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Hurlie-Smith v. Quinnipiac University

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 7, 2018



          Victor A. Bolden United States District Judge.

         On November 14, 2016, Patricia Hurlie-Smith (“Plaintiff”) filed this lawsuit against Quinnipiac University (“Defendant” or “Quinnipiac”), alleging discrimination on the bases of sex and age, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-60. Compl., ECF No. 1.

         Quinnipiac has moved for summary judgment. Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 30.

         For the following reasons, Quinnipiac's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


         A. Factual Allegations

         In March 2004, Quinnipiac hired Ms. Hurlie-Smith as a part-time security guard and assigned her to a bus detail that transported students from Quinnipiac's campus in Hamden to New Haven from 8:00 p.m. until 4:00 a.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 1 (“Def.'s SMF”), ECF No. 30-5.

         Ms. Hurlie-Smith originally reported to Sergeant Bill Canning. Hurlie-Smith Dep. at 31:14-16, Mot. Summ. J. Ex. B, ECF No. 30-2.

         In 2007 or 2008, Quinnipiac eliminated part-time positions, and, as a result, Ms. Hurlie-Smith had to attain full-time status to continue working at the university. Def.'s SMF ¶ 2. Ms. Hurlie-Smith added two overnight shifts per week working at a security booth from midnight to 8:00 a.m. Id. Her hourly pay rate was the same for both positions. Id. Security personnel responsible for the bus program were known as the “Tactical Unit, ” or the “TAC Team, ” and they were responsible for running shuttles, managing the taxi stand area, and facilitating the flow of traffic on days when students were moving onto and off of the campus. Id. ¶ 3.

         On one of those days, when students were moving onto campus, Sergeant Canning “sent [Ms. Hurlie-Smith] over to another side of campus with nothing to do, with no explanation as to why this happened.” Pl.'s Stmt. of Material Facts (“Pl. SMF”) at 10, Obj. to Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. B, ECF No. 31-2.

         In June 2014, Quinnipiac removed Ms. Hurlie-Smith from the TAC Team. Id. at 10. She asked Chief Dave Barger why, and he responded that “it was ‘time to pass the torch.'” Id. Ms. Hurlie-Smith also claims that, when she asked to stay working on the buses in the fall of 2014, he told her that “she was not getting any younger.” Id.

         In 2014, Ms. Hurlie-Smith filed a complaint with the EEOC. EEOC Release, Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. B, ECF No. 30-2. The EEOC found that it was unable to conclude that Ms. Hurlie-Smith's allegations violated Title VII, and instructed that she “may file a lawsuit against the respondent(s) under federal law based on this charge in federal or state court” but the “lawsuit must be filed WITHIN 90 DAYS of your receipt of this notice; or your right to sue based on this charge will be lost.” Id.

         On January 29, 2015, Nicole Lambusta, who was at the time the Human Resources Business Partner, called Ms. Hurlie-Smith to discuss her assignment with the TAC Team. Id. ¶ 4. On the call and in a follow-up e-mail, Ms. Lambusta stated that Ms. Hurlie-Smith would be assigned to the express buses on the TAC Team, she would perform the functions of the “Officer in Charge” on Saturday nights and other nights when no Sergeant was present, she would resume her former responsibilities of directing all south lot major staging, that Sergeant Canning would not be working with the TAC Team, that Quinnipiac would clarify and distribute information about the TAC Team roles, and offering: “Chief Barger is happy to send the following email to the Public Safety Department before you return to the TAC Team: ‘Pat Hurlie-Smith has decided to return to the TAC Team and will begin again February 15, 2015.'” Id.

         Two days before receiving Ms. Lambusta's email, Ms. Hurlie-Smith went on medical leave for an injured knee. Id. ¶ 5.

         In April 2015, while on medical leave, Ms. Hurlie-Smith called Chief Edgar Rodriguez. Id. ¶ 6. He told Ms. Hurlie-Smith that he had assigned Sergeant Robert Riordan to run the TAC Team, and that the department would no longer have an “Officer in Charge.” Id. He stated that upon her return, she would be assigned to the South Lot, and he asked her to send him an e-mail memorializing her request to be assigned to the TAC Team, which she did. Id.

         On April 25, 2015, Ms. Hurlie-Smith returned to work. Id. ¶ 7. She replied to Ms. Lambusta's January 30, 2015 e-mail, stating that she had spoken with Chief Rodriguez about returning to the TAC Team and submitted her bid to return there, and requested confirmation that the terms of the January 30 e-mail would apply to the 2015-2016 academic year. Id. Ms. Lambusta replied that Chief Rodriguez could work out the transition to the TAC Team, if he had not already done so. Id. ¶ 8.

