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Baker v. Life Time Fitness, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 19, 2014

MARILYN BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
LIFE TIME FITNESS, INC., Defendant.

Ryan H. Ahlberg, AHLBERG LAW, PLLC, for plaintiff.

Jaime N. Cole and Patrick R. Martin, OGLETREE, DEAKINS, NASH, SMOAK & STEWART, P.C., for defendant.

ORDER

PATRICK J. SCHILTZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Marilyn Baker brings this action under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA"), Minn. Stat. § 363A.01 et seq., against her former employer, defendant Life Time Fitness, Inc. ("Life Time"). Baker, who is black, alleges that Life Time terminated her on the basis of race.[1] This matter is before the Court on Life Time's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, Life Time's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

As is required, the Court recites the facts in the light most favorable to Baker. The Court notes, however, that its task is unusually challenging because Baker's deposition testimony is very difficult to follow. Baker appeared to be unwilling or unable to provide straightforward answers to many of the questions she was asked. Therefore, testimony about any given event is scattered piecemeal over hundreds of pages, and it is often unclear to what meeting or other event Baker is referring. In addition, Baker makes a number of factual claims in her deposition that she did not mention either in her briefing or at oral argument - and, as explained below, she has submitted a sworn declaration in which she contradicts some of her sworn deposition testimony. The Court has done its best to distill Baker's testimony - supplemented by other evidence in the record that Baker does not dispute - into an account that is coherent and that describes the record in the light most favorable to Baker.

A. Baker's Duties and Life Time's Policies

Until her termination in July 2010, Baker was a tennis pro at Life Time's Minnetonka location. Life Time hired Baker in 2007 after she interviewed with Mike Johnson, the tennisdepartment head, and John Brekken, the assistant head. Baker Dep. 40; Brekken Dep. 14-15, 28-29. In 2009, Brekken was promoted to tennis-department head and became Baker's direct supervisor. Brekken Dep. 13.

Baker's duties as a tennis pro included teaching classes scheduled by Life Time, giving private lessons that she scheduled with her own clients, and coaching teams. Baker Dep. 47-48, 62. For private lessons, Baker was paid a percentage of her lesson price, with the rest going to Life Time. Baker Dep. 54, 157-58; see Brekken Decl. ¶ 7. For the first six months of 2010, after Brekken became Baker's supervisor, Baker worked more hours than any other tennis pro with the exception of Brekken and the assistant department head. Brekken Decl. ¶ 11 & Ex. 2.

Life Time permits its tennis pros to teach at country clubs and other facilities during the summer, because summer is typically a slow time for indoor tennis. Brekken Dep. 45; Brekken Decl. ¶ 5. But, under Life Time's conflict-of-interest policy, tennis pros must notify their supervisor and get their supervisor's permission before teaching at other facilities. Baker Dep. Ex. 8 at 20. Life Time requires this advance notice so that it can ensure that it has proper staffing for its summer programs. Brekken Decl. ¶ 5. During her employment at Life Time, Baker received and reviewed a copy of this conflict-of-interest policy.[2] Baker Dep. 79-80, 93, 176.

In support of its motion for summary judgment, Life Time also submitted a document entitled "Life Time Fitness Tennis Leave of Absence Program Agreement." Brekken Dep. Ex. 1. Among other things, the document states that "teaching [Life Time] members who are not members of the summer Country Club is contrary to the intent of this mutually beneficial arrangement and hence strictly forbidden." Brekken Dep. Ex. 1 at 1. The document has spaces for the tennis pro and management to sign and states that tennis pros must discuss their summer plans with the department head by March 31, 2010. Baker denies that she was ever given a copy of this agreement or was otherwise made aware of its existence.

B. Baker's Contact with A.J.

In February 2010, Baker invited A.J., a teenage Life Time member, to join an upper-level boys' tennis class. Baker Dep. 109, 112. At the time, A.J. was a private student of Geoffrey Basham, Life Time's assistant tennis-department head. Brekken Dep. 19, 31-34. Basham complained to Brekken, telling Brekken that A.J. had complained about Baker soliciting him for private lessons. Brekken Dep. 32. Brekken then confronted Baker, claiming that A.J. had made a formal complaint directly to him and accusing her of harassing A.J. Baker Dep. 114. Brekken also gave Baker a written warning. Baker Dep. 114-15.

Baker later spoke to A.J., saying that she "just want[ed] to make sure everything is okay...." Baker Dep. 115. When A.J. asked what Baker was talking about, Baker said that she had been told that A.J. had gone to Brekken's office and made a formal complaint of harassment against her. Baker Dep. 115-16. A.J. denied going to Brekken's office or making such a complaint and said that he enjoyed Baker's teaching. Baker Dep. 115.

Baker then went back to Brekken and told him that A.J. was not upset by the invitation to join Baker's class. Brekken Dep. 33-34. In response, Brekken admitted that A.J. had not made a formal complaint directly to him and said that he would conduct an investigation.[3] Baker Dep. 117. Ultimately, however, Brekken decided that it would be better to give Baker the benefit of the doubt rather than involve a teenage client in a dispute between two tennis pros. Brekken Dep. 34-35. Brekken removed the written warning from Baker's personnel file and threw it away. Brekken Dep. 35.

C. Baker's Job at Oak Ridge Country Club

In the summer of 2010, another Life Time tennis pro, Barb Meyer, was working as the tennis director at the Oak Ridge Country Club ("Oak Ridge"). Brekken Dep. 47-48. Meyer had previously told Brekken of her work at Oak Ridge, and Brekken knew that she was the director. Brekken Dep. 22, 26, 41, 48.

Meyer hired Baker to teach at Oak Ridge during the summer of 2010. Baker Dep. 60-61. Although Baker reviewed Life Time's conflict-of-interest policy before taking the job at Oak Ridge, she did not tell Brekken about the job as the policy required. Baker Dep. 92-93, 103. Baker claims that Brekken was nevertheless aware of her Oak Ridge job because she talked to a Life Time member about the job while Brekken was in the same room. Baker Decl. ¶ 5.

On May 23, 2010, Brekken was playing in a tennis match at Oak Ridge when he saw Baker giving a lesson to I.G., a Life Time member. Brekken Dep. 38-40; Brekken Decl. ¶ 7. Baker had originally met I.G. at Life Time, where she gave I.G. private lessons. Baker Dep. 126-27, ...


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