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Caban v. Met Laboratories, Inc

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 15, 2019

KIRA CABAN, Plaintiff
v.
MET LABORATORIES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          JAMES K. BREDAR CHIEF JUDGE.

         This is an employment dispute. Plaintiff Kira Caban worked for Defendant MET Laboratories ("MET") for four days in 2016 before MET terminated her employment. Caban sued MET, claiming sex discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a), 2000e(k). Following discovery, MET has moved for summary judgment. Caban opposes summary judgment and, in response to MET's reply, seeks to file a surreply. The motions have been fully briefed, and no hearing is required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2019). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Caban's motion for leave to file a surreply and deny MET's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Factual Background

         A. Caban's Hiring

         On February 25, 2016, MET hired Caban for the role of Marketing Manager in its Sales Department. (Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 34:6-18, ECF No. 33-3; Def. Exh. 2, Offer Ltr., ECF No. 33-4.) MET has nearly 200 employees and provides engineering and testing services to corporate and government clients. (Pl. Exh. 12, Position Statement at 3, ECF No. 40-12.) MET's Vice President Kevin Harbarger recommended Caban for the j ob, and Rob Frier, MET's President, hired her. (Pl. Exh. 2, Frier Dep. at 17:2-18:20, ECF No. 40-2.) Frier does not remember why he chose to hire her specifically. (Id.) Harbarger extended Caban the employment offer and became her direct supervisor. (Def. Exh. 2, Offer Ltr.) Frier was not a direct supervisor, but he actively participated in employee discipline at MET. (Pl. Exh. 6, Pitta Dep. at 50:5-8, ECF No. 40-6.)

         MET gave Caban a start date of March 7, 2016. (Def. Exh. 2, Offer Ltr.) Because Harbarger was scheduled to be in China and, thus, out of the office from March 7 to March 10, Harbarger met with Caban the week before to discuss Caban's work assignments in his absence. (Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 70:11-71:20.) Harbarger showed Caban the facilities, described the industry, and discussed upcoming projects and events. (Id.)

         Also during the week preceding her first day, Caban asked Harbarger if she could work from home on Wednesday, March 9, because she had a doctor's appointment midday. (Def. Exh. 8, Email re: March 9th, ECF No. 33-10.) Harbarger denied this request, saying that he would normally be fine with her working from home but that, on only her third day, she would have a lot of catching up to do. (Id.) Caban later informed Harbarger that she would be in the office before and after her Wednesday appointment. (Pl. Exh. 24, ECF No. 40-24; Def. Exh. 13, ECF No. 33-15 (hereinafter "Email re: Kira's time").)

         B. Caban's First Day

         On Monday, March 7, Caban participated in an onboarding meeting. (Def. Exh, 1, Caban Dep. at 37:13-19.) Sherry Sailing, MET's Human Resources Director, conducted the meeting, which lasted between thirty minutes to an hour. (Id. at 39:4-8.) Sara Lincoln, the Marketing Coordinator, who would be Caban's subordinate, also attended. (Id. at 38:1-2, 44:14-15, 46:9-13.) Sailing, Lincoln, and Caban each provided statements as to what occurred at this meeting.

         Sailing limited the onboarding discussion to human resources issues, (Pl. Exh. 3, Sailing Dep. at 51:2-5, ECF No. 40-3.) Sailing told Caban that she had two options for her work hours: Caban could either work the 8:00AM to 4:30PM shift or the 8:30AM to 5:00PM shift. (Id. at 51:4-12.) In her deposition, Sailing testified that she told Caban that she could work either shift for the first week and that, once Harbarger returned, he would tell her which shift to work. (Id.) By contrast, in answering the interrogatories, MET stated that Sailing described the two shifts but-instead of telling Caban to work either one-instructed Caban to ask Harbarger, who was regularly responding to emails, which shift to work. (Pl. Exh. 10, Interrogs. at 8, ECF No. 40-10.) Caban characterized this discussion differently, stating that she asked about her working hours, but Sailing told her she would have to work them out with Harbarger. (Pl. Exh. 1, Caban Decl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 40-1.) Sailing instructed Lincoln to show Caban how to log her hours, and Lincoln did so, explaining that Caban should log eight hours a day. (Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 44:7-20.)

