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Smith v. Armtec Countermeasures Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

November 10, 2016




         Before the Court are Defendant Armtec Countermeasures Company's (“Esterline”) motion for summary judgment (Doc. 18), brief in support of its motion (Doc. 19), statement of facts in support of its motion (Doc. 20), and supporting documents. (Docs. 21-24). Plaintiff Milton Paul Smith, III filed a response in opposition to summary judgment (Doc. 27), a brief in support of his response (Doc. 28), and a document that Mr. Smith presented as a statement of facts in support of his response. (Doc. 29). Esterline submitted a reply to Mr. Smith's opposition (Doc. 31), and an additional supporting document. (Doc. 31). For the reasons stated herein, Esterline's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

         I. Background

         Mr. Smith, a black male, was hired by Esterline on August 30, 2010, for the position of Senior Contracts Administrator at its office in Coachella, California. (Doc. 20, ¶ 3). In this role, Mr. Smith prepared proposals for contracts, and was responsible for submitting these proposals by their due dates. (Id.). In February 2012, Mr. Smith transferred to Esterline's East Camden, Arkansas facility (“ARO”) and kept the same job title. (Id., ¶ 6). While working at ARO, Mr. Smith “dotted line” reported[1] to Jim Zolinsky since Mr. Zolinsky was located at ARO, but he continued to report to Earl Cornish. (Id., ¶ 7). “Sometime in late 2011 [or] maybe early 2012, ” Mr. Zolinski spoke with Mr. Smith because he had concerns that Mr. Smith's business writing skills were not meeting expectations. (Doc. 21-1, p. 14 (Smith Dep. 68:2-13, Nov. 11, 2015)). On September 13, 2012, Mr. Zolinski addressed Mr. Smith with concerns about timeliness and accuracy in submitting documents to customers. (Doc. 21-1, p. 16 (70:2-14)). In February 2013, Mr. Smith failed to submit a proposal on time, and this error was discovered when a customer contacted Esterline and an IT worker searched Mr. Smith's computer, discovering that the proposal was saved as a draft but never actually sent. (Doc. 21-1, p. 18 (74:22- 25)). In August 2013, Mr. Smith both failed to send a quote to a customer, and also incorrectly quoted a price to a customer in an amount that was $565, 095 lower than the correct number. (Doc. 20, ¶¶ 13-16).

         On September 10, 2013, Mr. Zolinski, Mr. Cornish, and Human Resources Director Gail Stewart met with Mr. Smith and gave him a “Final Warning Improvement Plan.” (Doc. 21-1, p. 26 (99:10-14)). At this meeting, it was made clear to Mr. Smith that he was not meeting Esterline's expectations, and he was informed that if he continued to have performance issues he would be terminated from his employment at Esterline. (Doc. 21-1, p. 7 (104:12-19)) (“[I]t was very clear to me that there were, this Final Warning said that there was something that I wasn't doing that if I continued to do it I wouldn't be there”).

         On September 13, 2013, Hill Air Force Base requested a bid proposal from Esterline. (Doc. 20, ¶ 21). Esterline “had to submit the bid by 4:00 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time.” (Doc. 28, p. 11). It was Mr. Smith's responsibility to submit the bid proposal on time. (Doc. 21-1, p. 28 (110:16-18)). Mr. Smith submitted the bid proposal at 4:11pm Mountain Daylight Time.[2] On November 14, 2013, Esterline cited to Mr. Smith's late submission of the bid proposal after his final warning, and terminated Mr. Smith. (Doc. 21-1, p. 32 (155:19-24)).

         II. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

         When a party moves for summary judgment, it must establish both the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Nat'l Bank of Commerce of El Dorado, Ark. v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 1999). In order for there to be a genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party must produce evidence “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66-67 (8th Cir. 1994) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Only facts “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law” need be considered. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “[T]he non-movant must make a sufficient showing on every essential element of its claim on which it bears the burden of proof.” P.H. v. Sch. Dist. of Kan. City, Mo., 265 F.3d 653, 658 (8th Cir. 2001) (quotation omitted). Facts asserted by the nonmoving party “must be properly supported by the record, ” in which case those “facts and the inferences to be drawn from them [are viewed] in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. at 656-57.

         A plaintiff in an employment discrimination case survives a motion for summary judgment “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, as is the case here, a plaintiff presents no direct evidence to support a claim of discrimination, the claim is analyzed under the burden shifting framework set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under this framework, the plaintiff must first present a prima facie case of employment discrimination. Ramlet v. E.F. Johnson Co., 507 F.3d 1149, 1153 (8th Cir. 2007). Once the plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Id.; McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802. The plaintiff must then demonstrate that the defendant's proffered reason is a pretext for unlawful discrimination. St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507-08 (1993); Miners v. Cargill Comms., Inc., 113 F.3d 820, 823 (8th Cir. 1997). To demonstrate pretext, the plaintiff must offer sufficient evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to infer discrimination. Lors v. Dean, 595 F.3d 831, 834 (8th Cir. 2010). However, “the evidence produced to show a prima facie case and the ‘inferences drawn therefrom may be considered by the trier of fact on the issue of whether the defendant's explanation is pretextual.'” Miners, 113 F.3d at 823 (quoting Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 255 n. 10 (1981). Although the burden of production shifts between the parties, the burden of persuasion remains on the plaintiff at all times. Fatemi v. White, 775 F.3d 1022, 1041 (8th Cir. 2015).

         III. Analysis

         The Court will first address the shortcomings of the document that Mr. Smith submitted as a statement of facts, and then turn to the merits of Esterline's motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment is proper because Mr. Smith has failed to make out a prima facie case of race discrimination, and because even if Mr. Smith had done so, Esterline has asserted a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for their employment action, and Mr. Smith has failed to identify circumstances that would permit a reasonable inference that Esterline's proffered reason was pretext for unlawful discrimination.

         A. Procedural Errors that Warrant Summary Judgment

         Local Rule 56.1 requires that a party moving for summary judgment according to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure shall file “a short and concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends there is no genuine dispute to be tried.” The rule further requires that the opposing party shall file a “short and concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends a genuine dispute exists to be tried.” These statements must comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), in that they must be supported by citation to the record. The Local Rule outlines the penalty for an opposing party failing to oppose facts in accordance with this rule, by requiring that facts “shall be deemed admitted unless controverted by the statement filed by the non-moving party.” The effect of this Rule is that if the nonmoving party fails to controvert the facts asserted by the moving party, the Court may accept the movant's statement of undisputed facts as true. Robinson v. American Red Cross, 753 F.3d 749, 754-55 (8th Cir. 2014).

         Esterline complied with the Rules. (Doc. 20). Mr. Smith did not. (Doc. 29). Mr. Smith submitted a list of fifteen questions and one statement. (Id.). Some of these questions pertain to the instant lawsuit, while some of them seem to raise tangential issues that are not material and have not been within the scope of this lawsuit. Mr. Smith's list of fifteen questions and one statement is not a “short and concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends a genuine dispute exists to be tried” and the list does not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) or Local Rule 56.1. As such, it would be proper for the Court to find Esterline's uncontested statement of undisputed facts as true, and enter summary judgment in favor ...

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