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Larry v. The Marion County Coal Co.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

January 31, 2018

ALYSSA MOATE LARRY, Plaintiff,
v.
THE MARION COUNTY COAL COMPANY, and MURRAY AMERICAN ENERGY, INC., Defendants.

         MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING-IN-PART AND DENYING-IN-PART DEFENDANT MARION COUNTY COAL COMPANY'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 75) AND GRANTING DEFENDANT MURRAY AMERICAN ENERGY, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 77)

          IRENE M. KEELEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Alyssa Moate Larry (“Larry”) was terminated from her employment at defendant The Marion County Coal Company (“MCC”), a subsidiary of defendant Murray American Energy, Inc. (“MAEI), after returning from maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Larry alleges that, by selecting her for layoff, MCC denied her rights under the FMLA, and discriminated and retaliated against her on the basis of her sex and her pregnancy in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act and the Pregnancy Workers' Fairness Act. She further alleges that MAEI aided and abetted MCC in engaging in unlawful discrimination and retaliation.

         Pending before the Court are the defendants' motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part MCC's motion (Dkt. No. 75), and GRANTS MAEI's motion (Dkt. No. 77).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         1. Larry's Employment History with MCC

         Beginning in September 2012, Larry was employed by the Consolidation Coal Company (“CCC”) as a Mine Clerk at its Loveridge Mine located in Marion and Monongalia Counties, West Virginia (Dkt. No. 75-1 at 4-5). Larry was then one of two Mine Clerks at the Loveridge Mine, where, along with Human Resource Supervisor Pamela Layton (“Layton”) and Human Resource Coordinator Ilya Shlyahovsky (“Shlyahovsky”), she was one of the four employees who formed the entirety of the Human Resources Department at the mine. Id. at 6.

         On December 15, 2013, following MAEI's purchase of the Loveridge Mine, MCC assumed operation of the mine and renamed it the Marion County Mine. Id. at 7-8. Larry, Layton, and the other Human Resources staff members were all hired by MCC and continued to work in their same positions. Id. at 8.

         In February 2014, Shlyahovsky was promoted to the Human Resource Supervisor position at another MAEI mine, and left his Human Resource Coordinator position at the Marion County Mine. Id. at 11. Layton encouraged Larry to apply for the position and supported her candidacy with Paul Piccolini (“Piccolini”), the Vice President of Human Resources and Employee Relations of Murray Energy Corporation, a related entity that provides certain human resource related services to MCC and other MAEI companies. Id. at 12-13; Dkt. No. 75-5 at 1.

         With Piccolini's approval, Larry was formally promoted to Human Resource Coordinator at the Marion County Mine on March 31, 2014 (Dkt. No. 75-8 at 1). However, she continued to perform her prior Mine Clerk duties, together with her new responsibilities, until a new Mine Clerk was hired in July 2014 (Dkt. No. 75-2 at 36; Dkt. No. 75-9 at 1).

         In October 2014, Piccolini authorized the creation of a second Human Resource Coordinator position at MCC, and also at each of four other mines owned by MAEI (Dkt. No. 75-1 at 16; Dkt. No. 76-6 at 11; Dkt. No. 75-10 at 1). On December 15, 2014, MCC selected Eric Zuchowski (“Zuchowski”) for the second Human Resource Coordinator position at the Marion County Mine (Dkt. No. 75-1 at 17; Dkt. No. 75-9 at 1). Like Larry, Zuchowski was promoted from his prior position as a Mine Clerk, and continued to perform certain of his prior Mine Clerk duties, as well as his new responsibilities as Human Resource Coordinator, until a replacement Mine Clerk could be hired and trained. Zuchowski formally assumed the second Coordinator position on April 27, 2015 (Dkt. No. 75-12).

         2. Larry's Pregnancy-Related FMLA Leave and Accommodation Following Leave

         On February 6, 2015, Larry gave birth to a son (Dkt. No. 75-1 at 20). She sought and received FMLA-covered leave from February 6 until her return to work on March 23, 2015. Id. at 21.

         Upon returning to work, Larry was required to express breast milk using a mechanical pump three to four times each day, and suggested to Layton that she be permitted to use a file closet attached to their shared office for that purpose. Id. at 22-23. Larry alleges that Layton responded “that wouldn't be a good idea in case someone was in the office.” Id. at 23. It was Larry's sense that Layton believed that it would be inconvenient for Larry to use the office closet, where salaried employee files were kept. Id. As a result, Larry began taking her lactation breaks in the women's restroom. Id. at 24.

