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Dieterle v. Rite Aid Pharmacy

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 12, 2016

MARK DIETERLE, Plaintiff,
v.
RITE AID PHARMACY et al., Defendants.

          RULING GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         This is a workplace discrimination case brought under Connecticut state law. Plaintiff Mark Dieterle is a gay man, and for six years he was a store manager at a Rite Aid Pharmacy in Putnam, Connecticut. In 2008, a co-worker posted an altered, offensive photograph of plaintiff to a store bulletin board. The co-worker who claimed responsibility for the incident was reported, warned, and transferred. Four years later, plaintiff was terminated from his job after an incident in which he hit a co-worker on the arm with a package of candy bars. Plaintiff claims he was terminated as the result of discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation and in retaliation for complaining about the photograph in 2008. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. I conclude there are no genuine issues of material fact left for trial and will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         Background

         The following facts are undisputed or, where disputed, are presented in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Plaintiff Mark Dieterle brings this case against Rite Aid Pharmacy and related defendants. He was hired as a store manager for the Rite Aid store in Putnam, Connecticut in 2006.

         Plaintiff is a gay man, and his co-workers were widely aware of this fact. He worked directly under district manager James Paquin. Until shortly before his termination, plaintiff received generally positive reviews, and he had no complaints against him. Doc. #40-1 at ¶¶ 11-13; Doc. #29-1 at 184.

         In 2008, plaintiff discovered a picture of himself pinned to the bulletin board at the store. It had been altered so that it appeared that plaintiff was wearing a dress, and the picture had a heart drawn around his head with the word “sweetheart.” The following day, plaintiff complained to Paquin, stating that he believed the photograph had been intended to harass plaintiff because of his sexual orientation.

         An assistant manager took responsibility for posting the photograph. Paquin reported the incident to John Mackintosh, the Manager of Associate Relations. Rite Aid management then warned the assistant manager and transferred him to another store, with no demotion or pay reduction. Defendants claim the assistant manager was issued a written warning, but the document has not been preserved. Plaintiff admits that he “was content with the transfer” of the assistant manager to another store. Doc. #40-1 at ¶¶ 20, 24-25, 38-40, 43.

         Following this complaint, plaintiff continued to receive positive performance reviews from Paquin. He admits he had few issues with Paquin until September 2011, when plaintiff's partner died of cancer. After that, he claims that Paquin began treating him differently, being more critical and distant. According to plaintiff, Paquin's “mission every time he came into my store was to get me, to play on my emotions, and get me wound up so I had to take a pill, meaning an anxiety pill.” Plaintiff further claims that Paquin “liked to push my buttons, tweak me and play on my emotions.” But he “accepted James [Paquin] for what he was. I'm gay . . . People are going to treat me differently.” Plaintiff believes Paquin treated him this way because plaintiff is gay. Following the death of plaintiff's partner, Paquin rated plaintiff's attitude as “needs improvement” on his annual review and told him that he had to “leave his personal life at home.” Nonetheless, Paquin “pulled strings” and made sure plaintiff still received a roughly $8, 000 bonus. Doc. #29-1 at 182, 185-86; 191; Doc. #40-1 at ¶¶ 51, 52.

         In 2012, Crystal Pomroy, a colleague of plaintiff's, filed a complaint against him. The complaint arose from an incident in the store when plaintiff criticized the way that Pomroy was stocking a shelf; plaintiff tapped her on the arm twice with a pack of eight “fun size” candy bars. Following the tap, Pomroy immediately backed away from plaintiff and moved to leave the aisle to get away from him. Plaintiff admitted that Pomroy had a right to be agitated, and that he had overstepped his boundaries.

         Pomroy reported this incident to Paquin, and Paquin then notified HR Associate Manager John Mackintosh, and he had a conversation with Pomroy. She told Mackintosh that this was not the first time plaintiff had made inappropriate physical contact with her. Plaintiff avers that Mackintosh took no steps to confirm these statements, and denies there was ever any other inappropriate physical contact. Doc. #40-1 at ¶¶ 53-55, 59, 65.

         Mackintosh then asked Mark Ringuette to investigate the matter further. Plaintiff admitted to Ringuette that he tapped Pomroy at least twice with the package of candy bars. Another employee, Connie Lafortune, described two other incidents that could be construed as inappropriate physical contact from plaintiff, but also described that she had a friendly relationship with plaintiff and never felt threatened by him.

         Plaintiff was also interviewed. At his deposition, he stated he thought the overall investigation was an appropriate response to the complaint from Pomroy. Doc. # 29-1 at 250. Following the entire investigation, plaintiff was fired for allegedly violating the workplace violence policy.

         Plaintiff brought this lawsuit in state court in 2014, alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act and retaliation against him for making his 2008 complaint. Defendants removed the case to federal court under this ...


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