         Upon her return, Ms. Hurlie-Smith discovered that the TAC Team no longer ran buses to New Haven, starting before final exams would begin in late April. Id. ¶ 9. Instead, she worked with the TAC Team under Sergeant Riordan's leadership for the first time in May. Id. ¶ 10. For the rest of the summer, the TAC Team was inactive, and Ms. Hurlie-Smith worked five shifts per week at the security gate and did not interact with Sergeant Riordan. Id. In August 2015, when the TAC Team resumed its work, Ms. Hurlie resumed working three nights per week on the TAC Team and two overnight shifts as a security guard. Id. ¶ 11.

         On September 8, 2015, Ms. Hurlie-Smith attended a meeting with Chief Rodriguez, Assistant Chief James Nealy, AVP of Human Resources Anna Spragg, and Ellsworth Evarts. Id. ¶ 12. Mr. Evarts allegedly objected to Sergeant Riordan's treatment of Ms. Hurlie-Smith, and Ms. Spragg instructed Ms. Hurlie Smith to submit her complaints against Sergeant Riordan by email. Id. Ms. Hurlie-Smith agreed to do so. Id.

         On September 11, 2015, Sergeant Riordan directed Ms. Hurlie-Smith to explain in writing why she had been late on a particular day. Id. ¶ 13. Ms. Hurlie-Smith complied and was not disciplined. Id.

         On September 17, 2015, Ms. Hurlie-Smith sent Chief Rodriguez and Assistant Chief Nealy an e-mail describing her experience during a moving out day for students in May 2015. Id. ¶ 14. On that day, she sought Sergeant Jim Moniello's assistance in asking Sergeant Riordan to move Officer Rhonda Rinaldi to another location to help with “staging” vehicles, which meant lining up vehicles in a parking lot until room was available near residence halls. Id. ¶ 15. Sergeant Riordan asked Ms. Hurlie-Smith why Officer Rinaldi needed to be moved; when she answered, he told her that there was no need to stage the vehicles and walked away. Id. Later in the day, Sergeant Riordan asked why cars were not being permitted to go to the residence halls, and Ms. Hurlie-Smith responded that they were being restaged in South Lot. Id. Sergeant Riordan responded that it was his call. Id. Ms. Hurlie-Smith stated that Sergeant Riordan had not been in the field in the first place, that she was implementing the same procedure that she had used in the past, and that he was “not taking the professional initiative to understand the process.” Id.; see also E-mail, Hurlie-Smith Dep. at 194-97, Exh. U.

         On September 18, 2015, Ms. Hurlie-Smith sent a second e-mail to Chief Rodriguez and Assistant Chief Nealy, describing five additional interactions with Sergeant Riordan, two on Move-In day, and three on September 5, in downtown New Haven, while Ms. Hurlie-Smith was managing the shuttle buses. Id. ¶ 16.

         Ms. Hurlie-Smith allegedly began a Move-In day by staging vehicles at the Hilltop parking lot, until Sergeant Riordan instructed her to switch with Officer Sandra Colon, who was assigned to the South Lot, because he needed Officer Colon in the Hilltop Lot. Id. Ms. Hurlie-Smith did not understand the basis for this decision. Id. Ms. Hurlie-Smith also stated that Sergeant Riordan scolded her in front of two other individuals for how she was staging cars and instructed her to use a different approach from the one she had used in the past; she thought the new approach was not an effective strategy. Id.

         Ms. Hurlie-Smith also stated that, on September 5, 2015, in downtown New Haven, she walked away from the bus parking area because she believed a group of young people on bikes posed a threat to Quinnipiac students returning to the buses. Id. She stated that Sergeant Riordan had been too busy “BS-ing, ” had not asked why she left the bus boarding area, and that he later asked her to come help with the bus boarding and mentioned that he did not know why she had left the area. Id. Ms. Hurlie-Smith returned to help the students board the buses, and at one point, she stepped into the street to see whether buses were approaching. Id. She stated that Sergeant Riordan then yelled “get out of the street, Pat!” Id. Later that night, Sergeant Riordan and a New Haven Police Officer were on one of the buses attending to a student who appeared to be in distress. Id. Ms. Hurlie-Smith stood on the step of the bus to prevent students from attempting to board. Id. Sergeant Riordan twice told her “We got it, Pat, ” but she remained standing on the step. Id. He then ordered her to get off the step. Id.

         On October 16, 2015, Ms. Hurlie-Smith sent an e-mail to Sergeant Riordan, copying Chief Rodriguez, Assistant Chief Nealy, and Mr. Evarts, stating that on a Saturday night three weeks earlier, Sergeant Riordan had not been on duty and the following week, he asked other members of the team “how ...

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