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Bell v. Autozone Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

March 16, 2017

MAREIA BELL PLAINTIFF
v.
AUTOZONE STORES, LLC[1] DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Autozone Stores, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 20). Plaintiff Mareia Bell has not responded to the motion, and the time do so has passed. Also before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss.[2] (ECF No. 34). The Court finds the matters ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case is an employment-discrimination action brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (“ACRA”). Plaintiff is an African-American woman who previously worked for Defendant. Plaintiff alleges claims of retaliation, race and gender discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in connection with Defendant's termination of Plaintiff. Plaintiff also asserts a wage-discrimination claim under the Equal Pay Act and Arkansas' wage-discrimination law.

         On March 21, 2007, Plaintiff was hired by Defendant as a part-time sales employee. In December 2008, Plaintiff was promoted to part-time parts sales manager, and on February 15, 2009, she was promoted to store manager. As a store manager, one of Plaintiff's responsibilities was to ensure that the cash from merchandise sales in her store was gathered and delivered to the bank, and that the deposit slip was verified afterwards. On April 8, 2014, management for Defendant spoke with Plaintiff regarding two deposits from Plaintiff's store. Paperwork showed that Plaintiff delivered a December 16, 2013 deposit to the bank, and that Plaintiff signed and verified the deposit slip for a January 3, 2014 deposit to the bank. However, these deposits were never delivered to the bank. In an interview with Defendant's loss-prevention personnel, Plaintiff provided a written statement that she had never allowed a non-management employee to take the store's money to the bank. Plaintiff later admitted that she had, in fact, occasionally sent non-management personnel to the bank with store deposits. On April 14, 2014, Plaintiff was terminated for violating company policy, unsatisfactory job performance, and loss of confidence.

         Plaintiff then filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). On July 30, 2015, the EEOC sent Plaintiff a notice-of-rights letter. On October 29, 2015, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, alleging claims of retaliation, race and gender discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in connection with Defendant's termination of Plaintiff, as well as an unequal-pay claim with respect to Plaintiff's first two years of employment with Defendant.[3]

         On November 9, 2016, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and supporting documents (ECF Nos. 20-22), arguing that it is entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff did not respond to the motion, and her time to do so expired on November 23, 2016. On December 20, 2016, the Court entered a Show Cause Order, giving Plaintiff fourteen days to either show cause why she had not responded to Defendant's summary judgment motion or to file a response to the motion. (ECF No. 24). The Show Cause Order warned Plaintiff that failure to respond to the motion could result in the Court granting summary judgment and dismissing her case. On January 5, 2017-after the expiration of the deadline set out in the Court's Show Cause Order-Plaintiff contacted the Court by email and requested additional time to find an attorney and to respond to the summary judgment motion.[4] The Court granted the motion, giving Plaintiff fourteen days to hire an attorney and thirty days to respond to the summary judgment motion. (ECF No. 30). On February 16, 2017-after the expiration of the extended deadline set out in the Court's order-Plaintiff again contacted the Court by email to state that she would be proceeding pro se in this matter, and to request additional time to respond to the summary judgment motion.[5] On February 22, 2017, the Court granted the motion, giving Plaintiff fourteen days to respond to Defendant's summary judgment motion.[6] (ECF No. 33). As of the date of this Memorandum Opinion, Plaintiff has not filed a response to the summary judgment motion.

         Local Rule 7.2(b) of the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Western District of Arkansas provides a fourteen-day period for nonmoving parties to respond to a summary judgment motion. Local Rule 56.1(c) states that all facts asserted in the moving party's statement of facts shall be deemed admitted if they are not controverted by the nonmoving party's own statement of facts. Because Plaintiff did not respond to Defendant's summary judgment motion or deny any of Defendant's asserted facts within the Court-extended time period, all facts asserted in Defendant's statement of facts are deemed admitted for summary judgment purposes. See Chaffin v. City of Fort Smith, No. 05-cv-2061 JLH, 2005 WL 3805977, at *1 (W.D. Ark. Oct. 19, 2005).

         II. STANDARD

         The standard for summary judgment is well established. When a party moves for summary judgment, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Krenik v. County of LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). This is a “threshold inquiry of . . . whether there is a need for trial-whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they reasonably may be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Id. at 248. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Id. at 252.

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must consider all the evidence and all reasonable inferences that arise from the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Nitsche v. CEO of Osage Valley Elec. Co-Op, 446 F.3d 841, 845 (8th Cir. 2006). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Enterprise Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The nonmoving party must then demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Krenik, 47 F.3d at 957. However, a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment “may not rest upon mere allegations or denials . . . but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 256.

         “There is no ‘discrimination case exception' to the application of summary judgment, which is a useful pretrial tool to determine whether any case, including one alleging discrimination, merits a trial.” Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011). Accordingly, the Court applies the same summary judgment standard to discrimination cases as it does to all others.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant argues that all of Plaintiff's Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and ACRA claims fail as a matter of law, and it is therefore entitled to summary judgment.[7] The Court will examine each of Plaintiff's claims.

         A. Retaliation Claims

         Plaintiff requests that the Court enter a declaratory judgment stating, inter alia, that Defendant took actions “[against Plaintiff] in retaliation for . . . having exercised a protected right.” (ECF No. 1). Defendant argues that Plaintiff's retaliation claim should be dismissed because Plaintiff abandoned the claim when she testified in a deposition that she was not making or pursuing a claim of retaliation against Defendant. Defendant argues in the alternative that Plaintiff's retaliation claim fails as a matter of law because she cannot establish two of the three elements required to make a prima facie case for retaliation. The Court agrees that Plaintiff abandoned her retaliation claim, but assuming arguendo that she did not, her retaliation claim nonetheless fails as a matter of law.

         “Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file charges of discrimination or who assist others in opposing discrimination.” Smith v. Riceland Foods, Inc., 151 F.3d 813, 818 (8th Cir. 1998). Title VII Retaliation claims are analyzed under the familiar three-stage, burden-shifting test set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. Id. To establish a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII, a plaintiff must show “(1) that he or she engaged in statutorily protected activity; (2) an adverse employment action was taken against him or her; and (3) a causal connection exists between the two events.” Jackman v. Fifth Judicial District Dep't of Correctional Servs., 728 F.3d 800, 804 (8th Cir. 2013). Protected activity “can be either opposing an act of discrimination made unlawful by Title VII . . . or participating in an investigation under Title VII.” Hunt v. Neb. Pub. Power Dist., 282 F.3d 1021, 1028 (8th Cir. 2002). An adverse employment action is defined as a “tangible change in working conditions that produces a material employment disadvantage, ” and includes termination. Jackman, 728 F.3d at 804.

         Plaintiff testified that while working for Defendant, she never complained about any discriminatory activity toward her. (ECF No. 20-1). Additionally, Plaintiff has offered no evidence that she did, in fact, engage in protected activity, or that Defendant was aware of any protected activity. As a result, she cannot satisfy the first prima facie element. Plaintiff satisfies the second prima facie element because she suffered from an adverse employment action when she was terminated by Defendant. However, in light of the fact that she cannot show that she engaged in statutorily protected activity, she also cannot satisfy the third prima facie element by ...


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