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Blackwell v. Alliant Techsystems, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 16, 2016

Catrina D. Blackwell, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Alliant Techsystems, Inc., Defendant Ron Baker, Individually and as Agent and Employee of Alliant Techsystems, Inc.; David Bales, Individually and as Agent and Employee of Alliant Techsystems, Inc.; Tracy Bradehoft, Individually and as Agent and Employee of Alliant Techsystems, Inc.; Alliant Techsystems Operations, LLC, Defendants - Appellees Division of Employment Security, State of Missouri, Respondent

         Submitted April 13, 2016.

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Kansas City.

         For Catrina D. Blackwell, Plaintiff - Appellant: Basil L. North Jr., Basil L. North, JR & Associates, Lee's Summit, MO.

         For Ron Baker, Individually and as Agent and Employee of Alliant Techsystems, Inc., David Bales, Individually and as Agent and Employee of Alliant Techsystems, Inc., Tracy Bradehoft, Individually and as Agent and Employee of Alliant Techsystems, Inc., Alliant Techsystems Operations, LLC, Defendants - Appellees: Landon Wade Magnusson, Bridget B. Romero, Robert Kent Sellers, Lathrop & Gage, Kansas City, MO.

         Before WOLLMAN, BEAM, and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

         MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

         Catrina Blackwell sued Alliant Techsystems Operations LLC (ATK) and several ATK employees for race, gender, and age discrimination after the company fired her for elbowing another employee in the back. The district court[1] granted summary judgment to the defendants, concluding that Blackwell had not demonstrated a prima facie case of discrimination and that ATK had a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her. Blackwell now appeals, and we affirm.

         I.

         Blackwell, who is African American, was employed as a worker on an assembly line at ATK's ammunition plant in Lake City, Missouri. From 2004 to 2011 she received positive reviews and had a good record. Then, in August 2011 Blackwell had a verbal altercation with her coworker Michael Buie. Human resources manager Ron Baker investigated the incident and gave both employees a written warning. In November 2011 Blackwell and Buie had a second dispute. Blackwell alleged that Buie had rammed into her with his shoulder as they passed each other in the hallway. Baker again investigated. He concluded that the contact had been inadvertent and that Buie had not done anything improper after witnesses stated that Buie " barely brushed" or " bumped into" Blackwell.

         In February 2012 Blackwell and her coworker Leona Yardley exchanged insults during an incident at work. Blackwell did not report it. Then, on February 17 Blackwell and Yardley were involved in a second incident. Yardley reported to ATK management that Blackwell had elbowed her in the back just after the start of their shift on the assembly line. Jeff Peters, the supervisor of the line, reported the incident to human resources but told Yardley that he could not do anything without corroboration. Tyler Johnson later stepped forward as a witness and provided oral and written statements corroborating Yardley's accusations. In his signed written statement, Johnson wrote that Blackwell had elbowed Yardley and that it was intentional. He also drew a diagram of the scene. ATK interviewed Blackwell who denied the allegations. After Johnson gave his statement, ATK suspended Blackwell on March 15. ATK's human resources investigation concluded on March 20 without having discovered any other witnesses, and Blackwell was terminated on April 4 based on the accounts of Yardley and Johnson.

         On March 16, the day after Blackwell was suspended, she called an ATK ethics hotline to complain about her suspension and the two incidents with Yardley. ATK's ethics committee began a separate investigation. Blackwell sent a follow up email to David Bales, a member of the committee, on the morning of April 4. She was terminated that same day, and Bales concluded his investigation on May 8. In his report, he concluded that ATK management and human resources had not violated any company policies, but that Blackwell herself had violated at least three policies by acting violently.

         Blackwell sued ATK for race, gender, and age discrimination, retaliation, and defamation, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Missouri Human Rights Act. In November 2014, after the lawsuit was filed, Tyler Johnson recanted his earlier statements and claimed that he had not seen the incident between Blackwell and Yardley. Johnson did confirm however that he had written the 2012 report which described the incident. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants on each of Blackwell's claims. Blackwell appeals the judgment with respect to her Title VII and ADEA discrimination and retaliation claims.

         II.

          We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Blackwell and giving her the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Robinson v. Am. Red Cross,753 F.3d 749, 754 (8th Cir. 2014). We may affirm " only if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and ...


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