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Comiskey v. Hannaford Bros. Co.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 28, 2018

HANNAFORD BROS., CO., Defendant.



         Plaintiff Emily Comiskey brings this suit against her former employer, Defendant Hannaford Brothers, Co. (“Hannaford”). Before the court is Hannaford's Motion for Summary Judgment [#55]. For the reasons that follow, Hannaford's Motion for Summary Judgment [#55] is ALLOWED.

         I. Background

         This section recounts evidence relevant to Comiskey's claims that is either undisputed for purposes of summary judgment, as reflected by the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements of material fact and responses, not properly disputed per Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) and (e), or viewed in the light most favorable to Comiskey, as the non-movant.

         Hannaford's West Peabody grocery store hired Comiskey as a part-time deli associate in 2005. Def.'s Statement of Mat'l Facts (“Def.'s SOF”) ¶ 1 [#56]. The store was structured such that shift managers worked under the direction of deli managers and assistant deli managers, so that at any point in time, Comiskey had “five, six bosses.” Comiskey Dep. 125:1 [#56-2]. At the time Comiskey was hired, Patrice Glynn worked as the store's deli manager. Def.'s SOF ¶ 2. According to Comiskey, John Gaudette was one of the assistant deli managers. Id. ¶¶ 2-3. Many of Comiskey's co-workers liked Gaudette. Comiskey Dep. 112:14 [#56-2].

         In 2007, Comiskey filed a sexual harassment complaint against Gaudette using Hannaford's internal reporting system. Id. ¶ 4. Hannaford responded by firing Gaudette. Id.

         Comiskey started experiencing panic attacks around 2007. Id. ¶ 15. She attributes the attacks, at least in part, to post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). Id. The attacks occurred two to three times per week and were triggered when Comiskey's co-workers yelled at her, causing her to feel a “claustrophobic” feeling. Comiskey Dep. 66:4-11 [#56-1]. Comiskey contends that her co-workers were unsupportive and stood around ignoring her when she experienced these attacks. Id. at 68:18-22.

         Sometime shortly after Comiskey filed the complaint against Gaudette, according to Comiskey, the associate relations manager at the West Peabody store, Ann Baillie, started belittling and demeaning Comiskey in front of other associates. Comiskey Dep. 122:10-20 [#56-2]. This happened “[f]rom after the John Gaudette thing up until the end. Up until my last day there.” Id. at 118:14-15. According to Comiskey, Baillie told Comiskey, “if you ever say this to anyone, I will deny it but I just wish you would leave and get another job because I am sick of looking at your face and I am sick of listening to you cry.” Pl.'s SOF ¶ 8; Comiskey Dep. 75:1-4 [#56-1]. According to Comiskey, Baillie “was mad because [Comiskey] talked to another human resource person instead of her and she hated me since then because [Baillie] said [she] could have lost [her] job by [Comiskey] going over [her] head.” Comiskey Dep. 75:7-10 [#56-1]. Every six months, according to Comiskey, Comiskey asked Baillie for a transfer to another department in the store. Baillie refused each request, according to Comiskey, saying “if you don't like it, just go get another job. Get out of here.” Comiskey Dep. 118:8-9 [#56-2].

         While she was working in the deli department, Comiskey submitted an application for an opening elsewhere in the store for a janitorial position. Comiskey testified that she believes she submitted the application roughly six months to a year after making the Gaudette complaint, at some time in 2008. Comiskey Dep. 119:24-25 [#56-2]. She did not get the job. Id. at 120:5.

         In 2008, Comiskey received performance counseling for creating conflict with other associates. Def.'s SOF ¶ 12. In 2009, she received performance counseling for making negative comments about another associate's productivity. Id. In March 2010, Comiskey received performance counseling regarding a verbal encounter with one of her coworkers, Norman Dellacroce. Id.; Comiskey Dep. 29:7-25 [#56-1]. Dellacroce was friends with Gaudette. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 17. The report of the incident was prepared by Deli Manager Patrice Glynn. Exhibits to Comiskey Dep. 17 [#56-3]. Glynn wrote that she spoke with Comiskey about her inappropriate comments and let her “know any threats or harassment to any associate will lead up to action steps up to and including termination.” Id. Glynn had Comiskey sign a section of Hannaford's Anti-Harassment Policy stating that prohibited harassment includes, “among other things, bullying, humiliating, taunting, disparaging, degrading, provoking or making inappropriate references to others.” Id. at 19.

         In April 2010, Comiskey received further performance counseling for making threatening and disparaging comments to other employees in the deli department. Def.'s SOF ¶ 12. This performance counseling report further stated that Hannaford would not tolerate harassment and if Comiskey continued to harass co-workers she “will receive further disciplinary action, up to, and including termination.” Exhibits to Comiskey Dep. 27 [#56-3].

         Glynn and another manager, Kevin Fortier, met with Comiskey about her alleged harassment of co-workers in April 2010. Comiskey Dep. 39:19-20 [#56-1]. According to Comiskey, Fortier yelled at Comiskey loudly, said he “hates [her] face and everyone in the department hates [her] face and to leave.” Id. at 41:3-8. Comiskey testified that Fortier said Comiskey should leave work and would get a call Monday or Tuesday (Fortier said this on Saturday) saying whether she could return to work. Id. According to Comiskey, Hannaford moved Fortier to a different store for talking to her like that. Id. at 41:23.

         Around this time, Comiskey was still attempting to transfer to a different department. Comiskey was permitted to cross-train in the bakery department of the West Peabody store for three days, but then was told she would not be able to transfer from the deli to the bakery. Comiskey Dep. 120:9-16 [#56-2]. Comiskey estimates that this failed transfer to the bakery department occurred sometime in the year 2010. Id. at 121:3.

