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Rodriguez v. Miami Dade County

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

April 18, 2018




         Miami Dade County employed Nadia Rodriguez, who is Cuban-American and Hispanic, as a probationary employee in the Public Housing and Community Development Department from June 4, 2012, until her termination on January 9, 2013. An “Assistant Site Manager, ” Rodriguez worked in a warehouse office with four employees: an administrative secretary, an accountant, a semi-skilled laborer, and Rodriguez's immediate supervisor, Leshia Elie. About a dozen technicians worked elsewhere in the warehouse. Rodriguez alleges that most of her co-workers, including Elie, are African-American and that no co-worker is Cuban-American.

         Rodriguez's duties included processing, printing, and distributing work orders to the technicians and providing Elie with regular reports. In addition, Rodriguez occasionally received used appliances, including air conditioners, for disposal. When Rodriguez reported to Elie that “good appliances were being thrown away, ” Elie responded, “Hispanic people are looking where they're not supposed to be looking.” (Doc. 63-1 at 56-57)

         After that exchange, Elie purportedly began harassing Rodriguez. Elie stated that Rodriguez possessed a “language barrier” and told Rodriguez, “you can't work here if you have a language barrier.” (Doc. 63-1 at 56-57, 60, 144) Rodriguez alleges that Elie failed to deliver promised job training, failed to provide office supplies and an adequate desk, and failed to grant Rodriguez's vacation requests. Also, Elie assigned other employees' work to Rodriguez, blamed Rodriguez for other employees' poor performance, and successfully encouraged other employees to criticize and sabotage Rodriguez's work.

         On July 24, 2012, Elie issued a memorandum to Rodriguez identifying problems with Rodriguez's performance and stating that a failure to improve “[w]ill result in additional corrective actions, up to dismissal.” (Doc. 78-1 at 12) Rodriguez refused to sign the memorandum.

         Elie continued to inform Rodriguez that her work fell below standard. On December 17, 2012, Elie requested permission from a senior manager to terminate Rodriguez's employment because “Rodriguez failed to demonstrate her ability to work as an Assistant Site Manager.” (Doc. 63-3 at ¶ 14, Doc. 63-4 at 5-8)

         On January 9, 2013, Elie terminated Rodriguez's probationary employment due to Rodriguez's “performance problems.” (Doc. 63-4 at 9) After orally informing Rodriguez, Elie “ripped” a computer mouse out of Rodriguez's hand, pushed Rodriguez, and threatened to call the police. (Doc. 63-1 at 123-126) When Rodriguez testified by telephone at an unemployment compensation hearing, Elie called Rodriguez's telephone seventeen times.

         In her Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 42), Rodriguez alleges claims for (1) disparate treatment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count I), (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count II), (3) retaliation in violation of the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h) (Count III), and (4) and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count IV). The defendant moves (Doc. 64) for summary judgment.


         1. Title VII claims

         Arguing that Rodriguez's Title VII claims are time-barred, the defendant repeats the argument asserted in the defendant's September 29, 2016 motion to dismiss. (Doc. 43) But a January 30, 2017 order (Doc. 48) denies the defendant's motion (Doc. 43) and holds (1) that Rodriguez “filed (Doc. 1) timely a lawsuit alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act” and (2) that the second amended complaint sufficiently states claims under Title VII for disparate treatment, for retaliation, and for hostile work environment.[1]

         a. Disparate treatment

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), an employer is prohibited from “discriminat[ing] against any [person] with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” because of that person's race or national origin. A plaintiff can establish a violation of Title VII by direct evidence of discrimination or by circumstantial evidence that permits an inference of discrimination. Hinson v. Clinch Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 231 F.3d 821, 827 (11th Cir. 2000).

         Taking the available inferences in Rodriguez's favor, Count I survives summary judgment. Even assuming that no direct evidence of discrimination exists, the record creates a triable ...

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