         Sailing referred Caban to the employee manual. When onboarding new employees, Sailing generally "just touch[es] on the main points" and "let[s] the employees know that it is on the internet." (Pl. Exh. 3, Sailing Dep. at 59:4-11.) Sailing testified that she told Caban that the manual was on the internet. (Id.) By contrast, Caban testified that Sailing said she would send Caban the manual. (Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 38:3-11.) When asked about that statement in her deposition, Sailing responded, "I don't send out copies of the employee manual." (Def. Exh. 4, Sailing Dep. at 59:18-21, ECF No. 33-6.) It is undisputed that Sailing did not show Caban a copy of the manual at the onboarding meeting; nonetheless, Caban signed a form stating that she had reviewed the manual and discussed it with her supervisor. (Def. Exh. 5, ECF No. 33-7; Pl. Exh. 9, ECF No. 40-9 (hereinafter "Form"); Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 36:4-37:9 ("I signed the form but I had not received the actual employee manual.").) According to Caban, she did not see the employee manual until after her termination. (Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 37:5-9.)

         C. The Employee Manual

         MET's employee manual is an online document. (Pl. Exh. 2, Frier Dep. at 75:2-3; Def. Exh. 6, ECF No. 33-8; Pl. Exh. 13, ECF No. 40-13 (hereinafter "Manual").) The manual applies to all employees, including managerial employees. (Pl. Exh. 2, Frier Dep. at 19:13-20.)

         Under "Regular Working Hours," the manual states that exempt employees, like Caban, "are expected to work at least 8 hours per day and must properly record their time." (Manual at 31.) "All employees are responsible for honestly and completely recording their time.... on a daily basis." (Id.) "The normal workday for all employees is 8 hours not including lunch." (Id.) "The duration of the lunch break is typically 30 minutes," and "[a]ny extended break will need to be compensated for on the same day." (Id. at 32.) The manual notes that "[p]oor attendance and excessive tardiness are disruptive," and either one or the "[f]ailure to properly account for one's time can be cause for discipline or termination of employment." (Id. at 31, 32.)

         The eight hours must generally be worked at the office. "All salaried employees are expected to work on the company premises during normal work hours," (Id. at 32.) "If salaried personnel are not present for whatever reason during the normal work hours, then the time must be accounted for as personal time on their time sheets." (Id.) Under "Working from a Remote Location," the manual states, "MET encourages employees to work in the office versus working at a remote location during normal business hours." (Id. at 37.) To work remotely, employees must seek approval from their managers in advance. (Id.)

         These policies support MET's goal of creating an office in which employees are always present during core business hours. (See Pl. Exh. 2, Frier Dep. at 56:14-20 ("[W]e try to maintain core hours when everyone is in the office so there's not perfect overlap, ... but we do like to have core hours where everyone's in the office and those core hours would be starting at 8:30.").) All MET employees are expected to work regular 8.5-hour shifts, with a mandatory half hour lunch break, at the office. (Id. at 49:13-50:5; see also Id. at 57:15-18 ("If you come in a certain time you leave at least 8 and a half hours after the time you arrived.").) Frier clarified, "In other words, you can't work through lunch." (Id. at 102:10-11.)

         Several supervisors warned or disciplined their subordinates for not working eight hours during regular working hours. (See, e.g., Pl. Exh. 8, Kekovski Dep. at 6:1-7:16, ECF No. 40-8 (giving subordinate an official write-up about working a full day when subordinate left 45 minutes before her scheduled departure and 30 minutes before 8.5 hours).) Sailing testified that MET is "very, very strict" about its attendance policy. (Pl. Exh. 3, Sailing Dep. at 27:3-7.) By contrast, Lincoln stated that timekeeping was sporadically enforced. (Pl. Exh. 5, Lincoln Deck ¶ 5, ECF No. 40-5; see Id. ¶ 11 ("It was routine for employees to be a few minutes later than their scheduled start time and they were not routinely punished for it.").)

         D. Pumping Accommodations

         When Caban started working at MET, she had a six-month-old child. (Pl. Exh. 1, Caban Deck ¶ 2-3.) Harbarger testifies that he knew Caban had an infant at the time he recommended her for hire. (Pl. Exh. 4, Harbarger Dep. at 19:21-20:11.) No. one else at MET knew that Caban was a mother. No. one, even Harbarger, knew that Caban was breastfeeding when she was hired. (Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 80:12-18 ("I didn't tell them.").)

         At the onboarding meeting, Caban informed Sailing that she would need a private space where she could pump breast milk at work. (Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 76:8-10.) Because Caban shared an office with Lincoln, Sailing found Caban an unused file room on Caban's hallway. (Id. at 77:2-19.) Sailing kept the file room key, and Caban retrieved it each time she needed to pump. (Id. at 77:20-78:8.) Caban found the file room an appropriate accommodation. (Id. at 80:3-6.) Caban stuck a post-it note on the door, saying "Pumping in Progress." (Id. at 110:7-8.) During her four days at MET, Caban went to the file room to pump every two to three hours for a daily total of "45 minutes maybe." (Id. at 78:13-79:9.)

