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Lightbody v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 17, 2014



DENISE J. CASPER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Diana Lightbody ("Lightbody") has filed this lawsuit against Defendant Walmart Stores East, L.P. ("Walmart") alleging a violation of Mass. Gen. L. c. 151B, § 4. D. 1-1. Walmart has moved for summary judgment. D. 18. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES the motion.

II. Standard of Review

"Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law" based on the pleadings, depositions, and affidavits. Prescott v. Higgins , 538 F.3d 32, 40 (1st Cir. 2008); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. "A dispute is genuine if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party." Thompson v. Coca-Cola, Co. , 522 F.3d 168, 175 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Sánchez v. Alvarado , 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996)). "A fact is material if it has the potential of determining the outcome of the litigation." Maymí v. P.R. Ports Auth. , 515 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2008). The Court must construe the record in the light most favorable to the non-movant and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Prescott , 538 F.3d at 39. "[C]onclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation" may be ignored. Medina-Muñoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. , 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990).

III. Factual Background and Procedural History

Unless otherwise noted, this factual summary is drawn from the material facts submitted by Walmart and undisputed by Lightbody. At all times relevant to this action Lightbody was employed at Walmart's Walpole, Massachusetts store as a Zone Merchandise Supervisor. D. 20 ¶¶ 1-2. Lightbody reported to Assistant Manager Kerrie Ortiz ("Ortiz"). Id . ¶ 4. Robin Wilson began working at the same store as an Assistant Manager in October of 2009. Id . ¶ 7. On December 17, 2009 Lightbody submitted a letter to the store manager identifying instances of Wilson's inappropriate behavior toward her. Id . ¶ 9-10. Lightbody stated that in the preceding month Wilson had told her four times that she was "hot" and once that she "excite[d] him." Id . ¶ 11. Wilson allegedly pinched Lightbody's stomach twice and tried to pinch her buttocks, but did not do so. Id . Lightbody also alleged that Wilson told her and others that he planned to sit on his couch naked all weekend. Id . Further, Wilson allegedly asked Lightbody if she needed lip gloss and then licked his lips. Id . Finally, Lightbody asserted that Wilson stared at her and then licked his lips. Id.

Walmart, which had not received any prior complaints regarding Wilson's workplace conduct, opened an investigation on December 18, 2009, the day after Lightbody submitted her allegations. Id . ¶¶ 12-14. Jennifer Castillo ("Castillo"), Walmart's Market Human Resources Manager, was assigned to investigate Lightbody's claims. Id . ¶ 14. Over the next eight days, Castillo interviewed two employees in Walmart's Walpole store. Id . ¶ 15. She also interviewed Lightbody and Wilson. Id . ¶¶ 16-17. Wilson denied many of Lightbody's accusations. Id . ¶ 17.

Walmart contends that the only allegation Castillo was able to corroborate was Wilson's statement concerning his intention to spend the weekend sitting naked on the couch. Id . ¶ 18. Lightbody alleges that Walmart's investigation was deficient because Castillo failed to interview all the potential witnesses identified by Lightbody and the two employees interviewed by Castillo. Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, D. 26, ¶ 18. Lightbody argues that Walmart could have obtained corroboration of Wilson's misconduct had Castillo conducted a more thorough investigation. Id .; D. 25 at 10. It is undisputed, however, that Castillo's investigation revealed that Wilson told an employee (not Lightbody) that she had been "bad" and that Wilson may need to spank her. D. 20 ¶ 19.

On January 7, 2010, Walmart disciplined Wilson by warning him that any subsequent violation of Walmart's harassment prevention policy would result in his immediate termination. Id . ¶¶ 20-21. Walmart also required Wilson to undergo additional training regarding Walmart's policy against sexual harassment. Id . ¶ 22.

Although Walmart states that it heard nothing further from Lightbody concerning Wilson's conduct again until June 3, 2010, id. ¶ 24, it does not dispute that Lightbody and employee Alyssha Dellis ("Dellis") spoke with Assistant Manager Walter Budz ("Budz") prior to that date. D. 26 ¶ 24. Dellis told Budz that she saw Wilson pinch and grab Lightbody's stomach at least twice, apparently corroborating Lightbody's accusations. Id .; D. 25 at 14.

On June 3, 2010, Lightbody informed Walmart that Wilson had recently stared at her breasts. D. 20 ¶ 25. On June 7, 2010, Walmart suspended Wilson pending an investigation of Lightbody's accusation. Id . ¶ 26. Four days later, Castillo interviewed four employees, including Lightbody and Ortiz, who corroborated Lightbody's allegation. Id . ¶ 27-28. In addition, another employee told Castillo that Wilson had made inappropriate comments to the employee and grabbed her waist at least once. Id . ¶ 29.

As a result of Castillo's investigation, Walmart terminated Wilson's employment on June 23, 2010. Id . ¶ 30. Lightbody continued to work at Walmart until December 2013. Id . ¶ 31.

Lightbody instituted this action in Norfolk Superior Court. D. 1-1. Walmart removed the case to this Court, D. 1, and now moves for summary judgment. D. 18. The Court conducted a hearing on the ...

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