         3. MCC's Reductions in Force and Larry's Layoff

         In May 2015, MCC decided to reduce production at the Marion County Mine from seven to five days per week due to poor coal market conditions (Dkt. No. 75-2 at 5). A corresponding reduction in force resulted in layoffs of approximately 180 hourly workers, as well as 34 salaried employees (Dkt. No. 75-9 at 2). Within the Human Resources Department, Layton was required to reduce her four-person staff by one member (Dkt. No. 75-2 at 6). Layton decided to eliminate one of the two Human Resource Coordinator positions, and ultimately selected Larry as the Coordinator to be laid off. Id. at 13, 17. Larry was notified of her layoff on May 28, 2015 (Dkt. No. 75-1 at 33; Dkt. No. 75-16).

         At the time of Larry's layoff from MCC, Shlyahovsky, her predecessor, was employed as the Human Resource Supervisor at an MAEI sister mine, The Monongalia County Coal Company (Dkt. No. 75-2 at 27). In July 2015, approximately two months after Larry's layoff, Shlyahovsky was transferred back to the Marion County Mine and demoted to the position of Human Resource Coordinator there (Dkt. No. 75-2 at 26-27; Dkt. No. 76-5 at 9-10). Shlyahovsky remained in that position for approximately three months, when he then was reassigned elsewhere (Dkt. No. 75-18 at 2). Shlyahovsky ultimately was laid off in a December 2015 reduction in force (Dkt. No. 75-6 at 10; Dkt. No. 75-19 at 1).

         B. Procedural Background

         On October 20, 2015, Larry sued MCC in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County, West Virginia (Dkt. No. 1-2), asserting claims of (1) sex discrimination in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va. Code §§ 5-11-1, et seq. (“HRA”); (2) pregnancy discrimination in violation of the West Virginia Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act, W.Va. Code §§ 5-11B-1, et seq. (“PWFA”); (3) retaliation in violation of the HRA and PWFA; and (4) interference with her rights and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq. (“FMLA”). Id. at 4-6. She also sued MAEI for aiding and abetting MCC in engaging in unlawful sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation in violation of the HRA and PWFA. Id. at 4-5. On November 10, 2015, the defendants removed the case to this Court (Dkt. No. 1).

         On January 9, 2017, the Court stayed the case pending receipt of answers to two questions certified to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which bore directly on the potential damages available in Larry's case (Dkt. No. 94). See Martinez v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 803 S.E.2d 582 ( W.Va. 2017). After receiving the answers to the certified questions, the Court conducted a conference with the parties on July 26, 2017, to discuss the status of the case (Dkt. No. 97). After the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia entered the mandate in Martinez, Larry filed a motion to lift the stay in this case, which the Court granted on November 1, 2017. Now pending are the defendants' motions for summary judgment, which are fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate only “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court reviews all the evidence “in the light most favorable” to the nonmoving party. Providence Square Assocs., L.L.C. v. G.D.F., Inc., 211 F.3d 846, 850 (4th Cir. 2000). The Court must avoid weighing the evidence or determining its truth and limit its inquiry solely to a determination of whether genuine issues of triable fact exist. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for the motion and of establishing the nonexistence of genuine issues of fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has made the necessary showing, the non-moving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” favoring the non-moving party will not prevent the entry of summary judgment; the evidence must be such that a rational trier of fact could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Id. at 248-52.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. State Law Discrimination Claims Against MCC

         In Count One of the complaint, Larry contends that MCC's decision to select her for layoff was substantially motivated by her sex and her pregnancy, which constitute violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act and the Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 4).

         1. Sex and Pregnancy Discrimination Under the HRA and PWFA

         The West Virginia Human Rights Act (“HRA”), W.Va. Code §§ 5-11-1, et seq., prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual with respect to “compensation, hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” W.Va. Code § 5-11-9(c). Discrimination “means to exclude from, or fail or refuse to extend to, a person equal opportunities because of . . . sex . . . .” W.Va. Code § 5-11-3(h).

         The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has long recognized that discrimination based upon pregnancy constitutes sex discrimination under the HRA. See, e.g., Syl. pt. 1, Montgomery Gen. Hosp. v. W.Va. Human Rights Comm'n, 346 S.E.2d 557, 559 ( W.Va. 1986)(“Discrimination based upon pregnancy constitutes illegal sex discrimination under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va. Code 5-11-9(a)[1981].”)(quoting Syl. pt. 2, Frank's Shoe Store v. W.Va. Human Rights Comm'n, 365 S.E.2d 251, 258 ( W.Va. 1986)). In 2014, the West Virginia Legislature codified the protections afforded to pregnant employees with the adoption of the Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act (“PWFA”), W.Va. Code §§ 5-11B-1, et seq., which explicitly requires employers to reasonably accommodate their employees' “known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, ” including lactation. W.Va. Code § 5-11B-2(1); W.Va. C.S.R. § 77-10-2.

         Discrimination claims brought under the HRA are governed by the burden-shifting framework of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). See Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Dep't v. Stateex rel. State of W.Va. Human Rights Comm'n, 309 S.E.2d 342, 352 ( W.Va. 1983)(reaffirming use of the McDonnell Douglas standard in West Virginia). The PWFA provides that the procedures and ...


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