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Rose v. Intertech Group

December 18, 2006

GAIL ROSE PLAINTIFF
v.
THE INTERTECH GROUP, INC.; POLYMER GROUP, INC.; AND CHICOPEE, INC. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Leon Holmes United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Gail Rose brought this action on dual grounds of racial discrimination and retaliation against the InterTech Group, Inc., Polymer Group, Inc., and Chicopee, Inc., pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Rose has also brought a state-law tort claim of outrage. The Court has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 as to the claims that arise under federal law. The Court has authority under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claim. Before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that motion is granted.

I.

A court should enter summary judgment when "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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). When a nonmoving party cannot make an adequate showing on a necessary element of the case on which that party bears the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322- 23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. If the moving party meets this burden, "the nonmoving party must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)). A genuine issue for trial exists only if there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all inferences in his favor, mindful that summary judgment seldom should be granted in discrimination cases where claims are often based on inferences. Peterson v. Scott County, 406 F.3d 515, 520 (8th Cir. 2005); Bassett v. City of Minneapolis, 211 F.3d 1097, 1099 (8th Cir. 2000) (collecting cases). But see Bainbridge v. Loffredo Gardens, Inc., 378 F.3d 756, 762 (8th Cir. 2004) (Arnold, J., dissenting).

II.

From 1988 to 1995, Gail Rose, an African-American, worked for Johnson & Johnson or its subsidiary, Johnson & Johnson Personal Products Company, at the manufacturing facility at 1301 E. 8th Street, North Little Rock, Arkansas. Over the course of her employment, Rose's responsibilities included inspecting Handi-Wipes and packing them into packages as well as helping manufacture feminine hygiene pads. During this time, Rose never operated any of the manufacturing machinery at the plant.

In March 1995, the InterTech Group purchased two manufacturing lines at the North Little Rock plant. All other lines were shut down and transferred to another facility. As Rose did not work on either of the purchased manufacturing lines, she lost her job at the North Little Rock facility when her production line was discontinued. Rose subsequently applied for employment with the new ownership group in September of 1995. When she was not hired, she filed an EEOC charge alleging that she was not hired because of her race and age. However, Rose chose not to pursue the charge, and it was dismissed.

In 1999, an expansion of the North Little Rock facility created new positions. Rose applied for employment for a second time with the new ownership. Once again, when Rose was not hired, she filed an EEOC charge, this time on the grounds of racial discrimination and in retaliation for the 1995 EEOC charge that she had filed. The EEOC dismissed the charge with a no cause determination, after which Rose filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. This suit was administratively terminated in June 2002 because of the bankruptcy of InterTech.

In the spring of 2004, InterTech's successors, the Polymer Group and Chicopee, accepted applications for the positions of slitter operator and material handler at the North Little Rock facility. Rose applied for these positions but was not hired. In June 2004, Rose again filed an EEOC charge alleging that she was the victim of race discrimination and retaliation for the prior EEOC charge in 2000. The EEOC again dismissed Rose's charge with a no cause determination. Rose then filed this suit.

According to the defendants, they declined to hire Rose in both 1999 and 2004 for three reasons. First, Amanda Grayson, the Human Resources Manager, received negative feedback from Rose's former co-workers about her previous work habits, including the following performance issues: tardiness, abuse of breaks, wandering from her post, conversing too much with co-workers, and displaying a lazy attitude and general lack of drive. The other two reasons were Rose's lack of experience operating the particular equipment the defendants were hiring someone to operate and an assessment of Rose's leadership potential. According to Rose, she was at least as qualified as other new employees they hired to handle the equipment, and the reason she was not hired was because Grayson believed she was a "troublemaker" due to of her prior EEOC charges.

III.

When a plaintiff lacks direct evidence of discrimination, then she "must carry the initial burden under the statute of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination." McDonnel Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824, 36 L.Ed. 2d 668 (1973). The Eighth Circuit has defined direct evidence as "'evidence of conduct or statements by persons involved in the decisionmaking process that may be viewed as directly reflecting the alleged discriminatory attitude . . . sufficient to permit the factfinder to infer that that attitude was more likely than not a motivating factor in the employer's decision.'" Cronquist v. City of Minneapolis, 237 F.3d 920, 925 (8th Cir. 2001) (quoting Radabaugh v. Zip Feed Mills, Inc., 997 F.2d 444, 449 (8th Cir. 1993)). Alternatively, to carry the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case, the plaintiff must show (i) that he belongs to a racial minority; (ii) that he applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; (iii) that, despite his qualifications, he was rejected; and (iv) that, after his rejection, the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants from persons of complainant's qualifications. McDonnel Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. at 1824. If Rose can meet each element of a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the defendants to identify a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for declining to hire Rose. Id. If the defendants meet this burden, Rose must then prove that the articulated reason was a pretext. Id. at 804, 93 S.Ct. at 1825.

Here, Rose has presented no direct evidence that her race may have been a motivating factor in the defendants' decision not to hire her in 2004. Thus, the Court must assess her claim in light of the elements of a prima facie case as laid out by the McDonnel Douglas Court. No one disputes the first element -- that Rose belongs to a racial minority -- or the third element -- at least to the extent that her application was rejected. The defendants contend, however, that Rose has failed to meet either of the remaining elements of her prima facie case.

While "the threshold of proof necessary to make a prima facie case is minimal," Rose-Maston v. NME Hospitals, Inc., 133 F.3d 1104, 1109-10 (8th Cir. 1998), Rose has offered no specific evidence regarding the qualifications of the positions for which she applied, i.e., slitter operator and material handler. Furthermore, while her resume and deposition offer some proof as to what her qualifications might be generally, they are not the least bit probative on how her experience qualifies her specifically for these jobs. Instead, she merely states in her deposition that "[a]nything that Personal Products worked on -- had in there -- I was capable of working on," and if anything had changed in the plant since she last worked there in 1995, that would not matter "[f]or the simple fact that I'm a trainable person." (Rose's Dep. at p. 153, lines 15-16; ...


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