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Mosunic v. Nestle Prepared Foods Co.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

August 16, 2017

GINA MOSUNIC, Plaintiff,
v.
NESTLE PREPARED FOODS COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Gina Mosunic has sued her former employer, Nestle Prepared Foods Company ("Nestle"), alleging gender-based disparate treatment, in violation of the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) and the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act (RICRA); hostile work environment, in violation of RICRA; and retaliation, in violation of FEPA and RICRA. ECF No. 5 at ¶¶53-73. Nestle moves for summary judgment. ECF No. 17. Because the Court finds that there are genuine disputes of material fact regarding the Ms. Mosunic's gender-based disparate treatment and retaliation claims, summary judgment on those counts is DENIED. However, the Court finds that there is no evidence to support the hostile work environment claim, and therefore summary judgment on that count is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         In October 2012, Joseph's Gourmet Co. Pasta and Sauce ("Joseph's Gourmet"), which Defendant Nestle owned, hired Ms. Mosunic as an account manager. Ms. Mosunic was a salaried employee. Her sales territory, as an account manager, included Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. She worked from her home in Cranston, Rhode Island, and reported to Timothy Healy, who was based in Minnesota. Mr. Healy communicated with his sales team largely by phone and email.

         On March 25, 2013, Ms. Mosunic informed Mr. Healy that she was pregnant. Ms. Mosunic contends that Mr. Healy's treatment of her changed drastically after this announcement. She spoke to Human Resources about it on March 27, 2013, and again on May 7, 2013.

         Ms. Mosunic has presented emails sent to her from customers and from Mr. Healy before her pregnancy announcement to demonstrate that she had been doing her job satisfactorily. For example, she provides an email from December 2012 where Mr. Healy writes, "Thank you. Well done." Also in December 2012, a sales support administrator from U.S. Foods, Ms. Mosunic's largest account, wrote, "you're the best thanks, " in response to Ms. Mosunic having provided information about a product. In February 2013, Mr. Healy wrote to Ms. Mosunic and Steve Sprague, another account manager, about a change in company policy and added, "Thank both of you for helping make Joseph's a better company-together, we'll overcome any negative feelings people have about 'our' company." Again, in February 2013, Ms. Mosunic provided a customer with some information and he responded, "You're good!"[1]

         About a month after announcing she was pregnant, Ms. Mosunic had a meeting with her largest client, and Nestle's second largest client, U.S. Foods. Ms. Mosunic contends that the U.S. Foods representative, Rich Querci, "screamed in [her] face" because he wanted more marketing support from Joseph's Gourmet. Ms. Mosunic ended the meeting and wrote to Mr. Healy to explain what had happened. She wrote, "I just had to abruptly excuse myself from a U.S. Foods Peabody meeting because the director of sales, Rich Querci, unnecessarily became extremely combative and threatening. I told him that I had to end the meeting because he was attacking me." Mr. Querci contends that he only asked her standard questions about attending district meetings and that Ms. Mosunic did not provide answers to those questions. He denies having raised his voice or having threatened Ms. Mosunic.

         Two weeks later, Ms. Mosunic met with Mr. Healy at a Joseph's Gourmet office in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Ms. Mosunic described Mr. Healy as "extremely agitated." When she asked to involve Human Resources and expressed her belief that Mr. Healy had been discriminating against her, he threw a pen across the room. Mr. Healy later described Ms. Mosunic as "combative" and "defensive" during that meeting.

         Mr. Healy submitted a memorandum to Human Resources, dated May 13, 2013, recommending that Nestle suspend Ms. Mosunic, as Mr. Healy did not have the authority to suspend employees. Mr. Healy's memorandum described a long list of problems with Ms. Mosunic's job performance dating back to November 2012, just one month after she started working for Joseph's Gourmet. Yet, Nestle has not presented any evidence that documents any of these problems with Ms. Mosunic before the pregnancy announcement.[2]

         Once Nestle's corporate headquarters in Ohio approved the suspension, the same day as he sent the memo, Mr. Healy called Ms. Mosunic to inform her. Ms. Mosunic had driven to New Hampshire that day for a customer meeting that Mr. Healy was also scheduled to attend. Mr. Healy has stated that he did not intend for Ms. Mosunic to make a wasted trip, but he did not receive approval from corporate headquarters until after she arrived in New Hampshire. Mr. Healy and other members of the sales team picked up Ms. Mosunic's accounts upon her suspension.

         Ms. Mosunic received a regular paycheck until June 29, 2013, and then received short-term disability benefits due to her pregnancy. After she gave birth on November 12, 2013, she collected temporary disability insurance benefits. On December 30, 2013, she resigned from Joseph's Gourmet, and the following day, Nestle sold Joseph's Gourmet and dismissed its remaining employees.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Per Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court shall grant summary judgment when there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and "the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." To determine whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, the Court must assess whether "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Audette v. Town of Plymouth,858 F.3d 13, 20 (1st Cir. 2017). Furthermore, "[t]he Court does not 'weigh the credibility of the testimony, ' but presumes 'that a rational factfinder would accept it as stated by the witness."' Delgado v. Pawtucket Police Dep't,747 F.Supp.2d 341, 349 (D.R.I. 2010) (quoting Gonzalez v. El Dia, Inc.,304 F.3d 63, 68 (1st Cir. 2002)). The moving party bears the burden of identifying the absence of a genuine issue of ...


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