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Bunting v. Kellogg's Corp.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 16, 2019

LENWORTH BUNTING, Plaintiff,
v.
KELLOGG'S CORPORATION Defendant.

          RULING RE: MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 50)

          JANET C. HALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The plaintiff, Lenworth Bunting (“Bunting”), brings claims of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation against the defendant, Kellogg's Corporation (“Kellogg”), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, et seq., (“Title VII”). See Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1) at 1-3. Kellogg now moves for summary judgment. See Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Mot.”) (Doc. No. 50). Bunting, who is acting pro se, submitted several briefs opposing summary judgment as to his Title VII claims. See generally Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Pl.'s Opp'n”) (Doc. No. 57); Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Pl.'s Sur-Reply”) (Doc. No. 61). In these opposition papers, Bunting also appears to assert for the first time a state law claim against Kellogg. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 6-7.

         For the reasons set forth below, Kellogg's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted. While the court will not address Bunting's new state law claim because it is not properly before the court, Bunting may pursue such a claim by filing a motion to amend his Complaint. Only after Bunting has filed such a motion will the court decide whether to permit Bunting to amend his Complaint at this stage of the litigation.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Kellogg employed Bunting at its Distribution Center in Newington, Connecticut. Defendant's Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement of Facts (“Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1”) (Doc. No. 52) at ¶ 1; Plaintiff's Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement of Facts (“Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2”) (Doc. No. 58) at 1, ¶ 1. On October 14, 2015, a physical altercation occurred between Bunting and a co-worker, Marcos Cadavid (“Cadavid”), at the Distribution Center. See Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 ¶¶ 13-22; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 21, ¶¶ 1-5. Bunting claims that Cadavid sexually assaulted him by grabbing his chest and bottom. Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 22; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 9, ¶ 22, 21, ¶ 1. Cadavid told Kellogg managers that he accidentally bumped into Bunting, and that Bunting responded by punching and chocking him. Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 27; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 21, ¶ 5.

         On October 19, 2015, Kellogg sent Bunting a letter advising him that his employment was terminated. Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 43; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 15, ¶ 43; Defendant's Exhibit A (“Def.'s Ex. A”) (Doc. No. 52-1) at 107 (Bunting's employment termination letter).[1] On February 25, 2016, Bunting filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) that identified age discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation as the basis for his charge of employment discrimination (“the CHRO Charge”). Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 45; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 16, ¶ 45; Def.'s Ex. A at 135-138 (Bunting's CHRO Charge). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) notified Bunting that it had received a copy of his CHRO Charge alleging age discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation. Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 47; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 16, ¶ 47; Def.'s Ex. A at 139 (EEOC letter to Bunting, dated March 31, 2016). The EEOC also informed Bunting that it would accept and adopt the CHRO's final findings as its own unless Bunting requested in writing that the EEOC conduct its own review of Bunting's Charge within fifteen days of the date on which Bunting received the CHRO's notice of its final findings. Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 48; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 17, ¶ 48; Def.'s Ex. A at 140 (EEOC's Notice of Right to Request Review).

         On March 20, 2017, the CHRO dismissed Bunting's case, finding that there was no reasonable cause for believing that Kellogg terminated Bunting's employment on the basis of age discrimination, sexual harassment, or retaliation. Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 49; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 17, ¶ 49; Def.'s Ex. A at 141-148 (letter notifying Bunting of the CHRO's final decision). The CHRO also advised Bunting that he could apply for reconsideration of the decision. Def.'s Ex. A at 141. Bunting filed a timely request for reconsideration, which the CHRO denied on August 25, 2017. Plaintiff's Exhibits (“Pl.'s Exs.”) (Doc. No. 57-1) at 7-11 (CHRO's decision on Bunting's reconsideration request).

         The EEOC mailed Bunting a Dismissal and Notice of Rights Letter (“the Right to Sue Letter”) that was dated May 15, 2017. Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 52; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 18, ¶ 52; Compl. at 9 (EEOC's Letter of Dismissal and Notice of Rights to Bunting). This Right to Sue Letter, which Bunting attached to the Complaint that he filed in this court, notified Bunting that the EEOC had adopted the CHRO's findings; that the EEOC was dismissing Bunting's claims of age discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation; and that Bunting had a right to bring a Title VII suit in federal court. Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 52; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 18, ¶ 52; Compl. at 9 (EEOC's Letter of Dismissal and Notice of Rights to Bunting). The Right to Sue Letter further noted:

This will be the only notice of dismissal and of your right to sue that we will send you. You may file a lawsuit against the respondent(s) under federal law based on this charge in federal or state court. Your 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. (The time limit for filing suit based on a claim under state law may be different.)

Compl. at 9 (emphasis in original).

         On August 29, 2017, Bunting filed the instant action in this court. See generally Compl. While his CHRO Charge alleged age discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation, the Complaint that he filed in federal court alleges race discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. See also Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶¶ 45, 47, 54; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at ¶¶ 45, 47, 54.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         On a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); Wright v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr., 831 F.3d 64, 71-72 (2d Cir. 2016). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, and present “such proof as would allow a reasonable juror to return a verdict in [its] favor, ” Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000). “An issue of fact is genuine and material if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cross Commerce Media, Inc. v. Collective, Inc., 841 F.3d 155, 162 (2d Cir. 2016).

         In assessing the record to determine whether there are disputed issues of material fact, the trial court must “resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.” LaFond v. Gen. Physics Servs. Corp., 50 F.3d 165, 175 (2d Cir. 1995). “Where it is clear that no rational finder of fact ‘could find in favor of the nonmoving party because the evidence to support its case is so slight,' summary judgment should be granted.” F.D.I.C. v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 607 F.3d 288, 292 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994)). On the other hand, where ‚Äúreasonable minds could differ as to the import of the ...


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