United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
AARON C. ROONEY PLAINTIFF
ROCK-TENN CONVERTING COMPANY, ROCK-TENN SERVICES, INC., and WESTROCK COMPANY DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16)
filed by Rock-Tenn Converting Company, Rock-Tenn Services,
Inc., and Westrock Company (collectively,
"Rock-Tenn"). Plaintiff Aaron C. Rooney has filed a
Response (Doc. 20) in opposition to the Motion, to which
Rock-Tenn has filed a Reply (Doc. 21). For the reasons stated
herein, Rock-Tenn's Motion for Summary Judgment is
March 22, 2010, Rooney, a Christian male, was hired by Dean
Metter, a Jewish male, to work for Rock-Tenn as an account
executive out of the company’s Bentonville, Arkansas
office. Rooney was hired from a relatively large pool of
candidates-somewhere between 29 and 35 individuals who
applied for the job. Rooney admits that during the interview
process, his religious affiliation was never mentioned. For
approximately the first three years of Rooney’s
employment with Rock-Tenn, he reported directly to Metter,
who worked out of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania office.
summer of 2013, there were four employees working in the
Bentonville office, including Rooney. One of the four
employees reported directly to Rooney, one reported to a
supervisor located in the New Jersey office, and Rooney
reported to Metter in Pennsylvania. During the fall of 2013,
Metter hired Nancy Collom to serve as Sales Director of
Rock-Tenn's Bentonville office. At the time Rooney first
met Collom, Metter described her as a “nice Jewish lady
from Philadelphia.” (Doc. 1, p. 3). Rooney admits that when
he learned he would have to begin reporting to Collom as his
local supervisor, he “had mixed feelings about it,
” mainly because he understood Collom would likely take
over all prospective business with Walmart, a client with
whom Rooney had already developed significant contacts. (Doc.
15-5, p. 11). Rooney admitted in his deposition that he did
not like the fact that he was directed to report to Collom
instead of Metter. Id.
claims that shortly after Collom began working in the
Bentonville office, she began making comments to Rooney that
he considered to be sexist. The comments included: “I
can’t wait until we have more women in these
desks”; “I can’t wait until there are more
ladies in the office”; “Now we have just as many
women in the office as men”; and “Now the ladies
overpower the men.” (Doc. 1, pp. 3-4; Doc. 20, p. 9).
He also alleges that Collom went out to lunch with women in
the office, and Rooney was not invited. Rooney admits that
Metter had no animus towards him because of his gender, but
speculates that Metter was likely the “cat’s
paw” for Collom to further her personal desire to
increase the number of women in the office by discriminating
also claims that another reason Metter fired him was that
Rooney was not Jewish. Rooney testified that Metter told him
he was “going to have to start learning to take
direction from a Jewish woman, ” meaning Collom, in
October of 2013. (Doc. 15-5, p. 29). Further, it was
Rooney’s view that Metter had a “resurgence in
his Jewish beliefs” and expressed in September of 2013
a desire to “tap into the Jewish network” at
Walmart. Id. at p. 30. In addition, another employee
told Rooney that Metter “felt more comfortable . . .
working with people who go to church on Saturday.”
Id. at p. 31. Rooney believes he was terminated so
that Mark Benjamin, a Jewish employee who was already working
at Rock-Tenn, could take over Rooney’s accounts.
Id. at p. 32.
was fired by Metter on February 5, 2015. Rooney filed a
charge of discrimination based on religion and gender with
the United States Equal Opportunity Commission on May 4,
2015. He received his Right to Sue letter on June 30, 2015,
and he filed a Complaint in this Court on August 20, 2015.
Rock-Tenn filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on June 10,
2016, after the parties engaged in discovery.
motion for summary judgment is filed, the court must
"grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Once the moving party has met its burden,
the non-moving 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 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)). The Court must review the facts in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party and give that party the
benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from
those facts. Canada v. Union Elec. Co., 135 F.3d
1211, 1212-13 (8th Cir. 1997).
employment discrimination cases are often fact intensive and
dependent on nuance in the workplace, they are not immune
from summary judgment, and there is no separate summary
judgment standard for employment discrimination cases."
Fercello v. Cnty. of Ramsey, 612 F.3d 1069, 1077
(8th Cir. 2010). A plaintiff can survive summary judgment on
a discrimination claim "either by providing direct
evidence of discrimination or by creating an inference of
unlawful discrimination" using circumstantial evidence.
Bone v. G4S Youth Servs., LLC, 686 F.3d 948, 953
(8th Cir. 2012). When a plaintiff relies on circumstantial
evidence to prove discrimination based on disparate
treatment, the claim is analyzed using the burden-shifting
framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411
U.S. 792 (1973). Gray v. Univ. of Ark. at
Fayetteville, 883 F.2d 1394, 1398 (8th Cir. 1989)
(applying the McDonnell Douglas model to a gender
discrimination claim); Shirrell v. St. Francis Med.
Ctr., 793 F.3d 881, 885 (8th Cir. 2015) (applying the
McDonnell Douglas model to a religious
the burden-shifting framework, the employee must first
establish a prima facie case of discrimination. McDonnell
Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. A minimal evidentiary showing
will satisfy this burden. Johnson v. Ark. State
Police, 10 F.3d 547, 551 (8th Cir. 1993). Once the
employee meets it, a presumption of discrimination is
created. Tex. Dept. of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450
U.S. 248, 254 (1981). The burden then shifts to the employer
to offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the
adverse employment actions taken. McDonnell Douglas,
411 U.S. at 802. "Once the employer's burden is met,
the presumption of discrimination disappears, and the
employee must prove that the proffered justification is
merely a pretext for discrimination." Pope v. ESA
Servs., Inc., 406 F.3d 1001, 1007 (8th Cir. 2005)
(citing Sprenger v. Fed. Home Loan Bank of Des
Moines, 253 F.3d 1106, 1111 (8th Cir. 2001)). "At
all times, the burden of persuasion remains with the
plaintiff." Id. (citing Gagnon v. Sprint
Corp., 284 F.3d 839, 847 (8th Cir. 2002)).
Prima Facie Case
establish a prima facie case based on either gender or
religious discrimination, Rooney must show that: (1) he is a
member of a protected class; (2) he met Rock-Tenn's
legitimate expectations; (3) he suffered an adverse
employment action; and (4) the circumstances give rise to an
inference of discrimination. See Shirrell, 793 F.3d
at 887 (religious discrimination); Holland v. Sam's
Club, 487 F.3d 641, 644-45 (8th Cir. 2006) (gender
discrimination). There is ...