United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
A. BOLDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dixon (“Plaintiff”) filed this lawsuit against
her former employer, Metropolitan District Commission
(“Defendant, ” or “MDC”). Compl., ECF
No. 1. Ms. Dixon claims that MDC retaliated against her for
making protected discrimination complaints, in violation of
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sec. Am. Compl.,
ECF No. 46.
moved for summary judgment and seeks dismissal of Ms.
Dixon's sole claim of retaliation under Title VII. Mot.
for Summ. J., ECF No. 61. As explained in further detail
below, MDC's  Motion for Summary Judgment is
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Dixon is a former employee of MDC, a non-profit municipal
corporation chartered to provide water and wastewater
treatment services to several towns and municipal entities in
Connecticut. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 16. Ms. Dixon began working
for MDC as a Senior Clerk in the Human Resources
(“HR”) Department in July 1987. Id. at
¶ 1. She continued working within the HR Department
until 2007, when she transferred to work in the Diversity
Department, and she remained employed by MDC until her
position was terminated as part of a reduction in force
(“RIF”) in late 2011. Id. at
¶¶ 1, 26.
2006 Discrimination Complaints and Settlement
September 2005, MDC posted a job opening for an Executive
Administrative Assistant position with MDC's Chief
Executive Officer (“CEO”), Charles Sheehan. L.R.
56(a)(2) p. 17. Ms. Dixon applied for the position that same
month and she was eventually selected as one of three
finalists. Id. Ms. Dixon, however, was ultimately
not selected for the position and she believed race
discrimination played a role in the selection process, as she
considered the individual hired to be less qualified than
her. Id. at 18.
January 12, 2006, Ms. Dixon filed an internal complaint with
Rick Gomez, who was serving as MDC's Affirmative Action
Officer at the time, alleging race discrimination.
Id.; L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 2-3; 2006 Internal
Compl., Pl. Ex. 38, ECF No. 69-38. Mr. Gomez initiated an
investigation into Ms. Dixon's claims, and he ultimately
determined that MDC's rejection of Ms. Dixon for the
position in question did not have to do with her race. Gomez
Mem. to CEO, Pl. Ex. 39, ECF No. 69-39; Mar. 2006 Gomez.
Ltr., Shea Aff. Ex. B, ECF No. 64-2.
22, 2006, Ms. Dixon filed a complaint with the Connecticut
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities
(“CHRO”) and the Equal Employment Opportunities
Commission (“EEOC”) based on the same allegations
raised in her internal complaint. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 4;
2006 CHRO Compl., Pl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 69-4. Ms. Dixon then
attended a conference with representatives of MDC to discuss
her administrative complaint. L.R. 56(a)(2) p. 19. During
that conference, MDC agreed to transfer Ms. Dixon to a new
position in exchange for the withdrawal of her complaint.
Id.; L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 5-6. Ms. Dixon
agreed, and in 2007, she assumed the new role of Community
Affairs Assistant with MDC's Diversity Department, which
came with a higher salary and a higher status within the
Dixon alleges that, in June 2011, she received a verbal
reprimand from her supervisor for misusing her personal break
time. L.R. 56(a)(2) p. 22. According to Ms. Dixon, MDC offers
its employees two fifteen-minute breaks during the day, as
well as a lunch break. Dixon Aff. ¶ 29, Pl. Opp. Ex. 1,
ECF No. 69-1. Ms. Dixon claims that she used one of her
fifteen-minute breaks to make a personal phone call on one of
the balconies. Id. At the conclusion of her call,
which she alleges did not last more than fifteen minutes, she
saw Bart Halloran, MDC Counsel, watching her from the other
side of the glass door to the balcony. Id. One or
two days later, George Scurlock, Ms. Dixon's supervisor
within the Diversity Department, called her into his office
and informed her that she was observed taking a personal
phone call on the balcony for thirty to forty-five minutes.
Id. at ¶ 30. Ms. Dixon protested, insisting
that she was not on the phone for more than fifteen minutes.
Id. She states that, after her meeting with Mr.
Scurlock, she felt “upset” and as if she was
being “sought out.” Id. at ¶ 31.
She was not formally reprimanded, nor was any formal
discipline imposed. Id.
following month, in July 2011, she alleges that Chris Stone,
another one of MDC's attorneys, reprimanded her for not
responding to an e-mail from Mr. Halloran, District Counsel
for MDC. Id. According to Ms. Dixon, Mr. Halloran
had sent her an e-mail asking her to complete certain tasks
for a Clean Water Project, and she completed the requested
tasks. Id. at ¶ 33. Ms. Dixon states that Mr.
Halloran's e-mail did not request or require a response.
Id. at ¶ 34. Nevertheless, following this
incident, Ms. Dixon had tasks she had been performing for the
Clean Water Project reassigned to another employee.
Dixon claims that both of these incidents were in retaliation
for filing complaints in 2006. Id.
Reduction in Force
Dixon worked for MDC's Diversity Department from her
transfer in 2007 until October 2011, when her position was
selected for termination in connection with a company-wide
reduction in force. Id. at ¶¶ 1, 26.
