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Kitazi v. Sellen Construction Co. Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

November 14, 2017

ERIC KITAZI, Plaintiff,
SELLEN CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, INC. a corporation; ROBERT P. MCCLESKY director, in his individual and corporate capacities and on behalf of his marital community, JANE DOE MCCLESKY; KATE HARKESS, individually and in her official capacity; and KEN KNUDSEN, individually and in his official supervisory capacities, Defendants.


          Marsha J. Pechman United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment and Motions to Strike. (Dkt. Nos. 32, 35.) Having considered the Parties' briefing and all related papers, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motions to Strike; DENIES Defendant Sellen Construction Company's Motion for Summary Judgment; and GRANTS Defendants Kate Harkess and Ken Knudsen's Motion for Summary Judgment.


         Plaintiff Eric Kitazi brings this employment discrimination action against Sellen Construction Company, Inc. (“Sellen”), its Director of Human Resources Kate Harkess (“Harkess”), and its Superintendent of Cement Masons Ken Knudsen (“Knudsen”) (collectively, “Defendants”) on the basis of race and national origin. (Dkt. Nos. 1, 17.)

         Plaintiff, a Kenyan national, worked at Sellen from 2008-2010 and from January-November 2014. (Dkt. No. 17 at 2.) Plaintiff alleges that he was discriminated against by co-workers and supervisors who subjected him to harassment and demeaning remarks on the job. (Id. at 5-8.)

         Plaintiff alleges that in September 2014, shortly after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, an unknown worker yelled “Ebola!” inciting laughter from other workers on the jobsite. (Dkt. No. 37 at 4-5.) On another occasion, Plaintiff alleges a worker stated he was “keeping the rapists out, ” which Plaintiff perceived as a racial stereotype. (Id. at 5.) On another occasion, a worker called Plaintiff “monkey butter, ” which he perceived as a racial slur. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he was repeatedly stared at, followed, regarded with suspicion, threatened and yelled at by other workers. (Id. at 6, 10-13.) Plaintiff alleges that his foreman treated white workers with more respect, encouraged other workers to follow and harass him, and refused to communicate with him about details of the job. (Id. at 9, 11-12.) Plaintiff alleges that other workers noticed his disparate treatment and told him, “I see how they treat you different.” (Id. at 4). Plaintiff alleges he complained to supervisors and foremen about being followed and physically threatened on the jobsite, and on one occasion he complained formally to Defendant Harkess. (Id. at 6, 10, 12-13.) Plaintiff alleges he reported instances of being followed and stared at to Defendant Knudsen on November 19, 2014 and to another supervisor and foreman on November 24, 2014. (Id. at 12-13.) Plaintiff alleges he was terminated the following day, on November 25, 2014. (Id. at 13.)

         Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts a variety of causes of action under state and federal law relating to the alleged employment discrimination. (See Dkt. No. 17.) Plaintiff voluntarily has abandoned several of those claims, and only his only remaining claims are for employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”), and the Washington Law Against Discrimination; retaliation; and hostile working environment. (See Dkt. No. 37 at 2.)

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff's complaints to management alluded only vaguely to racial tension and differential treatment, and that Plaintiff did not provide any details that could be investigated. (Dkt. No. 32 at 18.) Defendants allege that Plaintiff was laid off due to a reduction in work for cement masons between November-December 2014. (Id. at 19; Dkt. No. 41 at 7.)

         Defendant Sellen (Dkt. No. 32) and Defendants Harkess and Knudsen (Dkt. No. 35) now move for summary judgment as to each of Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff opposes Defendant Sellen's Motion, but has not substantively opposed Defendants Harkess and Knudsen's Motion. (See Dkt. No. 37.)


         I. Legal Standards A. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is proper where “the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In assessing whether a party has met its burden, the underlying evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         The Ninth Circuit and Washington courts impose a high standard for granting summary judgment in employment discrimination cases. The Ninth Circuit has stated that “very little evidence” is required to survive summary judgment because “the ultimate question is one that can only be resolved through a searching inquiry-one that is most appropriately conducted by the factfinder, upon a full record.” Schnidrig v. Columbia Mach., Inc., 80 F.3d 1406, 1410 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Washington courts have stated that summary judgment “should rarely be granted in employment discrimination cases.” See, e.g., Sangster v. Albertson's, Inc., 99 Wn.App. 156, 160 (2000) (citation omitted).

         II. Defendants' ...

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