         According to Comiskey, in March 2013, Glynn yelled at Comiskey for working too slowly and then grabbed Comiskey's face. Comiskey Dep. 64:18 [#56-1]. Comiskey says that she received marks on her face when Glynn squeezed and shook her. Id. at 64:21-22; Def.'s SOF ¶ 28. Comiskey testified that she does not think Glynn's issue with her was only about Gaudette, but also that Glynn “didn't like [that] the customers liked [Comiskey] better than [Glynn].” Comiskey Dep. 125:13-16 [#56-2]. Hannaford received a complaint about the incident between Comiskey and Glynn, which resulted in Glynn's discipline, demotion, and transfer to another store. Comiskey Dep. 65:8-23 [#56-1]; Def.'s SOF ¶ 28. Following the incident, according to Comiskey, Comiskey was confronted by hostility from her co-workers for getting Glynn “thrown out the door.” Comiskey Dep. 77:9-13 [#56-1]. Comiskey testified that in April 2013 her panic attacks increased, yet no one in her department would speak with her. Id. at 79:7, 80:12-14.

         Bryan Case replaced Glynn as deli manager in May 2013. Def.'s SOF ¶ 6. Case testified that he was not aware why Glynn stopped working at the store. Case Dep. 30:16-19 [#58]. Case treated Comiskey fairly and was “very respectful” throughout his tenure as deli manager. Def.'s SOF ¶ 11. According to Case, Comiskey would suddenly cry uncontrollably if she perceived someone was doing something to upset or hurt her. Id. ¶ 16. During these attacks, Case permitted Comiskey to go to the store's back room so that Comiskey could calm herself down using breathing techniques. Id. ¶ 17. Comiskey was paid for the time she spent in the back room. Id. ¶ 19. According to Case, Comiskey never told him that she had a disability or requested an accommodation. Case Dep. 236:4-11 [#58-2]. Case said that he nonetheless allowed her to go to the back room to regain her composure because he “thought it was the right thing to do.” Id. at 236:12-15.[1] Case testified that he “could tell that there was something in her past that had happened.” Case Dep. 174:23-175:4 [#58-1].

         In February 2014, one of Comiskey's co-workers came to Case to tell him that Comiskey was telling other co-workers that one co-worker was sexually harassing another. Case Dep. 123:15-19 [#58-1]. Assistant Store Manager Jillian Sierra conducted an investigation, during which she interviewed the purported victim, Sue Beaulieu. Exhibits to Case Dep. 64 [#58-2]. In an email to Baillie and Case, Sierra wrote that “[Beaulieu] stated that there was nothing going on between her and [the purported harasser] and that there was not an issue. [Beaulieu] said that [Comiskey] would not let it go. [Comiskey] was going to call corporate.” Id. Case testified that this was the only complaint of harassment raised by Comiskey of which he was aware. Case Dep. 172:18-21 [#58-1]; see also Case Dep. 234:17-18 [#58-2].

         In February 2014, John Frontiero became the store manager. At the time, he was not informed of the 2013 incident between Comiskey and Glynn. Frontiero Dep. 22:15-21 [#56-7]. In September 2014, Beaulieu complained to Frontiero about Comiskey not doing her job and not being on the counter. Frontiero Dep. 24:17-22, 25:14-15 [#56-7]; see also Frontiero Dep. 9:17 [#56-8]. Frontiero learned then of the 2013 incident between Comiskey and Glynn. Frontiero was never made aware of Comiskey's 2007 harassment complaint against Gaudette. Id. at 23:20-24:6. Frontiero referred Beaulieu's complaints about Comiskey to Case. Id. at 25:1-6. Comiskey, in turn, testified that she went to Frontiero and asked for a meeting about Beaulieu, but Frontiero did not take any corrective action. Comiskey Dep. 89:4-14 [#56-1]. Comiskey does not think Frontiero cared about her panic attacks. Id.

         Case left the West Peabody store in May 2015. Def.'s SOF ¶ 6. He was replaced for a short time as deli manager by Samantha Stickney. Id. ¶ 10. According to Comiskey, Stickney was “very nice” to Comiskey. Id. ¶ 11. Comiskey continued to use the method Case developed for dealing with Comiskey's panic attacks, in which a manager permitted Comiskey to go to the store's back room to regain control. Id. ¶ 20.

         On July 31, 2015, Beaulieu made a complaint against Comiskey using Hannaford's I-Share internal complaint system. Id. ¶ 29. Beaulieu's complaint reads:

Emily [Comiskey] is known to have an unstable personality and she makes false claims against coworkers because she does not care for them. Emily had made false allegations against coworkers about Emily allegedly witnessing sexual harassment and she's made other claims as well. Now, Emily is claiming that she is fearful for her life because of Susan [Beaulieu]. Susan states that this is where she draws the line because the association that Susan would do anything to Emily is preposterous. Emily's false allegations are intentionally dishonest and are also a result of her mental concerns. Emily has gotten many employees terminated because of her manipulation.

Id. ¶ 30.

         According to Baillie, I-Share complaints went directly to Hannaford's corporate offices, bypassing local store management, so Baillie first heard of Beaulieu's complaint when Beaulieu personally told her about it on August 2, 2015. Def.'s SOF ¶ 32; Baillie Dep. 24:10 [#56-7]. Frontiero convened a meeting on August 3, 2015, to address the working relationship between Comiskey and Beaulieu. Def.'s SOF ¶ 32. Baillie also attended. Id. During the meeting, Comiskey stated that she felt her life was threatened during an incident in which Beaulieu pointed her finger at Comiskey and yelled at her. Frontiero concluded the meeting by noting that Comiskey and Beaulieu were struggling to work together and the deli department needed some new ground rules. Id. ...

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