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Perola Halikman v. Creative Hairdressers

February 24, 2012



Perola Halikman ("Plaintiff") brings the instant action against her former employer, Creative Hairdressers, Inc., d/b/a Hair Cuttery ("Defendant"), alleging that she was terminated because of her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. The case is currently before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21), Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. 25), and Defendant's Reply (Doc. 27). Upon consideration of the record in this matter and pertinent law, and as more specifically set forth below, the Court concludes that Defendant's motion shall be granted.

I. Factual Background

Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a hair stylist from October 2007 through November 2, 2008. Plaintiff was sixty-seven years old when she was hired and sixty-eight years old when her employment was terminated. The manager-known as the "salon leader"-of the salon where Plaintiff worked was Kristen Mummert; Mummert in turn reported to the district leader, Ginger DeLong, who visited the salon at least once a month. Mummert interviewed and hired Plaintiff, and the parties have stipulated that DeLong made the decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment. (Am. Joint Pretrial Statement, Doc. 39, at 4).

According to Defendant, Plaintiff was terminated for misconduct-specifically, for threatening to kill a fellow employee. This threat was allegedly made after an incident at the salon a few days prior to Plaintiff's termination. That incident occurred after one of Plaintiff's co-workers, Kristen Coppedge-a new stylist who had worked at the salon for only a few months-was coloring a client's hair and encountered difficulties. Coppedge and some of the other stylists went to the back of the salon to discuss how to fix the color of the client's hair. Plaintiff then approached the client, though the evidence is in dispute as to what Plaintiff said to the client. Plaintiff claims that she tried to put the client at ease by telling her that Coppedge was a good hair stylist and would resolve the issue. However, other witnesses-including Coppedge and another stylist, Anthony Nguyen-informed Mummert that Plaintiff told Coppedge's client her hair was a mess, that Coppedge was not a good stylist, and that the client should not pay for the procedure.

Mummert learned of the incident later that evening when Coppedge called her to complain about Plaintiff's actions. The next day, Mummert called Plaintiff to the back and asked her what had happened the day before. Mummert testified in her deposition that Plaintiff became very defensive and angry, began banging her fist on a table, and stood up.

(Mummert Dep. at 68). According to Mummert and Coppedge,*fn1 Plaintiff then stated, "I will kill him," referring to Nguyen,*fn2 (id. at 69; Coppedge Dep. at 36); Plaintiff denies making this statement.

Mummert then told Plaintiff she could assist a client who was waiting for service, and Mummert called DeLong and told her what had transpired. DeLong asked to speak with Plaintiff on the telephone, and DeLong discussed the matter with Plaintiff and then told her that after she finished working on the client she should go home for the day. After discussing the matter more thoroughly with Mummert and then speaking to Human Resources, DeLong made the decision to terminate Plaintiff based on the threat to Nguyen that Mummert had reported.*fn3 (DeLong Dep. at 48-49, 59).

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in October 2010. She contends that she was terminated not because of misconduct but because of her age.

II. Summary Judgment Standards "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes the facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). However, when faced with a "properly supported motion for summary judgment, [the nonmoving party] must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere allegations." Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc., 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997).

Summary judgment is mandated "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "Summary judgment may be granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative." Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines Co., 243 F. Supp. 2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-51 (1986)).

"[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. "Essentially, the inquiry is 'whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Sawyer, 243 F. Supp. 2d at 1262 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52); see also Laroche v. Denny's, Inc., 62 F. Supp. 2d 1366, 1371 (S.D. Fla. 1999) ("The law is clear . . . that suspicion, perception, opinion, and belief cannot be used to defeat a motion for summary judgment."). "[T]he summary judgment rule applies in job discrimination cases just as in other cases. No thumb is to be placed on either side of the scale." Chapman v. AI Transp., 229 F.3d 1012, 1026 (11th Cir. 2000).

III. The Merits of Defendant's Motion

The parties disagree on whether Plaintiff has presented "direct evidence" in support of her claim or whether she relies only on circumstantial evidence of discrimination. This distinction is important because under well-established case law the type of evidence presented determines how Plaintiff's claim is analyzed; "[t]he analytical framework and burden of production varies depending on ...

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