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Burkett v. DE Wafelbakkers

January 23, 2007

ANNA BURKETT PLAINTIFF
v.
DE WAFELBAKKERS, INC. DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garnett Thomas Eisele United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Plaintiff Anna Burkett alleges that she was paid less than a younger male because of her age and gender in violation of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), Title VII, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993, Ark. Code Ann. § 16-123-101, et seq. It is undisputed that the Defendant hired a younger male, Richard Milner, to take over the position of human resources manager in anticipation of the Plaintiff's retirement, and agreed to pay Milner $7,000 more than it had been paying Plaintiff.*fn1 The Defendant employed both Plaintiff and Milner for approximately five months, from August 24, 2005 through February 3, 2006.

Plaintiff seeks money damages for backpay, benefits, liquidated damages and punitive damages. Defendant De Wafelakkers, Inc. has moved for summary judgment on both of Plaintiff's claims. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the Defendant has failed to satisfy its burden under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

I.

Summary judgment should be entered if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to 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 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence from which a jury can return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2510.

II.

Plaintiff Anna Burkett worked for De Wafelbakkers from November 11, 1996 until her retirement on February 3, 2006. When she retired, Ms. Burkett's job title was Human Resources Manager. On March 27, 2006, shortly after her retirement, Plaintiff filed the present suit.

De Wafelbakkers is a bakery facility. Located in North Little Rock, Arkansas, De Wafelbakkers produces breakfast foods, including pancakes, french toast and waffles, for distribution throughout the United States. Since its inception in 1984, the company has expanded its physical facilities on at least two different occasions, and it is currently in the process of doubling its current square footage of manufacturing and storage facilities.

De Wafelbakkers has grown steadily. Beginning in 2005, the company went from a one-shift production line to a seven day a week, twenty-four hour a day operation.

Plaintiff was initially employed as a payroll clerk. Part of her initial duties included preparing weekly payroll and insuring that payroll taxes were paid. In August 1997, Plaintiff assumed additional duties, assuming the title, payroll clerk/personnel coordinator. Plaintiff later became responsible for administering the company's hospitalization and 401(k) programs, and her job title became Human Resources Manager.

In 2004, Plaintiff advised management that she planned to retire at the end of January 2006. At the time, the Defendant was planning to convert to a new accounting system that included a new payroll module. Plaintiff informed management that it would not make sense for her to learn the new payroll system or work the extra hours necessary to implement the new system since she would not be using the new system in light of her retirement. In 2005, De Wafelbakkers went forward with installing the new accounting system but delayed the implementation of the payroll system.

In approximately mid-2005, De Wafelbakkers began considering the company's future needs in connection with the Human Resources Manager position Plaintiff was vacating. De Wafelbakkers claims that it envisioned Plaintiff's replacement as assuming more professional level functions, such as assuming recruiting functions and assisting in hiring decisions and conflict resolutions, which would result in greater uniformity in its employment practices. Plaintiff claims that De Wafelbakkers is greatly understating Plaintiff's role, while overstating the role of her replacement. Defendant stresses its growth after Plaintiff's employment ended, but it appears undisputed that the Defendant also experienced significant growth during the period that Plaintiff served as its Human Resources Manager and that Plaintiff was able to perform the job duties required by the Defendant.

In August 2005, Fred Belote, De Wafelbakkers' Vice President of Finance, interviewed Richard Milner for the human resources manager position. Belote had worked with Milner in the past and was familiar with Milner's qualifications. Milner was offered the job at a yearly salary of $36,000 and he accepted it. At the time Milner was hired, Plaintiff was earning $29,000.

Defendant claims that it agreed to pay Milner $7,000 more than Plaintiff after taking into consideration "the fact that Milner would be performing not only the duties that Plaintiff was then performing, but also the duties on the new payroll and timekeeping systems . . . as well as other functions that were then being performed by others." (Def.'s Stmnt. of Material Facts at ΒΆ 30). Plaintiff contends that Milner's performance of additional duties did ...


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