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Pung v. Regus Management Group, LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 21, 2017

Ginger Pung, Plaintiff,
v.
Regus Management Group, LLC, [1]a Delaware limited liability company, Defendant.

          Evan Weiner, Esq., and John R. Neve, Esq., Neve Webb, PLLC, counsel for Plaintiff.

          David S. Shankman, Esq., and Mitchell L. Fraley, Esq., Shankman Leone, P.A., and Scott E. Korzenowski, Esq., Dady & Gardner, PA, counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment brought by Defendant Regus Management Group, LLC (“Defendant” or “Regus”) on Plaintiff Ginger Pung's (“Plaintiff” or “Pung”) claims of sexual harassment and reprisal in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (“Title VII”) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Minn. Stat. § 363A, et seq. (Doc. No. 34.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         This case involves a consensual workplace relationship that ended and subsequent claims of harassment and retaliation. Plaintiff began working for Regus in 1991 and received consistent positive performance reviews. (Doc. No. 37, Ex. 10 (“Pung Dep.”) at 57; Doc. No. 42 (“Weiner Decl.”) ¶ 2.) In 2004, Plaintiff began working as a General Manager (“GM”) for Regus. Plaintiff worked in that capacity during the time period relevant to this case. (Doc. No. 37, Ex. 22 (“Ravenscroft Dep.”) at 29; Pung Dep. at 58.) Regus is in the business of leasing executive office suites. (Doc. No. 37, Ex. 1 (“Bowron Dep.”) at 16-17.) As a GM, Plaintiff's primary duties included ensuring client satisfaction, occupancy, profitability, and sales productivity. (Pung Dep. at 57-58.)

         In or around 2010 or 2011, Regus Area Director Scott Ravenscroft became Plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Pung Dep. at 58.) In 2012, after Ravenscroft made several advances, Plaintiff and Ravenscroft began a consensual, sexual relationship that continued until early 2014. (Id. at 80, 98-104, 112, 115.) In March or April 2014, Plaintiff told Ravenscroft that she wanted to end the relationship. (Id. at 114-17, 134-38.) According to Plaintiff, after she ended the relationship, Ravenscroft showed up at Plaintiff's house on a few occasions in an effort to re-start the relationship, but Plaintiff refused. (Id.) After Plaintiff ended the relationship, Plaintiff alleges that Ravenscroft's behavior toward her at work became “very controlling” and that he treated her worse than her co-workers. (Id. at 139-41.)

         On June 4, 2014, Ravenscroft met with Plaintiff and threatened to put her on a “coaching plan.” (Id. at 163-65, 321.) Ravenscroft suggested that Plaintiff's “numbers were lacking” and that Plaintiff had indicated that she wanted to leave Regus, but Plaintiff disputes both of these assertions. (Id. at 154-56, 163-65; Ravenscroft Dep. at 88-90.) On June 9, 2014, Plaintiff reported her prior relationship with Ravenscroft to Dehne Elliot, Director of Regus Human Resources, complained that Ravenscroft wanted to put her on a coaching plan, and expressed concern because she understood that coaching plans had been used by Regus in the past as a premise to terminate an employee. (Pung Dep. at 169-71.) Plaintiff explained that she thought Ravenscroft was targeting her because she ended their sexual relationship. (Id.)

         On June 11, 2014, Elliot interviewed Plaintiff over the phone, during which Plaintiff complained that Ravenscroft's treatment amounted to retaliation and was “borderline harassment.” (Id. at 188-90, 205-06.) Also on June 11, 2014, Plaintiff sent an e-mail to Elliot, stating: “To be clear Regus is now on record that there was a sexual relationship between my boss and I that I terminated. As a result, it is my opinion that I am being retaliated against by coaching leading to termination.” (Weiner Decl. ¶ 3, Edmundson Exs. 36-37.)