Loss of Contract
twenty-seven years, the Connecticut Resources Recovery
Authority (“CRRA”) (the “Mid-Conn
Contract”) contracted with MDC to operate and maintain
the Mid-Conn Facility, a large trash facility located in
Hartford, Connecticut. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 7; L.R. 56(a)(2)
pp. 3, 26. The contract expired in 2011. L.R. 56(a)(1)
¶¶ 8-12. In late 2010, CRRA opened up a competitive
bidding process to determine who would operate the Mid-Conn
Contract for the coming term. Id. MDC bid to provide
services, but CRRA chose another company. Id.
revenue from the Mid-Conn Contract totaled $2.1 million, and
the end of this contract resulted in significant financial
loss to MDC. Id. MDC challenged CRRA's
competitive bidding process through litigation in Connecticut
Superior Court; the court, however, rejected MDC's claims
in August 2011 and this effort to prevent the termination of
the Mid-Conn Contract failed. Id.
Cost-Saving Committee and Methodology
in September 2011, individuals involved in the management of
MDC began to discuss ways of responding to the financial
losses associated with the loss of the Mid-Conn Contract.
Id. ¶ 13. They created a committee to explore
how to implement the required cost savings. Id.
According to Ms. Dixon, MDC selected six individuals to serve
on this committee: Robert Zaik; Deputy CEO Scott Jellison;
Deputy CEO and Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”)
John Zinzarella; Interim HR Director Erin Ryan; and MDC
counsel Bart Halloran and Christopher Stone. L.R. 56(a)(2) p.
23. The committee determined that, in order to accomplish the
desired cost savings, MDC would need to conduct a reduction
in force. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 16. Accordingly, the
committee established a multi-step methodology to determine
which positions would be eliminated. L.R. 56(a)(1)
¶¶ 21-24. The committee's first meeting was in
September of 2011. L.R. 56(a)(2) p. 24.
describes the selection of positions for layoff as
essentially a two-step process. During the first step, MDC
identified positions that were either directly or indirectly
involved with the Mid-Conn Contract. Id. at
¶¶ 22-24. According to MDC, only three positions
were identified in this category by the committee.
Id. During the second step, MDC identified positions
that could be eliminated without impacting MDC's core
functions. Id. According to MDC, fourteen positions
were identified in this category, including Ms. Dixon's
position. Id. MDC insists that the committee was
tasked with identifying positions for elimination, not
individual people. Id. at ¶ 20.
Dixon challenges some aspects of MDC's description of
this process. According to Ms. Dixon, the process was a
four-step process, not two, through which MDC would identify
(1) “[p]ositions assigned directly” to the
Mid-Conn Contract; (2) “[p]ositions that provide direct
support” to the contract; (3) “[p]ositions that
provide back-office administrative supports” to the
contract; and (4) “[p]ositions whose elimination will
not affect the core business needs” of MDC. L.R.
56(a)(2) at p. 26. Ms. Dixon acknowledges that her position
would have been selected for termination as part of the
fourth and final category. Id. at 33.
Dixon, however, claims that her position was selected for
termination even before the committee began the first step of
this selection process. Id. at 34 (“Plaintiff
was pre-selected for layoff”). She alleges that, on
Labor Day weekend in 2011 - before the committee's first
meeting - Mr. Halloran informed Mr. Scurlock, Director of
Diversity and Ms. Dixon's supervisor, that MDC would be
laying off both Ms. Dixon and Rick Gomez and instructed Mr.
Scurlock to keep this information confidential. Id.
at 34. MDC, on the other hand, insists that Ms. Dixon's
position was selected for termination later, as a result of
the committee's multi-step methodology. L.R. 56(a)(1)
October 6, 2011, the District Board of Commissioners
(“the Board”), which governs MDC, adopted a
resolution directing the management of MDC to
“eliminate such positions within the District
organizational structure as are reasonably and functionally
necessary to address the budgetary and financial consequences
resulting from the expiration of the District contract with
Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority….”
Id. at ¶ 19. The following day, on October 7,
2011, Ms. Dixon was notified that her position was being
eliminated. Id. at ¶ 7.
Ryan, one of the committee members, was primarily responsible
for assessing Ms. Dixon's position and recommending her
position for elimination. Id. at ¶ 37. Ms. Ryan
joined MDC in January 2011, and she assumed the position of
Interim HR Director in July 2011. Id. at
¶¶ 32-34. According to Ms. Dixon, Ms. Ryan was not
very familiar with either the nature of Ms. Dixon's
position or the work of the Diversity Department when she
made the decision. L.R. 56(a)(2) pp. 30, 33. Ms. Dixon also
insists that Ms. Ryan and all of the other committee members
were aware of Ms. Dixon's prior discrimination complaints
at the time the decision was made to eliminate her position.
Id. at 43.
of twenty jobs were eliminated through this reduction in
force, including Ms. Dixon's position, three of which
were union positions directly related to the Mid-Conn
Contract and another three of which were non-union positions
with direct ties to the Mid-Conn Contract. Id. at
31. The remaining fourteen positions were selected based on
the logic that their elimination would not affect MDC's
core business needs. Id. at 32. Ms. Dixon claims
that the Diversity ...