         MET had accommodated several women who pumped during the workday. (Pl. Exh. 10, Interrogs. at 7-8.) One employee pumped for three of her children during her time at MET and continues to work there. (Id.) Another pumped for a year as a MET employee and continues to work there. (Id.) A third MET employee requested and received pumping accommodations, but she voluntarily resigned in 2016 to accept a job closer to home. (Id.) Unlike Caban, all of these women had their own office in which they pumped, so they did not have to retrieve a key and go to an unused room each time they pumped. (Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 79:17-19.)

         Sailing told Frier that Caban was pumping at work. On the Tuesday of the week at issue, Frier emailed Harbarger to inform him. (Def. Exh. 12, ECF No. 33-14; Pl. Exh. 26, ECF No. 40- 26 (hereinafter "Email re: A word about Kira").) Frier mentioned pumping in the context of letting Harbarger know that his subordinate was not working enough:

Today (Tuesday) I saw her arrive at about 8:45.1 just noticed at 4:45 that she was gone. I did not see her leave. Also, you may not be aware but she is "pumping" several times a day. Sherry set her up with the accounting file room. She certainly has every right to do that and I believe it can be done in work time. However, if I were pumping (which I am not). I would try to make sure I put in a solid 8.[1]

(Id.) Frier told Harbarger that Caban was pumping because he "thought it was interesting and important for a supervisor to know what's going on with their employees." (Pl. Exh. 2, Frier Dep. at 101:1-6.) On Thursday, Frier again emailed Harbarger to note that Caban was working insufficient hours and again mentioned pumping, saying that he would check with Sailing about the rules for paying employees while they were pumping. (Def. Exh. 14, ECF No. 33-16; Pl. Exh. 23, ECF No. 40-23 (hereinafter "Email re: Kira").) But, Caban did get paid during the time that she pumped. Sailing testified that Frier had asked her about the policy and she had clarified that Caban should get paid: "Everyone else got paid. She was going to get paid. He just didn't know, so." (Def. Exh. 4, Sailing Dep. at 127:13-18.)

         On March 9, Caban found Frier outside the file room. Having finished pumping, Caban opened the door and found Frier reading the "Pumping in Progress" post-it note. (Def. Exh. 1, Caban Dep. at 110:6-13.). Caban could not tell exactly what he was doing-whether he was listening at the door or simply reading the note. (Id. at 110:17-111:6.) Caban offers two versions of this incident. In one, she remembers that she said hello and that "he snapped up and said hello and walked away." (/rf. at 110:12-13.) In another, Caban states that Frier did not respond to Caban's greeting at all and walked away. (Pl. Exh. 1, Caban Decl. ¶ 13.) Frier does not recall the incident. (Pl. Exh. 2, Frier Dep. at 108:16.)

         E. Caban's First Week Attendance

         The parties dispute what hours Caban worked during her first and only week at MET. A series of emails between Frier, Harbarger, and Sailing reveal that they were tracking Caban's comings and goings from the office.

         On Tuesday, Frier emailed Harbarger to inform him of Caban's hours. (Email re: A word about Kira.) He wrote that, on Monday, "she was gone by 4:30," and that, on Tuesday, she arrived at 8:45AM and was gone by 4:45PM. (Id.) On Wednesday, Frier emailed Harbarger documenting that Caban arrived at 8:45AM, left at 11:45AM, returned at 2:30PM, and was gone for the day by 4:20PM. (Email re: Kira's time.) That day, Caban recorded two hours of personal time to go to the doctor's appointment.[2] (Def. Exh. 11, ETimesheet, ECF No. 33-13; Email re: Kira's time.)

         On Thursday, Frier emailed Harbarger, saying that Caban arrived at 8:45AM and left at 4:10PM with at least an hour for lunch. (Email re: Kira.) The full email reads:

Sherry is quite annoyed about Kira's hours. According to Sherry, Kira came in at 8:45, took at least an hour out for lunch with Sara and was gone sometime before 4:10. She pumps for at least an hour a day. Sherry needs to check the rules about pay during pumping. I'm not too happy about it either.

(Id.) When asked what he meant by "I am not too happy about it either," Frier explained, "I was referring to Kira's hours. As in Sherry's quite annoyed and I am not too happy about it either... I was neutral on the pumping, neither happy nor sad about the pumping. I support pumping in the workplace as a matter of ...


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