         On June 23, 2014, Elliot concluded her investigation and was unable to substantiate whether there had been a sexual relationship between Plaintiff and Ravenscroft, [3] but she did find that Ravenscroft's behavior had created an appearance of improper conduct. (Doc. No. 37, Ex. 7 (“Edmondson Dep.”) at 67.) Ravenscroft was given a warning and informed that he would be terminated if the behavior continued. Ravenscroft remained responsible for Plaintiff's day-to-day reporting, but Regus asserts that it moved Plaintiff's performance-related supervision to the Regional Vice President, Jeff Bowron. (Edmondson Dep. at 47-48.) Plaintiff, however, asserts that she never reported to Bowron and that she met Bowron only once in-person. Plaintiff also asserts that she complained again because she felt that Regus had not tried to protect her from further harassment and that she was still reporting directly to Ravenscroft. Plaintiff alleges that after she complained about Ravenscroft's treatment of her, his treatment of her became worse, making it difficult for her to do her job. (Pung Dep. at 276, 280-81.) Plaintiff asserts that co-workers noticed Ravenscroft's demeanor toward her-making “harsh” and “demeaning” comments to Plaintiff in e-mails and calling her questions “stupid” during conference calls. (See, e.g., Weiner Decl. ¶ 5 (“Voorhees Dep.”) at 25, 27-32, 36.)

         Plaintiff has submitted evidence that on August 25, 2014, Ravenscroft prepared and attempted to deliver a Corrective Action Record (“CAR”) to Plaintiff. (Ravenscroft Dep. at 128-29, 134.) The CAR was based on an asserted drop in sales for Plaintiff in June and July 2014. Plaintiff asserts that the CAR was not signed by Plaintiff or her supervisor and is not part of her HR records. Despite being shown a copy of a document entitled “Corrective Action Record” listing him as the Supervisor for Pung (Weiner Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. 12), Ravenscroft testified that he could not recall the document or discussing Pung's performance in August of 2014. (Id. at 128.) Ravenscroft also stated that he could not imagine why he would have discussed her performance at this time “given the fact that this all happened, obviously, after she made a complaint and there was an investigation.” (Id.)

         Several months later, in December 2014, Plaintiff was planning a client holiday party and she e-mailed Ravenscroft to ask if there was a formula for the amount of money that she could spend on such a party. (Doc. No. 37, Ex. 23.) Ravenscroft told Plaintiff that there was no specific budget, but to keep it under $250. (Id.) Plaintiff ended spending roughly $560 on the party and other holiday decorations. (Ravenscroft Dep. at 195.) Ravenscroft testified that he was monitoring the expense of the holiday party, thought it was getting expensive, and sent this information to Bowron. (Id. at 204-05.) Ravenscroft also testified that Bowron asked for the information because he had mentioned “in a roundabout way” that there were some “outlier” charges in his region. (Id. at 196.) According to Bowron, when he spoke to Plaintiff about the holiday party expenditures, Plaintiff told him that she did not think the budget was appropriate (the party was for 100 clients) and that she did not think she needed to follow the budget. (Bowron Dep. at 98-100.) Plaintiff argues that guidelines for this type of client spending were neither enforced nor generally known. Plaintiff also submits that in addition to the party, she spent $150 of the $560 for poinsettias for the lobby. (Pung Dep. at 300.) Even so, on January 23, 2015, Bowron decided that Plaintiff should be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). (Bowron Dep. at 151-52.) This decision was based on Plaintiff's overspending on the holiday party. Bowron testified that he was not aware of anyone else being placed on a PIP for holiday expenses. (Id. at 153.)

         On February 2, 2015, Regus implemented a Reduction in Force (“RIF”). (Edmondson Dep. at 146.) Plaintiff's employment was terminated as part of the RIF. (Id. at 176-77.) Plaintiff points to evidence that the PIP factored into her termination and that the only reason she was on the PIP was the single incident of insubordination related to going over the holiday-party budget.

         Plaintiff filed the present action in state court on December 14, 2015. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. 1 (“Compl.”).) Defendant removed the case to this Court. (Id.) In her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts six claims: (1) quid-pro-quo sexual harassment under the MHRA; (2) hostile work-environment harassment under the MHRA; (3) reprisal under the MHRA; (4) quid-pro-quo harassment in violation of Title VII; (5) hostile work-environment harassment in violation of Title VII; and (6) reprisal in violation of Title VII.

         DISCUSSION

         I. ...


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