discord and that other employees were "sick of" him. Lofton sought guidance on how to fire Plaintiff.

According to Plaintiff, he told Jarmes in late 2008 that he wanted to take January 2, 2009, off, although he did not have enough vacation time. Plaintiff claims that Jarmes would give good employees the day off without charging their vacation time, and that Jarmes basically told him not to worry. Plaintiff did not attend work on January 2.

Plaintiff contends that another student came to him on or around January 5, 2009, complaining that Lofton behaved inappropriately toward her. Plaintiff brought the issue to Jarmes, who told him to direct the student to Jennifer Paugh ("Paugh"). Plaintiff claims that he escorted the student to Paugh's office and dropped her off, but does not know what became of the complaint after that.

On his January 6 timesheet, Plaintiff marked that he worked on January 2. When Lofton told him to correct the sheet, Plaintiff sought out Jarmes, who again told him not to worry about it. Jarmes then directed the person in charge of submitting timesheets to use whatever sick and vacation time Plaintiff had available to make up the day. According to his deposition, Jarmes did so to avoid holding up payroll, and on the theory that errors would be corrected in the next pay cycle. Lofton, however, independently contacted both the payroll person and McCormack, indicating that Plaintiff had falsified his timesheet. Based on Lofton's explanation, McCormack recommended Plaintiff's termination to Sean Quinn ("Quinn"), the Regional Vice President of Admissions. Plaintiff was fired on January 9, 2009. He claims that McCormack initially refused to give a reason, but eventually said that he was being fired for "insubordination."

Defendants tell a different story. According to them, Plaintiff suffered no ill consequences from reporting misconduct, and Lofton was counseled for his unprofessional behavior toward Thomas. Interestingly, Defendants told the EEOC, but do not argue here, that Plaintiff had a history of making bad faith allegations against Lofton. (Based on McCormack's investigation report, the Court notes that she may have interviewed the wrong student in one of Plaintiff's complaints. If that is the case, it would not be surprising that the student denied being harassed.)

Defendants deny that Plaintiff was given January 2 off, and argue that he simply submitted a falsified timesheet. When he was told by Lofton to correct it, he instead took it to Jarmes. Jarmes told Plaintiff to obtain Lofton's approval and signature; Defendants appear to claim that Plaintiff submitted another uncorrected form instead. Jarmes told the payroll person to correct Plaintiff's timesheet with his sick and vacation hours. Jarmes and Lofton then both signed the timesheet with handwritten corrections, however, Lofton's signature is dated 1/9/2009. At Corinthian, timesheet falsification is a terminable offense, and Defendants claim that Plaintiff was fired accordingly. The Court notes, however, that Defendants' employees give such muddled accounts that it is difficult to discern Defendants' version of several key events.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a).

A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence would permit a reasonable fact finder to find for the non-moving party, and material if it may affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Courts do not evaluate credibility or determine facts on summary judgment; they decide only whether there is enough evidence to send a case to trial. Id. at 249. If the movant meets its burden, the non-movant must present facts showing a genuine dispute to avoid summary judgment. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323--24 (1986).

On summary judgment, the Court construes all facts and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Ricci v. DeStefano, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 2677 (2009). Because employment discrimination cases turn on issues of intent and credibility, they receive "special scrutiny" on summary ...


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