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Altheimer v. Hosto & Buchan Law Firm

September 18, 2007


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


Corinne Altheimer brought this action against the law firm of Hosto & Buchan P.L.L.C., asserting claims of race discrimination and retaliation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). The Court has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Before the Court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that motion is granted.*fn1


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).


Altheimer began working for Hosto & Buchan in July 2004 as its bankruptcy coordinator, which is part of the Litigation Department. Altheimer's duties included entering all notices of bankruptcy into the firm's database, ensuring that proper codes were entered to comply with applicable law, and assuring that all appropriate personnel were notified of a bankruptcy filing. At the time of her hiring, Altheimer was the only firm employee handling such duties.

On October 17, 2005, Altheimer notified Colleen Martin, a Hosto & Buchan employee, via e-mail that she was interested in leading one of the three teams in the Litigation Department. The responsibilities and qualifications of such a position include managing employee priorities, assuring quality of data entry, communicating with internal and external parties regarding the progress of a particular file, reviewing employee attendance and time entries, monitoring performance issues, adherence to company policies, and weekly team status reports to management, as well as recruiting and training employees.

Also on October 17, 2005, Jennifer Thornton began work for Hosto & Buchan. Bryan Hosto and Colleen Martin hired Thornton to train to become the supervisor of one of the Litigation teams. Before her employment with Hosto & Buchan, Thornton had had extensive management experience, which was considered necessary for a Litigation supervisory position. Thornton became a supervisor in the Litigation Department in January 2006.

On January 4, 2006, Altheimer again sent her October 2005 e-mail expressing interest in becoming a Litigation Department supervisor. Martin responded to Altheimer's e-mail, inquiring of her previous supervisory or legal experience, and requesting a face-to-face meeting on the subject. Altheimer then met with Martin and the Litigation Department manager, Terri Singleton, on January 9, 2006. During the meeting, Altheimer disclosed that she had no previous management or supervisor experience and had had no legal experience before she began working for Hosto & Buchan. Martin told Altheimer that she would have to gain a broader range of knowledge in the litigation process in order to be considered for a promotion in the Litigation Department. Martin also discussed possible increased responsibilities within the Litigation Department with Altheimer during the meeting.

On January 17, 2006, Altheimer sent Singleton an e-mail expressing her understanding that she was to become the leader of the bankruptcy team in the Litigation Department. According to Hosto & Buchan, this was a gross mischaracterization of the conclusions of the January 9 meeting. Singleton responded by restating what she understood to be the conclusions of the January 9 meeting -- that Altheimer could begin learning new areas and tasks in the Litigation Department, which would be a necessary prerequisite to any promotion within the Litigation Department. On February 2, 2006, Hosto and Martin met with Altheimer to discuss her concerns regarding Singleton's treatment of employees.

According to Hosto & Buchan, in an effort to follow up on the January 9 meeting with Altheimer, it attempted to help Altheimer expand the breadth of her Litigation Department experience and knowledge, beginning in late February or early March 2006. It provided Altheimer with training so that it could give her additional assignments and responsibilities. According to Hosto & Buchan, its treatment of Altheimer with respect to her employment has not been based in any way on her race or in retaliation for her complaint that she had suffered from racial discrimination at the firm. As far as the record shows, Altheimer is still employed at Hosto & Buchan.


Under Title VII, an employer cannot discharge or otherwise "discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (2000). This provision prohibits, among other things, failure to promote an employee due to his or her race. See Rose-Maston v. NME Hosps., Inc., 133 F.3d 1104, 1109-10 (8th Cir. 1998).

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." McDonnell 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. ...

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